Federal Government Underreports Grant Spending by over $1 Trillion

Published: February 13, 2013

GrantsHHSWaste, Fraud, and Abuse

Last week, the Sunlight Foundation, a not for profit government watchdog, released a new report showing agencies are underreporting federal spending by over $1 trillion.

The report was delivered in the form of a website called Clearspending, Making Sense of the Federal Checkbook.  Sunlight’s findings showed that the federal government had $1.55 trillion in misreported federal grant funds in 2011, representing 94.5% of total grant spending reported that year, up 19% from 2010.  HHS topped the list with over $800 billion in non-reported funds.  Department of Labor showed $115 billion in under-reported funds and Department of Agriculture showed $73 billion in under-reported funds.

The Sunlight Foundation used’s Data System PLUS (FAADS-PLUS) data which contains information about direct assistance and compared it to the Catalogue of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA), measuring consistency between the two different systems for tracking grant obligations.   


Programs that reported obligations in the CFDA but did not have any records in were designated as non-reporting and were not used when calculating the variance of underreporting or over-reporting programs. Programs that reported some, but not all, obligations in were designated as underreporting programs; and those that reported more in than in the CFDA were over-reporting programs.


Sunlight showed a disturbing trend between 2009 and 2011 in that inconsistency of the data between the two information sources was increasing from 31.6% in 2009 to 69.2% in 2011.  Mismatched obligation estimates between the CFDA and are to be expected.  However, the reporting process may be broken when a grant program reports nothing at all to Additionally, there exists no oversight process for identifying these programs and fixing their reporting.


Timeliness of reporting obligations is improving.  The agencies are required to report all federal spending within 30 days of its obligation.  For the purposes of the analysis, Sunlight used a window of 45 days.  They saw a significant drop in the number of obligations failing from timeliness over the prior year, 14.6% in 2010 to only 1.5% in 2011. 

Contract spending is not reported via the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance or any other public-facing federal website for use in comparison the contract obligations in  Because there is no comparison database, Sunlight does not port their analysis to the procurement space.  However, they do have a pending Freedom of Information Act request for this data and hope to post an analysis soon.