Small Agencies Need Shared Services Providers to Step Up DATA Act Support

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Large departments are assisting smaller agencies in meeting their DATA Act requirements through shared services providers. But that help isn’t always so helpful.

Almost 60% of agencies using shared services to manage their requirements under the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act haven’t been getting the support they need, according to an investigation by the Government Accountability Office.

The 2014 DATA Act requires agencies to report all spending data to the Treasury Department in a unified format so that it can be fully understood and disseminated to the public. In order to help small agencies meet this mandate, Treasury tapped four offices to act as shared service providers: Treasury’s Administrative Resource Center, the Transportation Department’s Enterprise Services Center, Agriculture’s Pegasys Financial Services and the Interior Department’s Interior Business Center.

Those providers offer a “variety of services,” according to GAO, “including financial system hosting, general ledger accounting, financial reporting, and various DATA Act services.”

Twenty-seven small agencies responded to GAO’s survey, all of which use one of the four shared services providers to manage their DATA Act requirements, as well as some other financial services. Of those 27, 16 reported difficulties working with the providers that led to issues with “timeliness, completeness or accuracy of agency DATA Act submissions,” according to the report.

Of those agencies, 10 said they were delayed from taking action while waiting on the shared services provider.

“Agencies responding to GAO’s survey also reported other challenges, such as a lack of guidance from the Office of Management and Budget and the Department of the Treasury, limited customer agency and [shared service provider] resources, [provider] errors affecting data quality, and inadequate [provider] project management activities.”

The various problems reported fell into seven buckets. From the report:

  • Dependencies: Ten agencies reported that they have experienced challenges related to agency submission activities that depend on relationships with, or actions being taken by, the shared services provider before the agency can proceed.
  • Resources: Seven agencies said that they have experienced resource challenges related to a lack of funding or human resources at the customer agency or its shared services provider.
  • Competing priorities: Five agencies said that they have experienced challenges related to statutory, regulatory, policy, or other matters that have competing priorities or conflicting requirements that may affect an agency or its shared services provider’s DATA Act submission process.
  • Data quality: Four agencies reported that they have experienced challenges related to meeting DATA Act requirements for data quality because they use a shared services provider, including completeness and accuracy of agency data to be reported as well as [senior accountable official] certification and reporting of nonfinancial data elements.
  • Guidance: Four agencies reported experiencing challenges involving incomplete, unclear, missing and evolving OMB and Treasury guidance related to shared services provider implementing requirements and broker changes, including data elements, the technical schema and other key policies.
  • Technology: Four agencies reported that they have experienced technology challenges with developing and submitting required files.
  • Project management: Two agencies reported that they have experienced challenges related to their shared services provider’s project management, such as the lack of a designated project manager and inadequate documentation of progress made or key decisions.

But the audit wasn’t all bad for the shared services providers. The report notes all four providers were given kudos for being responsive to issues and 12 of the 16 agencies that reported problems said the providers have already taken steps to address them.

“Twenty of the 27 agencies described useful practices for working with [providers] on DATA Act submissions, including the agency discussing issues with the [provider] and obtaining data files from the [provider] each month to provide additional time to correct any identified errors,” the report states.