recommended reading

It's waste vs. cost in the transparency debate

There are some technical steps officials could take to make reporting less burdensome for recipients of federal stimulus money, such as auto-filling more parts of the electronic spending form, reducing the number of data fields and adding auto-editing programs that spot common mistakes such as incorrect ZIP codes, government watchdogs said Wednesday.

Congress also could raise the floor on required reporting above its current level of $25,000 for most stimulus funds, inspectors general from various science-related agencies testified before members of a House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight.

There's a trade-off, however, said Energy Department Inspector General Gregory Friedman. Less burdensome reporting likely will come with higher levels of waste, fraud and abuse.

"If the body politic is prepared to accept [a new] threshold and understands the risk associated with that threshold . . . that's OK," Friedman said. "But if, at the end of the day, we're going to adopt such a mechanism and then have people criticize the fact that there wasn't adequate reporting or oversight below the threshold, we will have ended up moving the ball backward rather than forward."

Republicans and Democrats have largely praised oversight provisions in President Obama's $840 billion 2009 economic stimulus bill, despite a deep and highly partisan divide over the economic value of the bill itself.

Those innovations include placing the financial reporting burden on recipients of stimulus money rather than on agencies and pulling all spending reports onto a public website, Recovery.gov, so citizens can blow the whistle when something has been paid for but not produced. The provisions also include new technology, some borrowed from the intelligence community, that combs public records to root out possible fraudulent contractors before the government cuts a check rather than after.

The Obama administration is investigating a plan to implement that reporting system governmentwide and bipartisan legislation that would do much the same thing is working its way through Congress.

Both plans include a whole-of-government spending oversight panel modeled on the stimulus-tracking Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board.

University researchers and some small businesses have complained that the board's reporting requirements are overly burdensome and bury their small staffs in paperwork.

Those complaints have diminished significantly since 2009 as the board has honed its reporting site and as stimulus fund recipients have become adept at using the system, panelists said. A governmentwide reporting system would further address many complaints by eliminating the duplicate reporting that many recipients now experience in working with multiple agencies, they said.

Ultimately, though, there's a trade-off between transparency and ease of doing business, panelist and lawmakers said.

"Transparency is wonderful, but it does come at a cost," the panel's ranking member, Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., said. "Agencies have more burdens associated with working with fund recipients and collecting data. The [inspectors general] and the [Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board] have the burden of spot-checking reporting compliance and aggregating data . . . Recipients of funds have costs associated with reporting requirements and tracking where funds specifically go."

Threatwatch Alert

Thousands of cyber attacks occur each day

See the latest threats

JOIN THE DISCUSSION

Close [ x ] More from Nextgov
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from Nextgov.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Modernizing IT for Mission Success

    Surveying Federal and Defense Leaders on Priorities and Challenges at the Tactical Edge

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • Effective Ransomware Response

    This whitepaper provides an overview and understanding of ransomware and how to successfully combat it.

    Download
  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.