According to reports by many inspectors general, who were required to submit assessments today of their agency’s data submissions under the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014, many agencies failed to report accurate data sets. However, according to a DATA Act expert, this is not yet cause for concern.
Though many inspectors general found that their agency fulfilled the timeliness and completeness standards for financial data reported under the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014, most uncovered problems of accuracy in that data.
“The OIG identified a material noncompliance in the quality and accuracy of data submitted,” the Department of Justice OIG wrote in their report. “In reviewing the data sample, we applied the Office of Management and Budget guidance, which provides that if any one standardized data element is inaccurate then the entire sample unit is considered to be an error, resulting in an accuracy error rate for DOJ estimated to be between 87 and 92 percent with a 95 percent confidence level. We identified multiple inaccurate data elements in 62 percent of the sample units.”
NASA’s OIG also found that though the agency’s submissions were complete, timely and in line with governmentwide standards, the data was still found to have minor errors due to non-updated information in data generation systems and to manual entry errors.
Similarly, over 64 percent of the State Department’s tested domestic transactions did not meet the quality requirements outlined by OMB.
Overall the Government Accountability Office estimated “with 95 percent confidence that between 56 to 75 percent of the newly-required budgetary records were fully consistent with agency sources. In contrast, GAO estimates that only between 0 to 1 percent of award records were fully consistent.”
Under the DATA Act, agencies were required to begin reporting spending data using governmentwide standards on May 9, 2017. Once properly implemented, the DATA Act would create a public-facing repository for federal spending data on USAspending.gov. GAO was then required to issue a report assessing that data on Nov. 8, 2017.
According to a May 2017 report by the DATA Foundation and Deloitte, the initial expectations around the financial data were modest “given the outlook for incomplete reporting and varying data quality at first.”
And DATA Coalition executive director Hudson Hollister said that, as these audits only cover one-quarter of the data submitted to USAspending, there isn’t cause for concern.
“The DATA Act requires a change in how agencies report spending data,” said Hollister. “For some, problem areas would not be known until a full assessment of reporting systems was done. Therefore, we should look at this very first data submission as the first live test. Many of the granular issues identified by the inspectors general are already being addressed in the FY17 Q3 and Q4 submission rounds, as Treasury works with the agencies to improve the process.”
Many of the OIG reports placed blame for inaccurate and incomplete data with the senior accountable official or Office of the Chief Financial Officer, who were responsible for implementation.
For example, the Department of Housing and Urban Development underreported $17.9 billion in incurred obligations, $16.9 billion in outlays and $4.2 billion in apportionments, which was attributed to the OCFO’s lack of compliance with established standards.
“This condition occurred because HUD OCFO did not (1) follow financial data standards required by OMB and the U.S. Department of the Treasury, (2) allocate sufficient financial resources to DATA Act implementation, (3) maintain adequate internal controls, including data reconciliations, and (4) establish governance policies and roles and responsibilities of each entity involved in the agency’s submission to USASpending.gov,” the HUD OIG report said.
According to the Department of Defense OIG, because its SAO lacked controls to ensure data requirements were met, procurement award data was not available until 91 days after award, the DoD did not update its reporting system to interface with the federal system and DoD guidance was inconsistent with OMB and Treasury guidance, the DoD failed to meet nearly all of the metrics for reporting data.
“The DoD SAO did not comply with the DATA Act,” the DoD IG report said. “Specifically, for the second quarter of FY 2017, the DoD SAO 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 USASpending.gov.”
A recent GAO audit had also found that the USAspending website wasn’t accessible enough, due to a failure to address the quality of the data presented.
The overall GAO review of the DATA Act implementation agreed with this, saying that the Treasury department did “not sufficiently disclose known limitations affecting data quality,” which would be successful to the future of the spending site.
“We believed that most of these problems can be resolved because Treasury has built the data standards, reporting process, and beta website in an agile and open manner,” said Hollister. “Agencies have had many opportunities to provide input into a process built around their capabilities. This is a massive governmentwide project that the law’s drafters knew would require an iterative, transparent and agile approach. Furthermore, all of the IG reports identify straightforward, common sense solutions for each of the agencies to implement over the coming months.”
Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.