DATA ACT:

Improvements Needed in Reviewing Agency Implementation Plans and Monitoring Progress

GAO-16-698: Published: Jul 29, 2016. Publicly Released: Jul 29, 2016.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Paula M. Rascona
(202) 512-9816
rasconap@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

What GAO Found

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Department of the Treasury (Treasury) have not designed and implemented controls or fully documented processes related to the review and use of agency implementation plans for the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 (DATA Act). These controls and processes are to be used for reviewing agencies' implementation plans and monitoring agencies' progress against these plans. In addition, as of July 2016, OMB had not determined the complete population of agencies that are required to report spending data under the DATA Act and submit implementation plans to OMB. OMB staff stated that their purpose for directing agencies to submit implementation plans was to use the implementation cost estimates to assist them in formulating the fiscal year 2017 budget, while Treasury officials stated that the purpose of their review of the plans was to facilitate discussions with the agencies. In addition, OMB and Treasury staff initially informed GAO that they were not going to request that agencies submit updated implementation plans that considered new technical requirements and guidance that was released on April 29, 2016. However, on June 15, 2016, OMB requested updated implementation plans by August 12, 2016, but only from Chief Financial Officers (CFO) Act agencies. Lacking fully documented controls and processes as well as a complete population of agencies that are required to report under the DATA Act increases the risk that the purposes and benefits of the DATA Act may not be fully achieved, and could result in incomplete spending data being reported. Further, without updated implementation plans, including revised timelines and milestones, cost estimates, and risks that reflect the impacts of new technical requirements and guidance, from all agencies that are required to report under the DATA Act, OMB and Treasury may not have the information needed to assist them in properly monitoring resource needs and agencies' progress in implementing new requirements government-wide.

Based on OMB and Treasury guidance, GAO identified 51 plan elements in four separate categories—timeline, cost estimate, narrative, and project plan—to be included in agency implementation plans. None of the 42 implementation plans GAO received and reviewed contained all 51 plan elements described in OMB and Treasury guidance. For example, many agencies' cost estimates did not provide all the elements for cost estimates, including total work years and a list of assumptions, or did not differentiate between their business process costs and technology costs.

Average Inclusion Rate of Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 Plan Elements within Four Categories (Based on Implementation Plans from 42 Agencies)

Category

Average percentage of plans that included elements

Average percentage of plans that did not include elements

Timeline

74

26

Cost estimate

48

52

Narrative

58

42

Project plan

39

61

Source: GAO analysis of agency implementation plans. | GAO-16-698

Why GAO Did This Study

The federal government annually spends over $3.7 trillion on its programs and operations. To help increase the transparency of online spending information, the DATA Act requires agencies to begin reporting spending data by May 2017, using new data standards established by OMB and Treasury. In May 2015, OMB directed federal agencies to submit DATA Act implementation plans by September 2015. OMB and Treasury subsequently issued guidance to agencies to help them develop plans.

This report is part of a series of products that GAO will provide to Congress in response to a statutory provision to review DATA Act implementation. This report discusses OMB's and Treasury's efforts to facilitate implementation of the DATA Act and the consistency of agency implementation plans with OMB and Treasury guidance, among other things. GAO evaluated OMB's and Treasury's processes against project management and internal control criteria, assessed selected agency implementation plans against OMB and Treasury guidance, and interviewed staff and officials at OMB and Treasury.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that OMB, in collaboration with Treasury, determine the population of agencies required to report under the DATA Act, establish fully documented controls and processes to help ensure agencies' effective implementation of the DATA Act, and request updated plans from non-CFO Act agencies. OMB generally concurred with the recommendations and Treasury deferred to OMB.

For more information, contact Paula M. Rascona at (202) 512-9816 or rasconap@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Priority recommendation

