OMB

OMB releases DATA Act reminder as 1-year countdown starts

One year after the Office of Management and Budget laid out guidance on the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act compliance, it is reminding agencies what is expected of them as the countdown begins for the law’s complete rollout.

The purpose of the May 3 additional guidance memorandum “is to memorialize the policy decisions made during the establishment of the data definition standards in the spring and summer of 2015, and to clearly establish the authoritative sources which shall be used by federal agencies for DATA Act reporting,” wrote OMB Controller Dave Mader.

The DATA Act’s goal is to standardize the way the government shares its spending information, making it more transparent to other agencies and to the public. OMB and the Treasury Department are spearheading the full implementation of the law,  set for May 2017.

OMB’s memo includes a reminder that the law requires agencies to use prime award identification numbers (award ID) and have them link between their financial management systems.

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Beginning Jan. 1, 2017, agencies that don’t have that numerical link will be required “to carry an award ID associated with both new awards and any modifications/amendments made after that date to existing awards.”

“Some agencies may need to implement an interim solution to accomplish the award ID linkage described in OMB M-15-12 to report data by May 2017,” the memo stated. “Agencies should continue to work with OMB and Treasury on their implementation timeline and approach to ensure they are on a path to meeting reporting deadlines and adhering to policy guidance.”

Among the clarifications outlined in the memo, agencies cannot have Federal Award Identification Numbers (FAIN) longer than 30 characters, must use the Activity Address Code (AAC) standard for financial assistance awards, and when reporting on financial assistance awards that include personally identifiable information, agencies should continue to do so “in such a way as to protect PII.”

The memo also directed agencies beginning May 2017 to use “Common Governmentwide Accounting Classification (CGAC) Agency Codes” in C of OMB Circular No. A-11 to assign to new financial assistance and procurement awards reported in USASpending.gov.

“Use of this standard will improve data quality, consistency, and transparency across the federal government,” the memo stated.

Starting October 2018, agencies must track the federal awarding and federal funding offices for each new financial assistance award.

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OMB also listed the authoritative sources. For example, when it comes to federal non-financial procurement award data, the source is the Federal Procurement Data System-Next Generation.

A ‘significant’ announcement

The memo comes about a week after Treasury issued its DATA Act Schema Version 1.0. Treasury has been working on these standards for one year. It issued four draft versions and collected hundreds of comments, which helped form the finalized version.

The schema, Treasury states, “gives an overall view of the hundreds of distinct data elements used to tell the story of how federal dollars are spent.”

“It includes artifacts that provide technical guidance for federal agencies about what data to report to Treasury, including the authoritative sources of the data elements and the submission format,” Treasury said. “The DAIMS [DATA Act Information Model Schema] also provides clarity on how the public can better understand the inherent complexity of the data.”

In April, the Government Accountability Office warned that a lack of finalized standards could impact the implementation deadline of the DATA Act.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), who introduced the DATA Act in 2013,  called the finalized Version 1.0 schema “significant.”

“In March I wrote to every federal agency with responsibilities under the DATA Act asking how implementation varied from their expectations and what they would need in order to meet the May 2017 compliance deadline,” he said in a statement to Federal News Radio. “Overwhelmingly, agencies have cited the need for the final technical schema and updated implementation guidance from Treasury and OMB as the key to implementing the law in a timely and effective fashion. I appreciate the administration’s continued focus on DATA Act implementation and believe that this most recent announcement is another important step forward toward financial transparency and accountability.”