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Thursday, March 28, 2013

New data analytics tool gives Postal Service IG head start on cases

Investigators and auditors in the Postal Service's Office of Inspector General didn't jump at the chance to use new tools for analyzing data. They were unsure and skeptical the new approach would really make a difference or if it would just waste their time.

But once the Counter Measures and Performance Evaluation (CAPE) team in the OIG developed the first dashboard to help investigators visualize the data more easily, they overcame that initial resistance.
Bryan Jones, the director of the CAPE team, said the IG's office had to understand the mind of an investigator and what would be compelling to them.

"It's a web-based interface, a map of the U.S. with hot spots," Jones said. "These are all hyperlinks ... If you are an investigator responsible for a certain area, your eyes are drawn to that area, there are circles that are red or green, depending on what's going on there; there are hyperlinks so you can drill into the details. Once you get behind the map, then the power of the analytics is right in front of you. You have a link analysis tool. It may link one contractor with another contractor. There are copies of invoices. There's risk scores that are assigned to whatever it is we are measuring. We are able to model every single contract or every single transaction or every single whatever it is that's being investigated. In the past, you'd have to do a statistical sample or you may have to wait until someone calls to look for something. It puts a lot of information in front of the investigator."

- Jason Miller, FederalNewsRadio.com

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

OMB urges shared services for financial management

Having witnessed the struggles that come with large-scale, complex financial management systems, the Office of Management and Budget now wants agencies to opt instead for shared service providers. The plan is to make greater use of common systems, transaction processing and their providers' expertise.
"Traditional approaches to financial systems implementations have left agencies exposed to significant risks in cost, quality and performance," Danny Werfel, federal controller, wrote in a memo March 25. "The cost, quality, and performance of federal financial systems can be improved by focusing government resources on fewer, more standardized solutions."
His new memo directed agencies to use a shared service provider for future modernizations of core accounting systems. When agencies share services, they can strategically source software providers and hosting services by buying in bulk, he wrote. Sharing also reduces the risks and delays that can come when agencies implement their own systems.
"OMB's guiding principle will be to support plans that offer the best value for the federal government," Werfel wrote.
Finally, by using shared service providers aligned with common standards and systems, the government can get better quality data about federal finances, including auditable financial statements on a governmentwide level.

-Mathew Weigelt, FCW.com

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Crisis Budgeting Creates an 'Uncertainty Tax,' Senator Says

The uncounted hours federal employees have spent planning for budget contingencies amid political and fiscal uncertainty reduce agency productivity and lower morale, witnesses told a Senate panel on Wednesday.
The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing came just as President Obama and the House and Senate Budget committees met on Capitol Hill but made little progress toward a solution to the fiscal stalemate.
“By failing to provide timely, predictable budgets we are generating waste throughout our government and exporting some of that waste to our state and local partners and everyone who relies on us,” said Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., chairman of the committee.
The absence of timely budgets, he said, creates “an uncertainty tax.”
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., agreed with Carper that the budget crisis is “a bipartisan failure of leadership.” The reason the Senate has not enacted a budget in four years, Coburn said, is that “it has sought not to meet the needs of government but to meet needs of politicians, focusing on the short-term and not the long-term.” The fact that Congress failed to pass all 12 spending bills in 18 of the last 24 years and relied on continuing resolutions, he said, “kills the agencies. It doesn’t allow for judgment or let them do what they’re supposed to do. The inefficiency and the increased cost I would lay at the feet of Congress and the president.”
Routine CRs are “at least as worthy of attention, and may indeed be more damaging, than sequestration or brief government shutdowns,” Philip Joyce, a professor of management, finance, and leadership at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy and author of a recent study on the harm from late budgets, testified. “Some of these costs are financial, and some represent inefficiencies and compromised effectiveness for federal programs. All of these negative impacts are self-inflicted, however, and are entirely preventable.”
Budget uncertainty also affects the federal workforce, Joyce added. “People leave government because of lowered morale,” he said, “and they’re not necessarily the ones you want to leave.”
He also noted that despite the Office of Management and Budget’s early prohibition on planning for sequestration for fear of harming productivity, “any rational agency would begin planning given what they could see coming. And once OMB pulled the switch, they went into high gear. But nothing about developing these plans contributes to mission success of these agencies.”
Witnesses’ recommendations for fixing the problem ranged from biennial budgeting, to improved communication with agencies, to banning continuing resolutions or limiting their duration to giving agency budget planners more freedom to move funds around when they arrive late.
Most agreed that wasteful spending can be found to ease the budget stalemate. “Congress doesn’t do a good job of oversight and tends to oversee a crisis but not the operations,” said Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska. “Congress doesn’t do enough review of whether this or that program should exist.”

-Charles S. Clark, GovExec.com


Wednesday, March 06, 2013

As sequestration cuts loom, unimplemented IG recommendations could save billions

Over the past few years, unimplemented agency inspector general recommendations that could potentially save the government billions of dollars have piled up.

Now, with $85 billion in automatic budget cuts kicking in, lawmakers on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee are telling agencies there's no excuse for them to further delay implementing the cost-saving measures and best practices identified by their IGs.

In 2009, there were 10,894 open IG recommendations, according to a report released by the oversight committee ahead of a hearing Tuesday. But by 2012, that number had grown to 16,906, representing a potential $67 billion in savings.

And if agencies won't act on those recommendations, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the oversight committee, said he will.

Issa's committee has sought to forge close ties with agency watchdogs. In January, a letter from both the House and Senate oversight committees called on the Obama administration to fill persistent vacancies in the IG ranks.

The IG community is also beset by a spate of longstanding vacancies including those at six large agencies: the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Interior, Labor and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

According to the committee, there's a connection between vacancies and unimplemented recommendations. Among the agencies with most unfulfilled recommendations are those with long-term vacancies in their IG offices.

Long-term vacancies "weaken the office of the Inspector General," the report stated. "A permanent IG has the ability to set a long-term strategic plan for the office, including setting investigative and audit priorities. An acting official, on the other hand, is known by all OIG staff to be temporary."

-Jack Moore, FederalNewsRadio.com