    Comments: OMB stated that each agency is responsible for determining whether it is subject to the DATA Act. To help agencies make that determination, OMB published guidance in the form of frequently asked questions and stated that the agencies may consult with OMB for additional counsel. In response to our recommendation, OMB staff told us they have reached out to federal agencies to identify which agencies have determined that they are exempt from reporting under the DATA Act and prepared a list of such agencies. However, OMB has not provided us the list or the procedures for reviewing agency determinations and compiling the results. In addition, OMB has not established procedures for ensuring non-exempt agencies are reporting spending data as required. Finally, OMB has not stated whether it will make the results of the determinations publicly available. Further, additional clarification would improve the usefulness of the frequently asked questions. For example, they state "Any Federal agency submitting data that OMB posts on its SF 133 Report on Budget Execution and Budgetary Resources is required to comply with DATA Act reporting." However, the SF 133 Report for the third quarter of 2016 includes entities such as the Postal Service which are not required by the DATA Act to report financial and payment information. In explaining the frequently asked questions to us, OMB officials clarified that they meant that an entity is required to report if its data appears on the SF 133 and it meets the applicable statutory definition of agency. The frequently asked questions document does not clearly communicate this two-prong approach. Additionally, OMB's verbal clarification when meeting with us does not account for those entities that meet the statutory definition of agency and are required by the DATA Act to report financial and payment information but do not appear on the SF 133. We will continue to assess OMB's efforts to address this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To help ensure effective government-wide implementation and that complete and consistent spending data will be reported as required by the DATA Act, the Director of OMB, in collaboration with the Secretary of the Treasury, should establish or leverage existing processes and controls to determine the complete population of agencies that are required to report spending data under the DATA Act and make the results of those determinations publicly available.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

  2. Status: Open

    Priority recommendation

    Comments: OMB does not have plans to reassess, on a periodic basis, which agencies are required to report spending data under the DATA Act. We continue to believe action on this recommendation is important to effectively implement the DATA Act. We will continue to assess OMB's efforts to address this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To help ensure effective government-wide implementation and that complete and consistent spending data will be reported as required by the DATA Act, the Director of OMB, in collaboration with the Secretary of the Treasury, should reassess, on a periodic basis, which agencies are required to report spending data under the DATA Act and make appropriate notifications to affected agencies.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OMB developed a document entitled, "Utilizing the Updates to Implementation Plans," which describes OMB's planned review of the implementation plan updates and also includes a tool to document their review of the updated plan information. Treasury also developed a document entitled "DATA Act - Agency Implementation Progress Monitoring," which describes Treasury's process for monitoring agency progress. To facilitate monitoring, OMB and Treasury regularly interact with agencies through weekly phone calls, monthly senior accountable officials (SAO) meetings, and other forms of communication. Treasury also established a progress dashboard, which documents agencies' reported progress in meeting certain milestones. According to the Treasury document, the dashboards are reviewed by the DATA Act Executive Steering Committee and presented at the Interagency Advisory Council and SAO monthly meetings.

    Recommendation: To help ensure effective implementation of the DATA Act by the agencies and facilitate the further establishment of overall government-wide governance, the Director of OMB, in collaboration with the Secretary of the Treasury, should establish documented policies and procedures for the periodic review and use of agency implementation plans to facilitate and monitor agency progress against the plans.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

  4. Status: Open

    Priority recommendation

    Comments: On June 15, 2016, OMB directed CFO Act agencies to update key components of their implementation plans by August 12, 2016. The requirement did not extend to non-CFO Act agencies. OMB stated that it is monitoring non-CFO Act agencies by providing feedback to non-CFO Act agencies through workshops instead of requesting updated implementation plan information. According to OMB officials, OMB has not followed-up with non-CFO Act agencies or requested updated implementation plan information because they are working with the CFO Act agencies which comprise approximately 90 percent of federal spending. In addition to these outreach efforts, OMB has worked with Treasury to engage with small and independent agencies through weekly phone calls and other forms of communication. However, the DATA Act applies to most federal agencies, and we believe that it is important to monitor smaller agencies' implementation plans as well as large agencies. We will continue to assess OMB's efforts to address this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To help ensure effective implementation of the DATA Act by the agencies and facilitate the further establishment of overall government-wide governance, the Director of OMB, in collaboration with the Secretary of the Treasury, should request that non-CFO Act agencies required to report federal spending data under the DATA Act submit updated implementation plans, including updated timelines and milestones, cost estimates, and risks, to address new technical requirements.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On December 8, 2016, OMB testified that OMB had reviewed implementation plan updates from the 24 CFO Act agencies, which enabled them to track and assess agency progress toward successful implementation and identify areas where subsequent action was needed. OMB also conducted in-person follow-up meetings with nine agencies that reported significant issues to better understand their challenges. We determined that these actions meet the intent of our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To help ensure effective implementation of the DATA Act by the agencies and facilitate the further establishment of overall government-wide governance, the Director of OMB, in collaboration with the Secretary of the Treasury, should assess whether information or plan elements missing from agency implementation plans are needed and ensure that all key implementation plan elements are included in updated implementation plans.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

 

Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Nov 16, 2017

Nov 15, 2017

Nov 9, 2017

Oct 20, 2017

Sep 26, 2017

Looking for more? Browse all our products here