GAO: DATA Act implementation at risk if reporting agencies aren’t monitored

Federal auditors are calling on the Office of Management and Budget and the Treasury Department to keep better tabs on agencies as they prepare for the implementation of the DATA Act next year.

A new report from the Government Accountability Office warns the full rollout of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act is at risk if OMB and Treasury don’t take steps to improve the review of agency plans and monitoring of progress updates.

GAO’s concern is with the absence of a complete list of agencies that are required to report information under the law, as well as their mandate to submit implementation plans to OMB.

Auditors said they were also worried that OMB and Treasury were only asking for updated implementation plans from the 24 Chief Financial Officers (CFO) Act agencies [large agencies].

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“Lacking fully documented controls and processes as well as a complete population of agencies that are required to report under the DATA Act increases the risk that the purposes and benefits of the DATA Act may not be fully achieved, and could result in incomplete spending data being reported,” GAO said in its report. “Further, without updated implementation plans, including revised timelines and milestones, cost estimates, and risks that reflect the impacts of new technical requirements and guidance, from all agencies that are required to report under the DATA Act, OMB and Treasury may not have the information needed to assist them in properly monitoring resource needs and agencies’ progress in implementing new requirements governmentwide.”

OMB and the Treasury Department are spearheading the full rollout of the law,  set for May 2017. 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.

Treasury Fiscal Assistant Secretary David Lebryk said in his response to the GAO report that Treasury is “now on track” to meet the implementation deadline.

GAO issued a similar report in April, which found the four biggest hurdles for agencies when it comes to the DATA Act implementation are: competing priorities, resources, systems integration and  guidance.

For GAO’s concern about compiling a complete list of agencies responsible for reporting spending data, auditors recommended OMB and Treasury:

  • Establish or leverage existing processes and controls to determine the complete population of agencies that are required to report spending data under the DATA Act and make the results publicly available.
  • Periodically reassess which agencies are required to report spending data under the DATA Act and make appropriate notifications to affected agencies.

GAO recommended the following three directives for monitoring agency implementation plans:

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  • Establish documented policies and procedures for the periodic review and use of agency implementation plans to facility and monitor agency progress against the plans.
  • Request that non-CFO Act agencies required to report federal spending data under the DATA Act submit updated implementation plans including updated timelines and milestones, cost estimates and risks to address new technical requirements.
  • Assess whether information or plan elements missing from agency implementation plans are needed and assure all key plan elements are included in updated implementation plans.

OMB generally agreed with GAO’s recommendations. In a response letter from OMB Controller David Mader, he said the agency recently issued an FAQ “clarifying the legal framework under which an agency” would need to report spending data under the DATA Act.

But while OMB said it will work with agencies to meet their reporting requirements “the ultimate determination of legal applicability rests with each agency.”

Initially OMB told GAO that they did not plan on requesting updated implementation plans from agencies based on new guidance issued in April. But OMB said it has requested updates from CFO Act agencies by Aug.12.

“OMB agrees that a more formalized process should be established for reviewing agency updates to implementation plans and, once they are submitted, we will work to systematically report on the contents of the updates to the implementation plans,” OMB said. “We have developed a timeline and criteria for analyzing the plan updates.”

Treasury deferred to OMB in response to GAO’s recommendations. He also said in his response that Treasury was “now on track” for delivering a new public website and summary level spending data in May 2017.

Lebryk said his department will continue to collaborate with and assist OMB on [DATA Act policy] matters consistent with GAO’s recommendation.”

Lebryk also said engagement between Treasury and agencies has been “frequent and ongoing” since early 2015, and the department created a monthly progress report for watching agency updates.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said in a statement that GAO’s July report demonstrates there is still “more to do to ensure that the federal government fully leverages the DATA Act’s potential, especially when it comes to identifying which agencies are subject to these requirements and ensuring that agencies implementing the law do so with appropriate processes and controls.”