OMB takes first step toward comprehensive inventory of federal programs

Friday - 5/31/2013, 6:36pm EDT

The Office of Management and Budget took the first step Friday in attempting to compile a comprehensive list of federal programs with the launch of a new online inventory.

Hosted on Performance.gov, the Federal Program Inventory aims to be a one-stop shop for information about the more than 1,600 programs agencies operate and how they complement — or even duplicate — the work of other programs.

Congress mandated the creation of the inventory in the 2010 Government Performance and Results Modernization Act.

While information about agency programs can also be found in other areas, such as agency budget justifications and the President's annual budget release, "reporting about the government's activities is often done in a siloed and decentralized way, which inhibits coordination across agencies and cross-cutting analysis across programs," an OMB fact sheet stated.

For the initial launch of the inventory, all 24 Chief Financial Officer Act agencies were required to provide to OMB a report listing the titles of each of their programs and brief explanations of how they connect to the agency's strategic goals and objectives.

Agencies took varying approaches to listing programs. Some listed programs by budget account, while others organized them by strategic goal.

The inventory, as it currently stands, is a collection of PDF documents, which hinders searchability across agencies. OMB said it hopes to expand the site's functionality by allowing users to search by program. OMB also wants to integrate information about program funding data, which is now maintained on a separate site, USASpending.gov.

At least one of the 24 CFO Act agencies — the Nuclear Regulatory Commission — does not appear on the site at all.

OMB: Still a work in progress

OMB acknowledged the inventory is still very much a work in progress.

"In next year's release, agencies will incorporate feedback on their program definitions, and will also centralize the inventory on Performance.gov and add additional information for each program," OMB spokeswoman Ari Isaacman Astles said in an email. "The inventory will then be updated each year, and will be expanded over time with links to additional sources of information."

David Walker, chairman of the Government Transformation Initiative and former U.S. comptroller general, called the launch of the inventory a good first step, but said the government must do more than simply identify federal programs.

"The OMB's efforts serve to demonstrate the need for an independent task force or commission to make specific and actionable recommendations to improve the economy, efficiency, effectiveness and credibility of the federal government," Walker said in a statement.

Duplication and redundancy in federal programs have long vexed agencies — and annoyed Congress.

Over the past three years, the Government Accountability Office has documented 162 areas of redundancy across the federal government wasting billions of dollars.

In budget guidance released earlier this week, OMB directed agencies to take steps to reduce overlapping programs — using GAO's annual report as a guide — as they begin work on their fiscal 2015 budgets.

President Barack Obama's fiscal 2014 budget contained 215 proposals to cut or consolidate programs, which could save more than $25 billion, according to White House estimates. That includes a proposal to significantly consolidate more than half of the government's science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs.

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