DATA Act:

Implementation Progresses but Challenges Remain

GAO-17-282T: Published: Dec 8, 2016. Publicly Released: Dec 8, 2016.

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What GAO Found

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the Department of the Treasury (Treasury), and federal agencies have taken steps to implement the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 (DATA Act); however, more work is needed for effective implementation.

Data governance and the transition to a new administration. OMB and Treasury have established a new Data Standards Committee responsible for maintaining established standards and developing new data elements or data definitions. Although this represents progress, more remains to be done to establish a data governance structure that is consistent with leading practices to ensure the integrity of data standards over time. The transition to a new administration presents risks to implementing the DATA Act, including a potential shift in priorities. The lack of a robust and institutionalized data governance structure for managing efforts going forward also presents risks regarding the ability of agencies to meet the statutory deadlines in the event that priorities shift over time.

Implementation plan updates. According to the 24 Chief Financial Officers (CFO) Act agencies’ implementation plan updates, most of them continue to face challenges implementing the DATA Act. GAO identified four overarching categories of challenges reported by agencies that may impede their ability to effectively and efficiently implement the DATA Act: systems integration issues, lack of resources, evolving and complex reporting requirements, and inadequate guidance. To address these challenges, most agencies reported taking mitigating actions, such as making changes to internal policies and procedures, leveraging existing resources, and employing manual and temporary workarounds. However, the information reported by the CFO Act agencies in their implementation plan updates indicates that some agencies are at increased risk of not meeting the May 2017 reporting deadline because of these challenges. In addition, inspectors general for some agencies have issued readiness review reports indicating that their respective agencies are at risk of not meeting the reporting deadline.

Operationalizing data standards and technical specifications for data reporting. In November 2016, OMB issued additional guidance on how agencies should report financial information involving specific transactions, such as intragovernmental transfers, and how agency senior accountable officials should provide quality assurances for submitted data. Although OMB has made some progress with these efforts, other data definitions lack clarity which still needs to be addressed to ensure that agencies report consistent and comparable data. In September 2016, Treasury updated its version of the DATA Act broker, which it stated was fully capable of performing the key functions of extracting and validating agency data. Treasury officials stated that although they plan to continue to refine the broker to improve its functionality and overall user experience, they have no plans to alter key functions. Agencies have reported making progress creating their data submissions and testing them in the broker, but work remains before actual reporting can begin. Some agencies reported in their implementation plan updates that they developed plans for interim solutions, but some of these interim solutions rely on manual processing, which can be burdensome and increase the risk for errors.

Pilot to reduce recipient reporting burden. GAO's review of the revised design for both the grants and procurement portions of the pilot found that they partly met each of the leading practices for effective pilot design. Although this represented significant progress since April 2016, GAO identified an area where further improvement is still needed. Specifically, the plan for the procurement portion of the pilot does not clearly describe and document how findings related to centralized certified payroll reporting will be applicable to other types of required procurement reporting. Further, in November 2016, this portion of the pilot was delayed to ensure that security procedures were in place to protect personally identifiable information.

Why GAO Did This Study

The DATA Act requires OMB and Treasury to establish government-wide data standards and requires federal agencies to begin reporting financial and payment data in accordance with these standards by May 2017. The act also requires establishment of a pilot program to develop recommendations for simplifying federal award reporting for grants and contracts. Consistent with GAO’s mandate under the act, the report being released today is one in a series that GAO will provide to the Congress. This statement discusses steps taken by OMB, Treasury, and federal agencies to implement the act and highlights key findings and the recommendation from GAO’s report (GAO-17-156). As part of this work, GAO reviewed DATA Act implementation plan updates and interviewed staff at OMB, Treasury, and other selected agencies.

What GAO Recommends

In addition to prior recommendations that GAO has made, in its most recent report, GAO recommends that OMB take steps to help ensure that the procurement portion of the pilot better reflects leading practices for effective pilot design. OMB neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendation.

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

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