Agency leadership needed to support data analytics adoption, expert says

Wednesday - 5/23/2012, 11:09am EDT

Stephen Sossei, consultant, Association for Government Accountants

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The Association for Government Accountants recently released a report on how well federal agencies are implementing data analytics to do things like stopping criminals from reselling food stamps and stopping stimulus money from being issued to the same company twice. While the concept is proven to be valuable, its adoption is not universal.

"While work was progressing, there still needs to be some additional work in the area, and leadership was really the key to progressing the work in the different agencies," said Stephen Sossei, an AGA consultant and co-author of the report.

He told The Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp that sufficient governmentwide leadership was already in place to make this happen.

"It really comes down to leadership at the agency level, in terms of bringing forth the efforts that are needed to bring data analytics into the everyday operations of the agency," he said.

One of the success stories outlined in the report involved the SNAP program, previously known as the Food Stamp program.

"They're monitoring the transactions on virtually a daily basis," Sossei said. "What they're doing is they're identifying the people who are potentially buying food stamps but are not redeeming those food stamps for food. They're able to identify those merchants that are doing these types of illegal activities and they cut them off on a very quick basis from the program."

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will soon be able to use a similar system to root out people who are misusing their services. "They'll cut them off quickly, they'll investigate quickly and hopefully save everyone money," Sossei said.

In addition to the survey, AGA asked federal financial officials what obstacles were preventing agencies from adopting the use of analytic tools.

What AGA discovered was that different agencies were adopting different approaches to implementing analytical tools. The Postal Service's inspector general's office, for example, has been successful in using what Sossei described as a "go slow approach" to develop its system. In contrast, the Recover Accountability and Transparency Board adopted a high-budget approach to get its system up and running quickly.

"Both were effective," Sossei said. "I think what it takes is leadership, planning, [and] will within the agency to advance the use of data anayltics."

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