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Transparency board urges single government spending ID

This story has been updated.

Agencies should integrate the various computer systems they use to track federal grant, contract and award spending and assign each payment a universal identification number that will be recognized governmentwide, according to a report released Wednesday.

The government also should leverage new Web-based investigative techniques pioneered by the stimulus-tracking Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board to detect contractor and grantee fraud, according to the report from the Government Accountability and Transparency Board, which President Obama charged in June with finding new ways to reduce waste, fraud and abuse in federal spending.

Office of Management and Budget Chairman Jack Lew announced the report in a White House blog post Wednesday evening.

The board's recommendations were not unexpected. Chairman Earl Devaney, who also chairs the Recovery Board, advocated for both measures before his appointment. He said it would take significant evidence from agencies to convince him a universal spending ID wasn't feasible.

The recommendations, however, take the administration a step closer to accomplishing a series of transparency and efficiency initiatives for which it has advocated domestically and pledged to accomplish as part of its commitments under the international Open Government Partnership.

Daniel Schuman, policy counsel for the Sunlight Foundation transparency group, called the report a good step but said the real test will be whether the White House follows up with concrete directives to agencies and deadlines.

"Ultimately, it has to come down to saying someone must do something," he said. "We're three years in and by all accounts the [Recovery Board] seems to have been successful. It's been broadly acclaimed for its efforts and there's been broad acknowledgement that you need to be able to follow government spending from the start to the finish."

Legislation that would create something like a permanent Government Accountability and Transparency Board is working its way through Congress. The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act is sponsored by Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., in the House and Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., in the Senate.

A conference appropriations bill, released Thursday, allocates about $28 million to the Recovery Board both to carry out its own mission and 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."

That's significantly shy of the $51million in annual appropriations sponsors envisioned for the DATA Act's Federal Accountability and Spending Transparency Board. Some of the money could be used, however, to roll elements of the Recovery Board into the FAST Board if the DATA Act passes before its predecessor's mandate expires, Schuman said.

Devaney, who is retiring at the end of the year, pressed for passage of the DATA Act in a blog post Wednesday and pledged to work for its passage after retirement.

"The reform bill faces an uphill battle, primarily because some in the bureaucracy prefer the status quo," Devaney wrote, "a hodgepodge of data collection and display sites that, frankly, makes no sense at all unless you believe your government should confuse you."

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