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Data Transparency: Oversight Needed to Address Underreporting and Inconsistencies on Federal Award Website

GAO-14-476 Published: Jun 30, 2014. Publicly Released: Aug 01, 2014.
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What GAO Found

Although agencies generally reported required contract information, they did not properly report information on assistance awards (e.g., grants or loans), totaling approximately $619 billion in fiscal year 2012. Specifically, 33 of 37 agencies with a budget authority of at least $400 million reported at least one contract. The other four claimed exemptions from reporting, such as the use of non-appropriated funds, but gaps in Office of Management and Budget (OMB) guidance make it unclear whether such exemptions are appropriate. Also, agencies reported required information for at least one assistance award for 1,390 of 2,183 programs listed in a federal catalog. Another 451 programs did not make an award subject to reporting. However, agencies did not appropriately submit the required information for the remaining 342 programs, although many reported the information after GAO informed them of the omission. Officials with the Millennium Challenge Corporation said that they could not report because its recipients are foreign. However, OMB's guidance describes how to report foreign assistance and other agencies report such awards. OMB has taken steps to improve the completeness of assistance awards on the website, including issuing a memorandum in June 2013 directing agencies to ensure that data on are consistent with agency financial records. If properly implemented, these procedures could better ensure that agencies report future assistance awards.

Few awards on the website contained information that was fully consistent with agency records. GAO estimates with 95 percent confidence that between 2 percent and 7 percent of the awards contained information that was fully consistent with agencies' records for all 21 data elements examined. The element that identifies the name of the award recipient was the most consistent, while the elements that describe the award's place of performance were generally the most inconsistent. GAO could not determine whether the remaining data elements were significantly consistent or inconsistent, in large part because of incomplete or inadequate agency records. Four data elements in particular (e.g., program source information and the state of performance) had inadequacies that were significant. This means that for each of the four data elements, at least 10 percent of awards contained unverifiable information. While OMB placed responsibilities on agencies to ensure their reported information is accurate and substantiated by supporting documentation, this approach has had limited effect on the overall quality of the data on the website, reinforcing the need for a more comprehensive oversight process by OMB and more specific guidance from OMB on how agencies are to validate information reported to Until these weaknesses are addressed, any effort to use the data will be hampered by uncertainties about accuracy.

Why GAO Did This Study

The Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act was enacted in 2006 to increase the transparency over the more than $1 trillion spent by the federal government on awards annually. Among other things, the act requires OMB to establish a website that contains data on federal awards (e.g., contracts and grants) and guidance on agency reporting requirements for the website,

GAO's objectives were to determine the extent to which (1) agencies report required award data and (2) the data on the website are consistent with agency records. To assess reporting, GAO reviewed laws and guidance, analyzed reported award data, and interviewed agency officials. To assess inconsistency, GAO selected a representative sample of 385 fiscal year 2012 awards and traced them back to agency source records.


To improve reliability of information on the website, GAO is making recommendations to the Director of OMB to (1) clarify guidance on reporting award information and maintaining supporting records, and (2) develop and implement oversight processes to ensure that award data are consistent with agency records. GAO also recommends that the Chief Executive Officer of the Millennium Challenge Corporation report its award information, as required. OMB generally agreed with GAO's recommendations. While the Millennium Challenge Corporation neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendation, GAO believes it is needed, as discussed in this report.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Office of Management and Budget To improve the completeness and accuracy of data submissions to the website, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, in collaboration with Treasury's Fiscal Service, should clarify guidance on (1) agency responsibilities for reporting awards funded by non-annual appropriations; (2) the applicability of reporting requirements to non-classified awards associated with intelligence operations; (3) the requirement that award titles describe the award's purpose (consistent with our prior recommendation); and (4) agency maintenance of authoritative records adequate to verify the accuracy of required data reported for use by
Open – Partially Addressed
At the time of issuance in June 2014, OMB agreed with this recommendation and began taking steps to address several of the issues discussed in this recommendation that includes working with agencies to identify those required to report under the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 (DATA Act). As of March 2022, OMB has not taken additional action to address this recommendation. We continue to believe that OMB needs to clarify its guidance on topics including descriptive award titles and non-classified awards related to intelligence activities. Fully implementing this recommendation should help improve the reliability of the data displayed on
Office of Management and Budget
Priority Rec.
To improve the completeness and accuracy of data submissions to the website, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, in collaboration with Treasury's Fiscal Service, should develop and implement a government-wide oversight process to regularly assess the consistency of information reported by federal agencies to the website other than the award amount.
Closed – Implemented
As part of their DATA Act implementation efforts, OMB issued policy guidance in 2016 (MPM 2016-03 and M-17-04) that identifies authoritative systems to validate agency spending information and directs senior agency officials to provide quarterly assurance regarding the data reported to In addition, Treasury developed a broker system that checks agency-reported data for errors. Together, these actions provide OMB and agencies with additional tools to help ensure that spending data reported to is accurate and complete.
Millennium Challenge Corporation To improve the completeness of foreign recipient data on the website, the Chief Executive Officer of the Millennium Challenge Corporation should direct responsible officials within the Corporation's Department of Administration and Finance to report spending information on all assistance award programs to for prior and future fiscal years in accordance with statutory requirements and OMB guidance.
Closed – Implemented
After GAO's report issuance in 2014, The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) began reporting awards made in fiscal year 2015. As of May 2018, MCC has also reported awards for prior fiscal years beginning with 2008 to present (based on data found on

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