Challenges Remain Although Data Quality has Improved on USASpending.gov, According to GAO
Published: November 14, 2019
GAO’s recent assessment of DATA Act implementation shows that data quality has improved but the use of data standards, data accuracy, and data completeness vary among agencies.
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. Additionally, the act instructed OMB and Treasury to set data standards to bring consistency to reported spending.
GAO compared the quality of data from its prior assessment examining Q2 FY 2017 data to data from Q4 FY 2018. The most recent assessment shows 96 federal agencies submitted required spending data for 4Q FY 2018. GAO found improvements in overall data quality but stated that “challenges remain for completeness, accuracy, use of data standards, disclosure of data limitations, and overall data governance.”
In the area of completeness, more agencies submitted data for the most recent quarter examined by GAO as opposed to the prior analysis, 96 agencies versus 78 for Q2 FY 2017. However, the agencies did not consistently submit complete files or accurate data. GAO’s analysis of USASpending.gov found that agencies that submitted data were generally timely, but several failed to report all or some of their data. The total number of agencies submitting data increased, but more agencies submitted their data past the due date compared to Q2 FY 2017. Specifically:
- Fourteen agencies submitted late.
- Eleven agencies did not submit data.
- Multiple agencies submitted blank files.
- Two agencies submitted incomplete files.
- Agencies did not report awards made to 39 financial assistance programs.
GAO’s assessment of data accuracy found that accuracy had improved for both budgetary and award transactions. GAO estimates that between 84% and 96% of the budgetary transactions and between 24% and 34% percent of the award transactions were fully consistent for all applicable data elements. This shows improvement over statistics from the Q2 FY 2017 data.
GAO also evaluated the use of data standards and identified continued challenges related to the use of “Award Description” and “Primary Place of Performance Address.” GAO also found that agencies interpret and apply data standards inconsistently. Additionally, known data limitations were not clearly disclosed on the USASpending.gov website.
GAO stands by its former recommendations to OMB and Treasury of:
- Monitoring agency submissions
- Providing additional guidance on reporting established data standards
- Implementing a systematic approach to facilitate the disclosure of known data limitations on USAspending.gov
- Developing a robust and transparent governance structure
GAO is also making two additional recommendations to Treasury stemming from its most recent analysis:
- Treasury should disclose on USASpending.gov that DOD has a 90-day delay for displaying procurement and spending data.
- Treasury should also communicate on USASpending.gov how the “Primary Place of Performance Address” for Medicare payment data is reported.