Working toward Implementing the DATA Act

Posted on August 08, 2016
Federal agencies spend more than $3.7 trillion a year. But it’s not always easy to get reliable, useful, and consistent information about this spending—information that can help improve oversight, decision making, and transparency. So, Congress passed the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 to help more directly link spending data to program information and results. To do this, agencies will have to report standardized data. Legislators, government officials, and the public will then have online access to comparable financial information across agencies. But federal agencies are having a hard time pulling together their plans for how they will report all of this new data. The first deadline for agencies to submit plans has come and gone. With the new deadline of August 12, 2016 looming for many agencies to submit updated plans, today’s WatchBlog takes a look at these DATA Act implementation plans. Help needed Federal agencies need more help from the Office of Management and Budget and the Treasury Department to prepare their implementation plans ahead of the May 2017 reporting deadline for the actual spending data. To help, OMB and Treasury issued guidance about what agencies should include in their plans. However, OMB and Treasury don’t have a fully documented process for reviewing these plans, something that could help monitor agencies’ progress, or assist with challenges. OMB and Treasury also don’t have a complete list of agencies required to report under the DATA Act. Not having review processes—or a complete list of DATA Act agencies—could result in incomplete and inconsistent spending data that can’t be compared across agencies. Incomplete plans Agencies are still moving forward with their implementation plans, but they’re incomplete. Based on OMB and Treasury guidance, we identified 51 elements in 4 separate categories—timeline, cost estimate, narrative, and project plan—that were supposed to be included in agency implementation plans. However, none of the 42 implementation plans we reviewed contained all 51 plan elements. For example, many agencies’ cost estimates didn’t explain how they developed their estimates, or didn’t identify the resources needed to implement DATA Act requirements (such as the number of full- or part-time employees). Agencies did, however, describe in their plans potential difficulties or foreseeable challenges to implementation, as required. These included competing priorities, lack of resources, inadequate guidance, and tight timeframes.

Figure 1: Agencies Reporting Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 Implementation Challenges by Category(Excerpted from GAO-16-698)

A documented system of oversight from OMB and Treasury could help address such challenges. For more on our DATA Act implementation findings, read our report. You can also check out our recommendations on how to help ensure that agencies effectively implement this Act.