OMB could improve documented governance for DATA Act reporting, GAO says

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Overall, the Government Accountability Office seems to be a fan of what the White House Office of Management and Budget and the Department of the Treasury have done with the requirements of the 2014 Digital Accountability and Transparency Act. Still, the watchdog agency is here to remind both agencies that, in its view, a “formal governance structure” will be key to the continued success of the cross-agency initiative.

In a recent report the, GAO bemoans the fact that while OMB and Treasury have made “significant strides” in establishing the kind of transparency required by the DATA Act, some elements of cohesive data governance remain elusive. “As of December 2018, some governance procedures are in place, but others continue to evolve,” the report states. And as time goes on GAO argues, “appropriately and effectively managing changes to data standards will be critical to ensuring the quality and comparability of the data across the federal government.”

The overall goal is to make federal spending data more transparent, so governance structures are especially important, GAO says, during times of change and transition.

For example: the DATA Act lays out certain “data definition standards” according to which agencies are required to report their spending. However, GAO points out, these standards could change over time — indeed OMB made some policy changes in June 2018. But the agency lacks clear guidance around how these changes happen, and how they are communicated to stakeholders.

“Without established written procedures for making revisions to data definitions, needed changes may not be made in a timely manner, which could impair data quality,” the report states.

Treasury, GAO notes, has clearer procedures in place.

The report makes two recommendations — that the director of OMB clarify the agency’s procedure when it comes to changing data definitions, and ensure that the June 2018 policy changes are “clearly identified and explained” for stakeholders, including the public. OMB did not agree or disagree with the recommendations.

The report strikes a similar note to others GAO has written on DATA Act implementation and governmentwide spending data website USASpending.gov in the past — the watchdog agency has consistently praised the effort while maintaining that more steps could be taken to ensure even greater transparency.

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DATA Act, Government Accountability Office, Office of Management and Budget (OMB), USASpending.gov
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