Obama-backed website on government spending is found lacking

By Peter Nicholas

When he was a senator, Barack Obama pushed through a law setting up a kind of “Google-for-government” website — a one-stop-shop for tracking the $1 trillion handed out in federal contracts.

Obama said the new site would help create a more transparent government.

But now that he is president, Obama’s Office of Management and Budget is responsible for keeping up the website — and government auditors have found deficiencies.

A Government Accountability Office audit released Friday found broad compliance with the law establishing the spending tracker. But in some cases, information was missing or unreliable, the GAO said.

“Not everything that should have been reported was reported, and that which was reported was not always accurate,” David Powner, the GAO official who led the audit, said in an interview.

The audit of USAspending.gov covered the period from June 2009 to March 2010. A total of nine federal agencies failed to report 15 government contracts, the audit showed.

After reviewing 100 federal contracts, the GAO also found “widespread inconsistencies” in what appeared on the website and what was contained in records provided by the agencies. Auditors, for example, found discrepancies in where the work took place and the purpose of the contracts.

The OMB also did not include information on subcontracts, which was required under the bill advanced by then-senator Obama and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). Nor does the OMB “have a plan or process in place” for including such information, the report said.

“We’re concerned the site still contains inaccurate and incomplete information,” said John Hart, a Coburn spokesman. “It’s clear the public’s demand for transparency continues to exceed the government’s ability to deliver transparency.”

Former President Bush signed the measure into law in September 2006, and the website was up and running in December 2007.

The audit said the OMB largely agreed with the findings.

When the website was launched, Obama made a Senate statement casting it as a victory for open government.

peter.nicholas@ latimes.com

Copyright © 2010, The Los Angeles Times

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