OMB is Dropping the Ball on DATA Act Management, Watchdog Says

ESB Professional/Shutterstock.com

The office lacks a formal process for revising data standards, and it doesn’t clearly tell agencies when changes are made, the Government Accountability Office found.

The agency that makes the rules for publishing federal spending data lacks a clear process for revising those standards and doesn’t publicize when changes are made, according to a congressional watchdog.

The Data Accountability and Transparency Act requires agencies to publish spending data using consistent standards created by the Office of Management and Budget and the Treasury Department. But nearly five years after the legislation was enacted, OMB still hasn’t hammered out its data governance process, auditors found.

In a report published Friday, the Government Accountability Office said OMB’s approach to managing and enforcing DATA Act standards remains largely unorganized. While Treasury has policies in place for managing and communicating updates to its guidance, it said OMB does not.

In June, OMB made changes to a handful of data definitions and outlined the new standards on its public website, but according to auditors, the agency couldn’t provide any internal documentation regarding the update. OMB also failed to clearly publicize the changes to government agencies that would be expected to abide by the new rules, GAO said.

“In the absence of a clear set of institutionalized policies and processes for developing standards and for adjudicating necessary changes, the ability to sustain progress and maintain the integrity of established data standards may be jeopardized as priorities and data standards shift over time,” auditors wrote. “Without transparent communication of changes to data definition standards, stakeholders … may miss important information relating to changes in how, when, and by whom data definitions are to be applied.”

Furthermore, the oversight structure for DATA Act implementation has shifted significantly since the law was passed, GAO said.

OMB told auditors it had dissolved the groups responsible for the act’s initial implementation and transferred their authorities to a working group within the Chief Financial Officers Council. The agency also said it was working to integrate the DATA Act standards within the larger federal open data efforts laid out in the president’s management agenda, but auditors noted the agenda included no specific guidance for reconciling the two frameworks.

“Clarifying the connection between this governance structure and the DATA Act could help stakeholders understand how governance of the DATA Act standards is accomplished within the broader context of the PMA,” GAO said.

As OMB works to stabilize its governance structure, agencies across government are largely struggling to hold up their end of the DATA Act. Last year, GAO found nearly three-quarters of agencies failed to meet federal standards for data timeliness and accuracy.