DATA ACT:

Improvements Needed in Reviewing Agency Implementation Plans and Monitoring Progress

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

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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: Closed - Implemented

    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, in May 2016 OMB and Treasury published guidance in the form of frequently asked questions (FAQ) and stated that the agencies may consult with OMB for additional counsel. OMB has reached out to federal agencies to identify which agencies have determined that they are required to report and which agencies have determined that they are exempt from reporting under the DATA Act and prepared a list of such agencies. However, according to OMB staff a limited number of entities that may meet the criteria of OMB's FAQs have not shared their determinations with OMB regarding the applicability of the DATA Act to them. OMB staff told us that they have plans to reach out to these entities. Based on the actions taken to date, we are closing this recommendation as implemented.

    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: Closed - Implemented

    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, in May 2016 OMB and Treasury published guidance in the form of FAQs and stated that the agencies may consult with OMB for additional counsel. OMB has ongoing conversations with agencies to clarify how they determine whether or not they are subject to the requirements of the act. In addition, agencies are required to notify OMB if they change their determination. Based on the actions taken by OMB and agencies to date, we are closing this recommendation as implemented.

    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: Closed - Implemented

    Priority recommendation

    Comments: OMB stated that it is monitoring non-CFO Act agencies' implementation by providing feedback to non-CFO Act agencies through workshops instead of requesting updated implementation plan information. OMB has worked with Treasury to engage with small and independent agencies through weekly phone calls and other forms of communication. As a result, there were over 60 non-CFO Act agencies that submitted data in May 2017 reporting almost $50 billion in outstanding obligations for the second quarter of fiscal year 2017. Therefore, we are closing this recommendation as implemented since OMB has met 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 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

 

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