DATA Act Collection Effort Worked Better for Grants Than Contracts

Olivier Le Moal/

Watchdog found documentation gaps in pilot plan for creating central portal.

Continuing efforts by the Office of Management and Budget to streamline mandatory agency data collection show progress, but still fall short on evidence that they will ease reporting burdens on grantees and contractors.

So said the Government Accountability Office in its latest review of White House compliance with agency data standardization requirements under the 2014 Digital Accountability and Transparency Act.

OMB’s hopes for creating a centralized agency spending data portal that simplifies data submission appear more promising for grants than for contracts, the report found.

To fulfill the law’s requirement to produce recommendations for easing the reporting regime, OMB conducted a “Section 5 pilot” with the Health and Human Services Department for data on grants and with the General Services Administration for data on contracts.

At HHS, GAO auditors “examined six approaches for reducing grantee reporting burden and found positive results related to reductions in reporting time as well as reduced duplication,” said the report released on April 30. “HHS incorporated ongoing stakeholder input during the pilot, and its findings contributed to government-wide initiatives related to federal reporting and reducing grantee-reporting burden.”

At GSA, however, the pilot “did not collect sufficient evidence to determine whether centralizing procurement reporting through a single Web-based portal would reduce contractor reporting burden—a key objective of the pilot,” GAO determined. As a test, this portion of the pilot collected weekly Davis-Bacon local prevailing wage data from 180 contractors, “potentially resulting in thousands of submissions over a year,” the report said. “However, in the end, the pilot did not result in any Davis-Bacon data due to lack of contractor participation and the absence of iterative and ongoing stakeholder engagement.”

A later expansion of the test to rope in collection of data on potentially dangerous hydrofluorocarbons in the atmosphere received only 11 submissions. The air quality “reporting was not suited for assessing changes in reporting burden because it was a new requirement and thus no comparative data existed,” GAO said. “OMB plans to expand its use of the portal for additional procurement reporting requirements but still does not have information from stakeholders that could help inform the expansion.”

Overall, GAO determined, OMB met statutory requirements, but “evidence from the procurement portion of the pilot did not support OMB’s government-wide recommendations for reducing reporting burden,” as laid out to Congress in August 2017 as a way to reduce duplication and simplify administration of data collection.

Talks with OMB’s Office of Federal Procurement Policy indicated its managers hope to build on plans announced in August 2018 to use to the pilot to obtain feedback before expanding the use a central portal for reporting under the Federal Acquisition Regulation. But “the pilot did not collect any such feedback to inform its determination to expand the Central Reporting Portal in the future,” the report said.

GAO recommended that the director of OMB (Russell Vought is currently acting in the job while Mick Mulvaney serves President Trump as chief of staff) better ensure that the information on procurement is collected, in part by conducting an “iterative and ongoing” process with contractors and other stakeholders.

OMB neither agreed nor disagreed.

NEXT STORY: Quick Hits