The Department of Treasury and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) have made progress in validating data received from Federal agencies, but both of the agencies need to improve how that data is reported online, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Treasury and OMB are responsible for ensuring Federal information spending reported by Federal agencies and published on USAspending.gov is accurate and complete.

According to a report by GAO, both agencies have made progress on validating the data they receive, but still could improve how it is reported online.

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“The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 (DATA Act) requires Federal agencies to submit spending data for presentation on USAspending.gov,” wrote GAO in the report. “GAO found that Treasury took additional steps to disclose known data limitations on USAspending.gov. GAO also identified some opportunities to further enhance the quality of the data displayed on the website and the business application controls that process the data.”

While most agencies submitted their data files by established deadlines, 18 of 101 agencies had not submitted their data files on time for the period ending March 31, 2021. Additionally, 19 did not include data in the required file that links budget and award information needed to track Federal spending.

GAO made a total of nine recommendations – two to OMB and seven to Treasury – to improve business process controls, implementation and use of data standards, and the disclosure of known data limitations. The two agencies generally agreed with the recommendations.

For OMB, GAO recommended that the agency ensure policies, guidance, and procedures related to DATA Act and USAspending.gov are consistent with each other, and develop and implement a process to ensure that disallowed program activities are not included in its list of program activity and accounts combinations used for validating DATA Act submissions to USAspending.gov.

The following seven recommendations were made for Treasury, including:

  1. Take steps to ensure users can distinguish whether an award description describes the purpose of the base award or the purpose of a transaction or modification to the award;
  2. Implement a process to periodically inform agencies about unlinked data to help agencies reconcile and resolve data linkage differences between transaction and submission data on USAspending.gov;
  3. Ensure identifiers and database keys used for financial assistance awards result in display outputs on USAspending.gov that are accurate and complete;
  4. Ensure Treasury’s documented DATA Act and USAspending.gov guidance related to maximum number of characters for procurement and financial assistance award descriptions is consistent with established policy;
  5. Disclose on the spending website that it doesn’t validate data collected from external governmentwide reporting systems, and displays on USAspending.gov and the imported data may not always align with data standards, definitions, and requirements established in OMB and Treasury guidance;
  6. Disclose that changes in data submission and reporting guidance and requirements over time may affect the completeness, consistency, and quality of specific data elements; and
  7. Disclose on USAspending.gov web pages that display information on individual awards when an award is unlinked, and why Federal account information is unavailable for that award.
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Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith is a MeriTalk Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.
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