Tuesday, December 20, 2011
President Obama created a new oversight board in June 2011 as part of his new Campaign to Cut Government Waste. He directed it to report to him in December on ways to improve accountability, based on lessons from the implementation of the Recovery Act. Th
President Obama created a new oversight board in June 2011 as part of his new Campaign to Cut Government Waste. He directed it to report to him in December on ways to improve accountability, based on lessons from the implementation of the Recovery Act. That report is now out.

President Obama created the Government Accountability and Transparency Board (GAT Board), headed by Earl Devaney, the chair of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board (Recovery Board), to recommend ways to apply the successful lessons of how Recovery Act monies were overseen to all government spending.

The GAT Board report outlined several significant lessons from the experience of the Recovery Board, such as its method for collecting recipient data on spending and posting it rapidly on a centralized website; and how the lack of common data standards overly-complicated the collection of that information.

The GAT Board observed that the Recovery Act demonstrated that a vision of comprehensive transparency and accountability in federal spending is possible: “We can make data more reliable and present it in real time.  We can connect the data more closely to the investment and its intended purpose.  We can provide better tools to analyze and scrutinize it.  Moreover, we can do all of this in a more cost-effective way,” states its final report to the President. 

The GAT Board made three recommendations to President Obama:

  • Adopt a cohesive, centralized accountability framework to track and oversee spending. “A universal framework . . .will permit collaboration and rapid innovation, as well as increased user adoption. . . .Every agency of Government should have centralized access to . . . the type of forensic tool and tactics successfully deployed by the Recovery  Board.”
    • The Recovery Board has created a pilot web portal for agencies to access a central repository of forensic and analytic tools to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse – federalaccountability.gov.  Initial tests will conclude by February 2012 and at that point a determination will be made as to its usefulness to a broad range of users, and whether OMB should require all agencies to use this system.
  • Rationalize the way that the government collects and displays spending data.  “Information about Government spending today at all steps in the lifecycle is trapped in a complex web of systems and processes that are both overlapping and fragmented. . . . The Government must begin to consolidate and streamline these technology platforms that are serving common purposes. .
    • The GAT Board has convened an expert group, the Interagency Technical Advisory Panel, which has concluded that it is technically feasible to create “a single automated electronic collection system that uses a limited but well-defined set of data elements [to] promote consistent reporting and data standardization, while reducing current recipients’ burden of reporting to multiple Government systems.”
    • The GAT Board recommends that the Panel next “examine issues related to governance, performance metrics, costs, personnel requirements, alternative technological approaches, business processes, and other relevant areas necessary for the phased integration effort. The group should also consider the feasibility of linking the collected and displayed data to program information, including performance metrics.”
  • Migrate to a universal, standardized identification system for all Federal awards.  There are countless award identification systems and naming conventions in place today, agency-by-agency, that “make the task of reviewing and tracking spending data challenging even for the most expert investigator, much less the everyday taxpayer.  Introducing consistency into the award process will  . . . allow for more effective analysis and oversight.”
    • The Recovery Board has engaged a non-profit Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC) to “conduct a feasibility study.”  To date, the FFRDC has “offered three solutions for implementation of a universal award ID, as well as three primary options for the format of the ID itself.”
    • The next step is to engage Treasury and OMB to develop a specific solution, including “establishing a web-based centralized repository” that would “likn Treasury payments to specific awards. . .”

The GAT Board concludes that “there will still be much more work to be done” including “taking steps to link its spending to performance outcomes.  Without the ability to link contract and grant expenditures to outcomes from programs, products, and services, Federal decision makers cannot ensure the public funds are being spent optimally.”  It also promised to provide another progress report to the President by June 1, 2012.

Congress has agreed to appropriate $28.350,000 to the Recovery Board for FY 2012 and beyond, and given it authority “to develop and test information technology resources and oversight mechanisms to enhance transparency of and detect and remediate waste, fraud, and abuse in Federal spending, . . . to remain available until September 30, 2013 (p. 86).

Legislation Related to Spending and Performance Transparency:

 Proposed Data Accountability and Transparency Act.  Congressman Darrell Issa introduced legislation in June 2011 that would transform the role of the Accountability Board to cover the spending of the entire government, not just Recovery Act monies.  Here’s the full text of H.R. 2146, and here’s the section-by-section summary.  Senator Mark Warner has introduced companion legislation in the Senate.  Here's the full text of S. 1222.

Proposed Government Results Transparency Act.  According to Government Executive’s Charles Clark, in “Expanded Data Transparency Bill Passed House Panel,” The Government Results Transparency Act (H.R. 3262) "would build a bridge between performance data and spending data," said Rep. Frank Guinta, R-N.H., who introduced the bill this month. "Under GRTA, the government will finally be able to publish all of its performance data and spending data for each program on a public website in a format that makes it easy for anyone to search, download and analyze."

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Related posts on Implementation of the Recovery Act:

Part 1: Recovering from the Recovery Act: The Story from the Bottom: Cities’ Experiences

Part 2: Recovering from the Recovery Act: The Story from the Top: The Recovery Implementation Office

Part 4: Recovering from the Recovery Act: How Federal Agency Managers Implemented Recovery Act Programs

Part 5: Recovering from the Recovery Act: How States Reported on Use of Funds