Agencies urged to improve quality of spending data despite ‘higher’ ratings

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Most agencies should take steps to improve spending-data quality, although the majority already have “higher” quality information, according to a Government Accountability Office report released Thursday.

The GAO looked at assessments by the offices of inspector generals (OIGs) at 51 agencies that the Digital Accountability and Transparency (DATA) Act of 2014 mandated to determine spending data quality, especially the rate of errors.

Thirty-seven of those OIGs determined their agency’s data was of higher quality, although not all those reports were complete. Another six agencies had moderate quality data, and four agencies lower quality data. Four others did reports but didn’t follow the DATA Act’s protocol. The data was from the first quarter of fiscal 2019.

OIGs evaluated their agencies’ completeness of submissions and data elements, timeliness of submissions and data elements, and accuracy and quality of data elements. GAO did not identify any agencies by name.

Error rates of 0% to 20% were deemed “higher” quality, 21% to 40% “moderate” quality, and 41% and above “lower” quality. The area with the highest error rate among completeness, timeliness and accuracy was used to determine data quality. So if an agency scored higher for completeness and timeliness but moderate for accuracy, it would receive a moderate data quality rating.

Despite the generally positive data quality ratings, 47 OIGs reported deficiencies in quality controls ranging from data entry errors to incorrect application of Department of the Treasury and Office of Management and Budget standards. The most common control deficiency was information technology system limitations, reported by 19 OIGs.

“These deficiencies related to information technology systems, including systems integration, configuration, and the lack of effective automated systems controls, such as those to help ensure proper system user access or the accuracy and completeness of data,” reads the GAO report.

Overall 14 OIGs found their agencies missing spending data with three from “significant” components or systems.

“For example, one OIG reported that its agency’s Q1 FY 2019 submission did not include award-level data totaling almost $10 billion for two of the agency’s components,” reads the GAO report. “In addition, another OIG reported that its agency was missing data for at least four components, including financial assistance award data for one of the components with an absolute value of $776 million.”

Missing data wasn’t reflected in error rates with most OIGs, 32 to be exact, reporting higher error rates for accuracy than completeness or timeliness.

A total of 44 OIGs recommended data quality improvements, which 39 agencies fully agreed with and five partially agreed with. Suggested improvements fell into five general categories:

  • Implementing data quality procedures and guidance.
  • Developing controls to resolve submission issues.
  • Developing controls for reviewing and correcting data from source systems.
  • Working with Treasury and OMB to resolve issues.
  • Developing, implementing and evaluating automated system controls.

GAO offered no recommendations of its own, instead allowing the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency to comment on the report.

“The report provides useful information on the federal inspectors general efforts to meet oversight and reporting responsibilities under the DATA Act,” CIGIE wrote in its response. “As such, we believe this report will contribute to a greater understanding of the oversight work performed by the IG community and of agency efforts to report and track governmentwide spending more effectively.”

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Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, DATA Act, Government Accountability Office (GAO), Office of Management and Budget (OMB), OIG, Treasury Department
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