OMB sets new deadlines to improve data on USASpending.gov

Thursday - 6/20/2013, 7:00am EDT

Agencies have 17 months to assert all financial data, including contracts and grants, in the USASpending.gov portal is accurate.

The Office of Management and Budget set a November 2014 deadline for agencies to develop a process to improve the data quality on the site, in part by requiring the use of a single Federal Award Identification Number (FAIN) for all actions associated with any given federal assistance award. Agencies also have to validate prime award data and continually attest to its accuracy on the USASpending portal.

In a memo to agency CFOs, Norman Dong, deputy OMB controller, detailed the steps agencies need to take to meet the November 2014 goal.

"The information on USAspending.gov is populated with data sourced from agency financial assistance management systems and from the central Federal Procurement Data System," Dong wrote. "These systems include both financial data and narrative information about specific assistance and procurement awards made by federal agencies throughout the fiscal year. Because existing reporting models are not directly tied to agency financial systems at the award level, it is imperative that each agency have an internal control and accountability structure in place to ensure that the data reported is accurate and complete."

The first deadline in this process is October when OMB wants agencies to begin assigning FAINs to each award for financial assistance.

"[O]nce a Federal agency assigns a FAIN, that federal agency must ensure that the FAIN is clearly identified in all federal award documents," Dong wrote. "As a term and condition of the award, federal agencies must require that all recipients document the assigned FAIN on each subaward under the federal award." Additionally in October, agencies must implement procedures to validate prime federal award financial data in USASpending.gov, and report the accuracy rate of the data within 60 days of the end of the quarter.

Then by Nov. 15, 2014, agencies must assure OMB that "federal award financial data reported on USAspending.gov is correct at the reported percentage of accuracy, and the agency has adequate internal controls over the underlying spending, and the agency has implemented processes to ensure data completeness and accuracy on USAspending.gov by using control totals with financial statement data and comparing samples of financial data to actual award documents."

To validate the data, agencies can take one of three approaches. The first is a direct data transfer from their financial system to USASpending.gov. The second is using SF-133 Report on Budget Execution and Budgetary Resources.

Finally, OMB stated agencies also can develop their own approach to validate the information, but it must approve that approach by Aug. 31, 2013.

Auditors, industry and other watchdog groups have complained about the accuracy of the data in USASpending.gov for years. The Sunlight Foundation in 2011 found that agencies misreported almost every dollar they spent. The White House tasked the Government Accountability and Transparency Board (GAT Board) with figuring out how to improve data quality. The board ran three pilots in 2011, including one to standardize spending data.

Additionally, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) each reintroduced the DATA Act in May. The bills, which previous versions the Obama administration didn't support, would do several things, including standardize how agencies report contract, grants and other spending data and require all the information to be made public on an easily searchable website.

For some time, OMB also has been focusing on improving data quality and this memo is one step toward an improved USASpending.gov.

Dong wrote these current set of efforts to improve data quality of USASpending.gov "will inform ongoing policy discussions to develop a future vision for federal spending transparency. OMB, in collaboration with the Department of the Treasury, will continue to work with federal and non-federal stakeholders to ensure that complete, accurate, and timely federal spending information is shared with the public. Further guidance to implement a more comprehensive vision will eventually supersede this section of this memorandum."

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