Performance czar asks agencies to spruce up spending data

The Office of Management and Budget on Wednesday released guidance aimed at increasing both the quantity and quality of federal spending data available to the public.

The memorandum from Chief Performance Officer Jeffrey Zients outlines steps for agencies to gather and report new types of information, enhance the timeliness and accuracy of data, and improve the technical capabilities of USAspending.gov.

The memo stated that by Oct. 1, agencies must collect and publish data on subcontractors and subrecipients of grants. Formerly, spending data was required only for prime contractors and grant recipients. Both prime and subrecipients now will be expected to report on applicable grants, contracts and awards within 30 days. In addition to providing their name, the amount received, the work being done and other standard information, some subrecipients must report the names and total compensation of their five highest paid officers.

The memo applies to grants, contracts, and task and delivery orders awarded after Oct. 1. Some contract vehicles will have to be modified to require subaward reporting, however.

In July, OMB will issue a blueprint, or enterprise architecture, for collection of subaward information.

"As a guiding principle, OMB will look to build off existing platforms in developing an integrated approach in order to ease burden and leverage existing investments (e.g., FederalReporting.gov, the Electronic Subcontractor Reporting System, etc.)," Zients wrote.

Agencies will have until December to comply with the requirements outlined in the architecture guidance, including necessary system modifications and testing.

The memo also requires agencies to improve federal spending information already reported. "The goal is to move toward 100 percent of awards data being reported on time, complete and accurate (free of error) by the end of fourth quarter fiscal 2011, with interim milestones," he noted.

Agencies will establish a data quality framework for spending information -- including a governance structure, risk assessments, control activities, communication strategy and monitoring program -- and submit their plan to OMB. Zients said OMB will work with agencies to establish baseline metrics on the timeliness, completeness and accuracy of data submitted to USAspending.gov. Agencies then will be required to submit supplementary plans on how they will meet those goals.

Progress on the data quality front is expected quickly, with agency plans due to OMB by April 14. Agencies must achieve at least a 10 percent improvement in data quality for each established metric quarterly, beginning in fiscal 2011. Data on agencies' progress will be published on a dashboard and on USAspending.gov.

As the Obama administration works to improve data, USAspending.gov will get a makeover. In coordination with the General Services Administration, OMB this spring will launch a USAspending.gov platform based in the cloud, meaning the information technology services will be delivered over the Internet. The new site will "enhance the usability of the information posted and accommodate the significant future growth expected for the site, including subaward reporting." The new site also will include dashboards for presentation of data by agency, recipient or location. Raw data will be more easily downloadable so members of the public can perform their own analyses, Zients said. Within the next few weeks, OMB will establish a USAspending.gov Control Board to coordinate the policies and systems governing federal spending transparency. The board will include: federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra, who will represent the technology community; OMB Controller Danny Werfel, who will represent the financial management and grants community; and Federal Procurement Policy Administrator Daniel Gordon, who will represent the contracting community.

"The board will ensure that the USAspending.gov system meets the intent of the Transparency Act and considers the needs and interests of the functional communities, such as contracts, grants, and loans communities," Zients wrote. "The functional owners will consult with their community advisers to ensure their interests are adequately and accurately reflected."

Zients said the government's experience with the stimulus-tracking site Recovery.gov has made it clear that efforts to improve transparency must include consideration of the costs and benefits of various approaches and their effects on the many stakeholders involved in the federal spending process.

"OMB will ask for ideas and recommendations on how interested parties outside the government and the various professional disciplines within the government -- policy, budget and appropriations, procurement, finance, and technology operations -- can best work together to define and develop a long-range vision for optimal transparency," he wrote.

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