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GAO Recommends Better Guidance for DATA Act Implementation

Published: February 03, 2016

Policy and Legislation

In late January, GAO released its most recent findings regarding DATA Act implementation recommending that OMB and Treasury “provide agencies with clarifications to address potential quality issues with the definitions.”

The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA), passed in 2014, promises to lend visibility into the world of federal spending by linking agency expenditures to federal programs, establishing government-wide financial data standards, and providing consistent, reliable, and searchable government-wide spending data on USASpending.gov.

The act mandates that GAO monitor implementation progress.  In its most recent report, GAO reviewed steps taken by OMB and Treasury to develop data standards and definitions, and to provide agencies with technical implementation guidance. GAO analyzed data standards against leading practices and reviewed key implementation documents.

In the act, OMB and Treasury were tasked with establishing government-wide data standards by May 2015. Agencies must begin reporting spending in accordance with the standards by May 2017. 

As mandated, Treasury and OMB issued definitions for 57 federal spending data elements. GAO found that most definitions adhered to leading practices derived from international standards for formulating data definitions. However, definitions for a few data elements are ambiguous and could lead to inconsistent reporting. For example, Award Description is defined as “a brief description of the purpose of the award.” In GAO’s previous work analyzing data quality of USASpending.gov, it found agencies used a wide range of information for “description” or “purpose” of work.  Additionally, the definition for the data element Primary Place of Performance could lead to inconsistent reporting due to the fact that agencies could list the contractor’s legal business address, the contractor’s work site address, the state capitol’s address for statewide work, etc.  

OMB and Treasury have not released final technical guidance, which could impede agency implementation. They are also behind on development of an intermediary service (“broker”) to standardize and validate agency data submissions.

GAO recommends that OMB and Treasury give agencies clarifications to address potential quality issues with the definitions, and take steps to align the release of finalized technical guidance and the broker service with agency implementation time frames. OMB and Treasury generally agreed with GAO recommendations.