A recent investigation by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has uncovered significant inconsistencies in the reporting of COVID-19 spending by various government agencies.
The GAO’s findings, published on Tuesday, reveal that agencies such as the Departments of Treasury, Health and Human Services (HHS), Homeland Security (DHS) and Transportation (DOT) have reported conflicting amounts across different public disclosures during the fiscal year 2022.
The GAO report indicates that the Treasury Department reported the largest discrepancy, noting $231.5 billion in COVID-19 spending in its annual financial report, a stark contrast to the $36 billion reported on USAspending.gov. HHS followed with a notable discrepancy of its own, listing $85.7 billion in COVID-19 obligations in its annual report, while USAspending.gov showed $91.7 billion.
Discrepancies in other departments were less severe but still present, with DHS and DOT reporting differences of about $400 million and $10 million, respectively. The GAO highlighted that even the data reported to USAspending.gov often lacked completeness, with over $1.3 trillion in spending obligations between 2020 and 2022 missing critical information, such as detailed descriptions of the spending purposes.
“Quality federal spending data are key for Congress, federal managers, and the American public to track taxpayers’ dollars,” the GAO stated in its report’s conclusion. “We found agencies that either did not report spending data or reported inconsistent spending data to USAspending.gov, including for COVID-19 funds. By assigning Treasury the responsibility for determining which agencies should report to USAspending.gov and requiring that agencies report OTA data, Congress can help improve the completeness and usefulness of data on the website for decision-making and accountability purposes.”
The GAO warned that without action from Congress or the Office of Management and Budget in coordination with the Treasury Department the transparency and accountability of federal spending, as mandated, would not be achieved. This lack of clarity and consistency in reporting undermines the ability of policymakers and the public to effectively track and scrutinize the expenditure of federal funds, particularly those allocated for the COVID-19 response.
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