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Management questions bedevil data collection

Mar. 25, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
By ANDY MEDICI   |   Comments
From left: Pat McNall, Paul Brubaker, Christina Ho and Karen Pica discuss procurement data transparency at the Acquisition Excellence conference in Washington March 20.
From left: Pat McNall, Paul Brubaker, Christina Ho and Karen Pica discuss procurement data transparency at the Acquisition Excellence conference in Washington March 20. (ACT-IAC)

Agencies are working to improve data collection and increase transparency in the procurement process but challenges still remain, according to agency officials. A panel at the Acquisition Excellence Conference, held March 20 in Washington, agreed that agencies still face significant management issues, including a need to develop standards, data ownership questions and choices about how to deliver it.

Karen Pica, a management analyst at the Office of Management and Budget, said OMB is working with agencies to develop guidelines for contract writing, purchasing requests, invoices and how to collect and exchange that data across agencies. Defining basic terminology can be difficult when working across subject areas and agencies, Pica added.

“There is never a dull moment with data standards,” she said.

Flexibility and the ability to expand is also important, said Christina Ho, the executive director of data transparency at the Treasury Department. “We don’t want to design a solution that will only answer the questions we ask today,” Ho said.

Treasury has recently taken over stewardship of USASpending.gov and hopes to make noticeable improvements in the data collection within six months. The end goal is a 360-degree spending view for stakeholders to be able to track a transaction from the beginning to the end, she said.

Patricia McNall, deputy assistant administrator for acquisition and business at the Federal Aviation Administration, said agencies are sitting on a ‘platinum mine’ of data but need to be careful about how they share it.

She said if agencies provide a steady stream of data to the private sector — such as airplane arrival and departure times — and cannot deliver that data some day because of budget cuts it can throw private companies into chaos.

McNall added that agencies need to determine who owns the data and how it should or can be accessed before it is made widely available.

Paul Brubaker, the director of planning and performance management at the Defense Department, said that rather than trying to simply collect more data, agencies need to figure out what they need to accomplish and what data they need to meet their goals.

“I think we need to flip the conversation. What outcomes do we want in government and do we have the datasets?” Brubaker said.

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