House oversight leaders warn of data transparency challenges

House oversight leaders warn of data transparency challenges
© Greg Nash

House Oversight Committee leaders are warning of ongoing issues with the implementation of a law passed in 2014 that was meant to modernize federal spending data. 

Chairman Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzGowdy won't use Oversight gavel to probe Russia The Hill's 12:30 Report Chaffetz: Trump administration 'almost worse' than Obama's on transparency MORE (R-Utah), ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and other members sent a letter to the leaders of the Treasury Department and the Office of Management and Budget on Monday urging them to address deficiencies in the implementation of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, also known as the DATA Act. 

Congress passed the law in 2014 to implement standardized data reporting by federal agencies with the goal of putting more federal spending data online. The Treasury Department and OMB were responsible for establishing government-wide financial data standards.  

Agencies are now facing the first deadline to report data in compliance with the law. On Tuesday, spending data reported by government agencies will be viewable at USASpending.gov. 

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However, audits by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) have pointed to ongoing challenges with agencies’ implementation of the law, including shortcomings in guidance on data reporting issued by OMB. 

The bipartisan lawmakers highlighted these assessments in the letter sent Monday, underscoring a set of recommendations made by GAO to improve implementation of the law. 

“The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Department of Treasury (Treasury) are integral to effective implementation, including setting data standards, issuing agency guidance, and identifying opportunities to reduce reporting burden for federal awardees,” the lawmakers wrote. 

“While there is strong reason to be optimistic that the DATA Act can and will achieve its goals, there are ongoing implementation challenges that threaten its success,” they wrote. 

For example, the GAO has found problems with financial management and technology that could affect the accuracy of the data reported in compliance with the law.

In a report issued last month, the GAO encouraged OMB to provide additional guidance to agencies.

“Longstanding issues related to agency financial information, systems and internal controls, and reporting challenges related to agency DATA Act report submissions underscore the need for OMB to address our open recommendation to provide additional guidance to address potential clarity, consistency, or data quality issues and for OMB to implement a process for communicating data quality issues and for OMB to implement a process for communicating data quality limitations to the public,” the GAO wrote.

Members of the Oversight Committee asked the Treasury Department for a progress update on its efforts to address recommendations made by the GAO by May 22.