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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Agencies Looking for Internal Data Turn to USASpending.gov

It’s surprising how many agencies now use USASpending.gov to “access their own data,” said David Lebryk, the fiscal assistant Treasury secretary who on Monday delivered an upbeat assessment of governmentwide progress in implementing the 2014 Digital Accountability and Transparency Act.

“We’re off to a great start on tough challenges, but outsiders don’t really appreciate how complex government is,” he said at a breakfast sponsored by the Johns Hopkins University Government Analytics program and REI Systems.

“We’re not a small business,” Lebryk said, referring to the federal government. “We’re the biggest entity in the world. And at a time of budget constraints, there is more scrutiny of spending, of which the DATA Act is a part.”

Lebryk and Comptroller David Mader are leading the team charged with implementing the DATA Act, which is designed to standardize spending information in machine-readable formats to make it accessible to the public. “With no new funding,” Lebryk said, “we’ve tried to think it through creatively, to use technology as our friend. We’re not doing massive system changes, and it’s important that the data be owned by the agencies.”

This spring’s upgrade of USASpending.gov—to which some transparency advocates objected—was done with an eye on three types of users, Lebryk said: casual users in the general public; those who want analytic tools to drill deeply; and those who simply want the data and don’t care about the tools. The recent upgrade was intended to enhance the second group, he said. “We were trying for improvements in usability, but not trying to improve the quality of the data,” which is where the DATA Act will come in, he said.

One of Lebryk’s teammates at the Office of Management and Budget gave additional details on progress at the June 10 Data Act Summit sponsored by the Data Transparency Coalition.

Karen Lee, branch chief at OMB’s Office of Federal Financial Management, said the DATA Act already is, “changing the way government does its work, changing the way it interacts with non-federal partners” as it becomes institutionalized. She described pilot programs to reduce the burden of agency reporting. “There’s no one regulation or policy that is a magic bullet, as there are many sources for the burden,” Lee said. But the multi-agency implementation team is seeking to curb multiple requirements for supplying the same information, she said.
-Charles S. Clark, GovExec.com
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Thursday, June 11, 2015

Why agencies break the law on improper payments

Despite an attempted crackdown by the Obama administration, agencies are increasingly likely to make payment mistakes. The error rate rose from 3.53 percent in fiscal 2013 to 4.02 percent in fiscal 2014. In other words, the government misspent about $10 billion more last year than the year earlier.

That we knew, thanks to a Government Accountability Office report issued a few months back. But recent inspector general reports round out the picture by showing where agencies go wrong.

Of the 24 CFO Act agencies — those required to have audited financial statements —about half failed to comply with the law on improper payments, according to a preliminary analysis of the IG reports by the accounting firm Grant Thornton. The low scorers include the agencies that misspent the most money: the departments of Health and Human Services, Treasury, Agriculture and the Social Security Administration.

The overall picture seems, at first glance, worse than in past years, when inspectors general evaluated agencies on a multilevel scale that ranged from "compliant" to "noncompliant." While agencies have made strides in some of their programs, complying with the improper payments law is now pass-fail, thanks to guidance the White House issued in October.

"They're trying to say, ‘No more wiggle room. You're either compliant or not compliant,'" said Grant Thornton Principal Robert Shea.

-Emily Kopp, FederalNewsRadio.com
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