It has been reported that every year, the federal government spends approximately $400 billion in grants and $300 billion in contracts to state and local governments as well to corporations. This money comes from funds collected from us, the taxpayers. Do you ever wonder whether your government is using your tax dollars wisely? Perhaps you are just curious about exactly who the recipients are of all those billions of dollars. By utilizing your access to public records, there are ways of finding out who is and who isn’t receiving federal funding
In 2006, a law passed, called the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 (The Transparency Act) which actually mandates that the general public be allowed to access information pertaining to the spending of federal funds on grants and contracts. Part of the mandate was that the government create a website whereby this information is easily accessible. Through this site, citizens can access information including whom funding was awarded to, which government agency awarded the funding, the purpose of the funding, and the location of the entity receiving funding.
The website created by the Transparency Act is called USASpending.gov. On the main page of the site, you can find an overview of government spending by year for the categories of contracts, grants, loans, insurance, and direct payments (such as social security). The site then provides for more in-depth searches into these subjects. Searches within each category can be performed by performed by recipient name, location, or agency giving the award. As an example, a search performed under the assistance category using the Department of State will show me that in 2008, $1,814,392,192 was spent on assistance to 444 recipients over the course of 1,001 transactions. There will also be further information pertaining to the name, location (i.e.: Congressional Districts), name of programs, etc. I can learn that of the total amount spent in assistance from the Department of State, $609,948,411 went to a program called the Overseas Refugee Assistance Program for Near East and South Asia.
There are also ways of locating which entities the government has deemed as being prohibited from receiving assistance, contracts, or loans from the federal government due situations such as terrorist activities. This site is called the Excluded Parties List System, and generally requires that you know at least the name of the entity that you suspect of being excluded. So, while you may feel that certain programs warrant access to funding, the government could have a rationale behind why that program is excluded.
Thus, while it can often seem that our government has a lot of secrets, we can at least have an idea if where are hard earned dollars are and aren’t going. Reviewing government spending records is a ways of keeping the government honest, because their books are open for review by any interested party. There are many other public records resources that can be used to check on our governments ‘ activities, such as salary records, and Congressional earmark records. To find access to federal government and other national public records, visit the Free Public Records Directory.