Uncle Sam Misreported Millions of Dollars in Spending on Disaster Assistance, Section 8 Housing, and Alternative Medicine

The Sunlight Foundation shows government spending often goes unreported.

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This Oct. 30, 2012 aerial file photo provided by the U.S. Air Force shows flooding on the New Jersey shoreline during a search and rescue mission by the New Jersey Army National Guard following Superstorm Sandy. Redrawn federal maps indicating flood-prone areas may force many property owners, especially in New York or New Jersey, to pay exorbitantly for flood insurance, raise their homes or move away altogether. In New Jersey, flood insurance premiums could cost as much as $31,000 a year.
This Oct. 30, 2012 aerial file photo provided by the U.S. Air Force shows flooding on the New Jersey shoreline during a search and rescue mission by the New Jersey Army National Guard following Superstorm Sandy. Redrawn federal maps indicating flood-prone areas may force many property owners, especially in New York or New Jersey, to pay exorbitantly for flood insurance, raise their homes or move away altogether. In New Jersey, flood insurance premiums could cost as much as $31,000 a year.

New data show government agencies misreported millions of dollars they spent in 2011 on disaster assistance, Section 8 housing, and research into alternative medicine, among other programs.

The research, conducted by open government advocacy group the Sunlight Foundation, shows that more than two dozen government agencies had misreported the money they spent that year to USASpending.Gov—or had not reported it at all.

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The USASpending.gov site was created so that the public could see which organizations receive funding from the government, and why. But the Washington, D.C.-based Sunlight Foundation says government agencies often don't report their spending to the site in a consistent or complete way, which can affect state governments, foundations, companies—and the taxpayer.

"State level governments rely on this information. ... When states do tax expenditure reports, or other bookkeeping, they use this data," Kaitlin Devine, who conducted the research for the Sunlight Foundation, tells Whispers. Devine says the data are also used by foundations who are looking to fund programs, and companies looking to invest in them.

Among the worst offenders the Sunlight Foundation identified was the department of Health and Human Services, tasked with protecting the health of Americans. According to the data, the agency underreported $40 million it had spent on HIV emergency relief project grants and nearly $1 billion it spent enforcing child support payments. Sunlight says it also overreported $6 million it spent on alternative medicine research.

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And perhaps most egregiously, it failed to report $463 billion it spent providing medicare supplementary medical insurance, despite having reported spending on that program far more consistently in prior years, according to the data.

In part, bad reporting by HHS may be because that agency oversees so much private information related to people's health. The agency's total budget in 2011 was $911 billion.

The Department of Homeland Security, meanwhile, an agency charged with keeping America safe, also failed to properly report millions in spending. According to the Sunlight research, the agency underreported $9 million it spent providing disaster assistance, and $6 million in grants given for flood damage.

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"If you look at all these debates Congress is having with the debt ceiling and the budgets and you have [two sides saying different things] ... well there's no gaming the system if it's all reported," Devine says.

DHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment about its misreporting, while HHS said it was looking at the numbers and would get back to Whispers.

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  • Elizabeth Flock is a staff writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow her on Twitter or Facebook or reach her at eflock@usnews.com.