The Pentagon’s Spending Data Doesn’t Add Up

The DATA Act was supposed to create financial transparency, but a watchdog found plenty of inaccuracies.

The Defense Department’s $700 billion budget dwarfs that of other federal agencies. Nonetheless, it hasn’t managed to find sufficient resources to accurately report how it spends all its funds. The department falls well short of requirements under the 2014 Digital Accountability and Transparency Act to show where its money goes.

The Defense Department’s senior accountable official “did not comply with the DATA Act,” the Pentagon’s inspector general said in a Nov. 8 report. “Specifically, for the second quarter of fiscal 2017, the [Defense] comptroller “did not certify and submit complete award data, timely award data, accurate financial and award data, and quality financial and award data for publication on,” auditors found.

Additionally, the department “did not implement and use the governmentwide award data elements established” by the Office of Management and Budget and the Treasury Department.

Under a steady flow of OMB and Treasury guidance, all agencies are supposed to harmonize their various data systems and presentation formats for contracts, grants and other expenditures using 57 elements to make them machine-readable and comparable for officials and the public.

The warning shot to the Pentagon comes just as the Government Accountability Office released a mandatory report showing many other agencies having trouble with the accuracy and presentation of spending information required by the DATA Act.

The reasons for DoD’s problems, a deputy IG for finance wrote in a letter to the comptroller, is that the controls the department implemented “were not adequate to ensure the completeness, accuracy and quality” of the data sent for posting to the public. Specifically:

  • Officials did not independently validate or reconcile the data.
  • Procurement award data were not publicly available in the Federal Procurement Data System until 91 days after contract or modification award.
  • Defense failed to update its grant award systems to appropriately interface with the federal grant reporting system.
  • Defense guidance was inconsistent with OMB and Treasury guidance.
  • Treasury’s DATA Act Broker System experienced systems errors that resulted in governmentwide data reporting concerns.

As it raced to meet governmentwide deadlines, the department requested waivers, but Treasury and OMB only partially granted them.

The IG made a series of recommendations, such as directing relevant undersecretaries and assistant secretaries’ offices to strengthen internal controls, allocating adequate resources for DATA act compliance, and developing procedures for ensuring that award and grant data are collected, validated, reconciled and reported as per OMB guidance.

Pentagon managers largely agreed with those recommendations.