Quality of Federal Spending Data Varies Widely Across Agencies

Published: July 15, 2020

Spending Trends

GAO’s review of OIG reports analyzing the quality of federal spending reporting from 51 agencies showed that accuracy, completeness, and timeliness of data varied widely.

Key Takeaways:

  • 73% of OIGs reported that agency data submissions for the period analyzed had an error rate of less than 20%
  • 73% of OIGs reported that agencies correctly used data standards
  • Agriculture, Defense and the National Science Foundation showed the highest error rates for data completeness, timeliness and accuracy.

Last week GAO released a report analyzing agency efforts to comply with the DATA Act, which is meant to provide transparency and accountability for federal spending. The legislation requires agency Offices of Inspector General (OIG) to analyze and report on the quality and completeness of agency spending data.  It also requires GAO to assess these reports on a regular basis.  

GAO’s most recent assessment analyzed 51 OIG DATA Act reports. It found that OIG reports varied depending on the quality, completeness and accuracy of the spending data analyzed for each particular agency. Seventy three percent of OIGs reported that their audits showed “higher” quality data for their agencies. Twenty two percent of OIGs reported that data for their agencies was of “lower” or “moderate” quality.  The OIG audit methodologies defined “high” quality as error rates less than 20%, “moderate” quality as error rates between 20%-40%, and “low” quality as error rates greater than 40%.  

Seventy three percent of OIGs found that their agencies had properly implemented and used data standards from OMB and Treasury for DATA Act reporting. But 92% of OIGs discovered control deficiencies related to system limitations, quality control procedures and other issues.

OIGs identified deficiencies that were common across multiple agencies. Top deficiencies included information technology system limitations, which were found in 19 OIG reports, and insufficient quality control procedures, which were found in 18 OIG reports.  

The OIGs analyzed error rates for completeness, timeliness, and accuracy of data that agencies submitted under the DATA Act for the first quarter of FY 2019. Agriculture, Defense and National Science Foundation showed the highest error rates for all three categories, while SSA, SBA, VA and HHS showed the lowest error rates.

Forty four of the 51 OIGs made recommendations to agencies for improving data quality, including the following:

  • Establish and implement data quality procedures or guidance and implement needed corrective actions
  • Develop controls to resolve issues during the submission process
  • Develop controls over the review and correction of data derived from source systems
  • Work with Treasury, OMB, or other external stakeholders to resolve identified issues
  • Develop, implement, or evaluate automated systems controls