HUD falling behind on DATA Act implementation

Add another notch to the ever-growing tally of setbacks for the DATA Act.

The Housing and Urban Development Department’s Inspector General says in a new review that the department is not on track to start standardized spending reports next year, thanks in part to “management turnover and indecision.”

“HUD has had three different senior accountable officials in a 6-month span, and the conclusion that the DATA Act applied to the Federal Housing Administration (FHA ) and the Government National Mortgage Association (Ginnie Mae) was not made until approximately May 2016,” the IG’s office said in its Aug. 26 review. “These conditions have delayed implementation efforts and precluded the reasonable expectation that the deadline will not be met.”

The OIG also found that the department had not completed an inventory of data elements or aligned its data with the DATA Act schema.

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“HUD had also been unable to resolve data quality issues that have impeded the complete and accurate reporting of departmental contract, grant, loan, and other financial assistance awards in USASpending.gov,” the IG said, adding that despite HUD’s opinion that it is progressing on requirements to categorize and capture data, legacy and financial problems are pushing completion dates beyond set deadlines.

HUD’s OIG made four recommendations:

  • Identify all of the department’s spending information for its programs as well as appropriation amounts that would be reported on USASpending.gov.
  • Make a plan to fix current and future problems with spending errors made when transferring information to USASpending.gov.
  • Finalize a project plan and implementation documentation for review by the Treasury Department and Office of Management and Budget.
  • Complete project plan documentation for the FHA and Ginnie Mae.

HUD’s OIG review comes several weeks after the department submitted its progress and challenges to the IG, as it works to meet the May 2017 rollout of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act.

In a July 22 letter HUD Deputy CFO John Hungate said the department’s executive team is aware of the challenges created by a “lack of dedicated resources and funding.”

But Hungate assured the IG’s office that the department was “in progress and on time” with completing steps 1-4 of the DATA Act Playbook.

According to DATA Act requirements, agency IG’s are to report no later than 18 months after guidance is issued on the “completeness, timeliness, quality, and accuracy” of their agency’s data.

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Standards were published by Treasury and OMB in May 2015.

The Environmental Protection Agency announced in January its OIG would be conducting a similar review. The Transportation Department did the same thing in May.

An EPA spokesman said a draft of the report was sent to the agency for a response. A request for comment from DoT was not immediately returned

Priceless value, limited resources

HUD is not the only agency struggling with the law’s implementation. Even Treasury and OMB have drawn criticism from government watchdogs about their readiness for the start of standardized federal spending.

In early August, a Government Accountability Office report warned that Treasury’s 4-month delay for releasing its schema version 1.0, triggered the delay of industry software patches while companies waited for a “stable version of the schema.”

That assessment came on the heels of another GAO report that said the full rollout of the DATA Act is at risk if OMB and Treasury don’t take steps to improve the review of agency plans and monitoring of progress updates.

One of the original sponsors of the DATA Act, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) has also taken an interest in agency progress.

In May, Warner said he was cautiously optimistic that agencies would be ready for a full rollout. Warner shared with Federal News Radio some of the responses he received from agencies when he asked for a status update on how they were incorporating the law’s requirements.

The most common concerns were the “slowness” of Treasury and OMB, and a lack of funding.

Data Coalition Executive Director Hudson Hollister said in an email to Federal News Radio that the DATA Act will improve transparency of government spending and provide better management tools for chief financial officers.

“But all of that value depends on agencies’ being able to report complete, high-quality data starting in May 2017,” he said.