Over the past two years, the Department of the Interior has mistakenly awarded $5.7 million in small-business contracts to Home Depot, Dell, Sherwin Williams and other large corporations, federal investigators say.

In a report released this week, the agency's inspector general blamed the miscoded contracts on "data entry mistakes, reliance on incorrect data, and a failure on the part of contracting officials to verify business size."

One official cited in the report told investigators that agency contracting officers "often click through mindlessly" when entering contracting data into the department's computer system. 

The awards, for which the agency received credit towards its small-business contracting goals, included $618,000 to John Deere, $401,000 to Dell, and $244,000 to Waste Management Inc., among others. The report made no recommendations about whether those funds should be returned.

The federal government has a mandated annual target of awarding 23 percent of all contracts to small businesses.

According to a report released in December by the Small Business Administration, only one company among the government's top 100 small-business contractors was miscoded in 2006, though many have since outgrown size standards or were acquired by a larger firm.