"Citizens must have the ability to know the amounts that are set aside for certain purposes, and when and where agencies spend this money," said a Dec. 14 report by the Government Accountability and Transparency Board. (Getty Images)
The government does a poor job of collecting and posting data on how trillions of dollars are spent each year, according to a presidentially chartered group of senior federal officials.
"Citizens must have the ability to know the amounts that are set aside for certain purposes, and when and where agencies spend this money," said a Dec. 14 report by the Government Accountability and Transparency Board, which was created in June by President Obama to recommend how better to track and display federal spending data.
"They should be able to know whether funds are expended wisely and with integrity," the board added in the report, which was sent to Obama. "Current federal financial reporting management systems for grants, loans and procurements fall short of these simple tests. The existing systems are too often inadequate to deliver data transparency, effectively ensure integrity or detect instances of fraud or waste."
The board made three recommendations:
• Apply to all federal spending an oversight model that is now in use only for stimulus spending. The Recovery Operations Center is a clearinghouse of stimulus spending data that synthesizes and shares data with auditors who can search for irregularities, questionable connections and indicators of fraud, according to the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board. A new database expected to launch early next year that will merge different contractor performance and misconduct record systems could be expanded to meet this goal, said Office of Management and Budget spokeswoman Moira Mack.
• Merge 14 different systems used to collect information on contract and grant spending. A single system would allow training and help-desk support to be consolidated and improve effectiveness.
• Adopt a governmentwide method to identify contract and grant awards. Agencies now use different methods.
In addition to these recommendations, more still needs to be done to link spending to performance outcomes and results, the board said in its report.
"Without the ability to link contract and grant expenditures to outcomes from programs, products and services, federal decision makers cannot ensure that public funds are being spent optimally," the board said.