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What went wrong with DATA Act pilot?

May 18, 2016 (Photo Credit: Alex Wong, Getty images)

Four senators want to know why the Office of Management and Budget is behind on a pilot program meant to increase transparency and cost savings. The four sent a letter dated May 16 to OMB director Shaun Donovan, asking about the status of a pilot program required by the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act.

The lawmakers are Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio; Mark Warner, D-Va.; Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., and Tom Carper, D-Del. 

“We write to express our concern regarding the status of the [Office of Federal Procurement Policy] pilot,” the letter said. “A recent Government Accountability Office report found that the procurement pilot is four months behind schedule, does not adhere to leading management practices and is unlikely to yield information that is broadly scalable to all contractors, because it targeted a very narrow reporting requirement for construction contractors.”

Related:Read the letter

The 2014 law requires that the federal government standardize and publish information on agency financial information and expenditures.

As part of the law’s requirements, OMB is working to set up the Section 5 Pilot, which will design software to reduce reporting costs for contractors and grantees by allowing them to report costs to a secure website.

OMB partnered with the Department of Health and Human Services to set up the pilot program for federal grants, while the procurement pilot was to be developed with the General Services Administration. But an April 16 report from the Government Accountability Office said didn’t reflect the leading practices required by the DATA Act.

Related:Read the Report

“For example, the plan did not include specific information on the methodology, strategy or types of data to be collected,” the report said. “Further, the plan we reviewed did not address the extent to which the proposed pilot approach would be scalable to produce recommendations that could be applied government-wide. The design also did not indicate how data will be evaluated to draw conclusions.”

The GAO offered recommendations to OMB for the procurement pilot, including that Donovan ensure that it reflected the design requirements.

In their letter, the senators ask Donovan to make sure the GAO recommendations are implemented and request his plans for putting them in place.

The senators lay out six questions they want Donovan to answer by May 27, including:

  • What is OMB’s plan for implementing GAO’s recommendations, accounting for tasks, completion dates and individual assignments?
  • What is GSA’s role in the pilot, including assignments and results?
  • What is the plan to implement leading management practices?
  • How will OMB change the pilot to include “a diverse group of award recipients with an aggregate award value of $1-2 billion,” as GAO recommended?
  • How will OMB broaden the pilot to reduce reporting burdens?
  • If a full year of data will not be available by May 2017, describe what data will be available and its value.

Hudson Hollister, executive director of the DATA Coalition—a trade association advocating for the digital transparency of the DATA Act— said in a statement that the procurement program falls fall short of the law’s requirements.

“There is no entity clearly in charge of a contractor reporting pilot program,” he said. “OMB’s efforts to standardize contractor payroll reporting – but no other aspects of contractor reporting – do not match the law’s required scope. Citizens, agencies, and recipients all benefit from Congress’ willingness to insist that Section 5 be followed."

OMB officials were not available for comment at the time of this posting.

 

 

  

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