USASpending.gov is a little-known public records resource that can be used to assess federal spending and contract awards. The database allows users to conduct searches of federal expenditures through a variety of search functions, including keyword search, domestic spending, and searches of federal agencies, as well as the individual federal accounts within those agencies. Through this database, businesses can scope out competitors’ contracts with the government, political campaigns can assess their opponent’s dealings with the government, and government affairs professionals can gain insights to the agencies they lobby.
USA Spending.gov has “Advanced” and “Keyword” search functions, which are both beneath the “Award Search” tab at the top of the page. The advanced search is a useful tool that allows users to see spending by prime award for the agency searched. Then, if users click on a contract, they can see what federal account the payments(s) came from, how the spending was categorized, whether it was competitively bid and what percentage of the payment had been paid. See the screen capture below for a visual representation of this information. Additional details include the funding agency and sub-agency, product or service details, and any related legislative mandates or executive compensation. Users can specifically tinker with parameters such as fiscal years, award types, and most importantly, the agency. If the specific awarding agency’s name is not known, a wildcard word can be entered to trigger generation of all departments/offices with that word in it.
A screen capture showing Advanced Search results for a contract awarded by the Department of Defense
The keyword search is another useful search that will return all contracts, grants or businesses that include the word or phrase entered. However, with the keyword search, users cannot adjust the timeframe of the search. Due to the large volume that is canvassed on the keyword search, the database can be slow in returning search results.
The third search function is under the “Profiles” section. Four different options are searchable under Profiles:
· Agencies: Select one of the federal agencies to see a breakdown in obligated amounts, object classes, and all federal accounts associated with the agency. From the agency’s account profile page, spending by award can be seen. If one of the agency’s accounts is clicked, this feature shows all of the agency’s contracts awarded for all fiscal years retained by the site.
· Federal Accounts: Allows users to search a list of all federal accounts where money flows that are associated with each federal department. Shows a snapshot for the current fiscal year, spending over time, spending by category and spending by award. Spending by award allows users to see which contracts were funded by the account, what for, and for how much.
· States: This search allows users to see a big-picture view of federally-awarded funds by state. It shows how much money was awarded to states by the last twelve months – which is the default option – or by fiscal years. Other interesting information includes the top five recipients of federal money, the top five awarding agencies, and top five recipients of contracts in the state. A limitation for this data, however, is that the data does not filter down past these big-picture charts – what is visible is what is available.
· Recipients: The recipient profile search allows users to search recipients of government contracts, grants, direct payments, loans, and other financial assistance. Limitations of this search function include the actual information returned from searches – it provides an overview of funding for FY 2008 to the present and presents a summary of the awards to the recipient. These summaries, presented under “Top 5” categories, include the awarding agencies and sub-agencies, Catalogue of Federal Domestic Assistance monies, NAICS codes, product service codes, and where the primary services were performed (i.e., country and state). There is a minimum amount of information provided in these charts, and they are non-expandable for more detail.
Downloading data from the site is easy and customizable – users can select whether they want award or transaction data and what columns are desired (default is all). A permanent download link is also given to access the data at a later time, if necessary. Data comes in the form of multiple Excel sheets, separated by prime transactions and sub-awards. (additional spending that may be tacked on to the primary transaction.)
As mentioned, most of the information contained on this website is presented in a topline format. While the charts are useful for understanding the big picture, this site is best utilized as a launch point for more in-depth inquiries to the agencies via Freedom of Information Act requests.