Only One-Quarter of Agencies Publishing Timely, Accurate Spending Data, Says GAO

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Eight agencies submitted financial data that was more than 75 percent wrong.

Nearly three-quarters of federal agencies failed to meet internal auditors’ quality standards when publishing financial data, according to a congressional watchdog.

Under the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, agencies must use a standard framework when submitting quarterly spending data to the Treasury Department, but the Government Accountability Office found few agencies are submitting complete, timely and accurate information.

After reviewing 53 inspector general reports on DATA Act compliance, GAO found only 15 agencies met IG standards for completeness, timeliness and accuracy. Just six of the 24 CFO Act agencies submitted high-quality data, auditors found.

“If you don’t have complete and accurate data, you don’t have transparency,” said Paula Rascona, who authored the GAO report. “The agencies definitely have a lot of work to do, and so do [the Office of Management and Budget] and Department of Treasury when it comes to their leadership.”

Some IGs used different methods for assessing the quality of their organizations’ data submissions, GAO found, and while each technique meets federal auditing standards, it makes it impossible to calculate governmentwide error rates for any category.

That said, agencies especially struggled when it came to the accuracy of their data.

Of the 36 IGs that calculated error rates of data submissions, eight determined their agency’s data was more than 75 percent incomplete or inaccurate. Fifteen IGs determined the error rate of their agency’s data fell between 25 percent and 75 percent, and another 13 found less than 25 percent was inaccurate.

While IGs identified numerous agency-specific issues that increased error rates, officials also determined a handful of bugs in a Treasury Department data management system likely contributed to the inaccuracy of some reports. But Rascona said those bugs wouldn’t have been such a big deal if agencies were on top of their game.

“I think the bottom line is if agencies were doing what they’re supposed to be doing with reconciling and overseeing the data they were submitting, one would think they would’ve caught the issues,” she told Nextgov.

Treasury told GAO it had since resolved the system’s problems.

The DATA Act, passed in 2014, sought to give people a better look where their tax dollars are going. Standardizing the way agencies report spending allowed the Treasury Department to aggregate governmentwide finances into a single online portal where citizens could eventually parse through that information dollar by dollar.

GAO found about half of agencies had fully rolled out Treasury and OMB’s data standards by the first submission deadline in May 2017.