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Speed Up Efforts to Standardize Spending Data, Watchdog Tells Agencies

The administration is making progress on implementing the DATA Act, but needs to move faster, GAO says.

The White House-led effort to standardize agency data under the 2014 Digital Accountability and Transparency Act shows progress but should be accelerated to circulate standards that would make spending data more consistent, a congressional watchdog said.

Comptroller General Gene Dodaro told a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on July 29 that the 57 data elements that the Treasury Department and the Office of Management and Budget proposed for creating user-friendly spending reports under the new law “may not provide a complete picture by program unless OMB accelerates its efforts to produce an inventory of federal programs” as required under the 2010 Government Performance and Results Modernization Act. 

Also, “the draft technical specifications GAO reviewed may result in the reporting of inconsistent information,” Dodaro said.

GAO credited the Obama administration with progress in releasing 27 data standards along with technical documentation and guidance for achieving the goal of consistent data in machine-readable formats. OMB has launched a two-year pilot program to seek ways to reduce the reporting burden on agencies, as the DATA Act requires.

Dodaro reported that Treasury—which was thought to be absorbing spending-tracking tools from the soon-to-expire Recovery Board’s operations center—has decided not to take over those data-analytics tools because the hardware is aging and such a transfer would not be cost-effective. Treasury also declined to guarantee hiring of Recovery Board personnel to help with the transition. Instead, Treasury opted to consult with Recovery Board experts in the framework of Treasury’s Do Not Pay initiative aimed at curbing improper payments governmentwide.

GAO recommended that the administration establish policies and processes for a governance structure to maintain the integrity of data standards over time. It also recommended that Treasury and OMB enhance policies and procedures to provide for ongoing and effective two-way dialogue with stakeholders.

Agency officials agreed.

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