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Monday, March 14, 2011

Werfel defends USASpending.gov accuracy

Criticisms about data inaccuracy in government transparency initiative websites could stem from inaccurate data interpretation, government officials told a House panel March 11.

In particular, an Office of Management and Budget official criticized the methodology of a Sunlight Foundation analysis that found $1.3 trillion worth of misreported 2009 federal grant data on USASpending.gov.

"We do not believe the success rate is as low as the Sunlight Foundation [says]," said OMB Controller Danny Werfel, while speaking before the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on technology, information policy, intergovernmental relations and procurement reform.

Werfel cited a Sunlight Foundation finding that while the Agriculture Department actually spent $12.7 billion during fiscal 2009 on school meal programs, USASpending.gov reported only $250,000 worth of school meal spending for that year.

The discrepancy arose because federal payments worth less than $25,000 don't need to be reported on USASpending.gov, Werfel said, and amounts worth less than the threshold make up the bulk of the meal subsidy program. "That's why there's an absence of information," he said.

Education Department Chief Information Officer Danny Harris said the database used by the Sunlight Foundation to compare USASpending.gov figures--the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance--has a different reporting time frame.

"When you look at the CFDA database and you look at USASpending, the average citizen would expect to see the exact same number in both places," but that's not the case, Harris said.

-David Perera, FierceGovernmentIT.com

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