Transparency of Federal Data
Public access to reliable and complete federal financial and performance data can foster transparency, improve oversight, and enhance public participation.
The federal government spends over $3.7 trillion every year, but tracking this money is difficult because spending data are often incomplete or inaccurate. Currently, the primary website that tracks federal financial spending, USAspending.gov, only provides data on how much the government spends on federal grants and contracts and in 2012 there were major weaknesses in the quality of the data it contained.
The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 (DATA Act) offers the promise of improving the usefulness, accuracy, and transparency of federal financial information once it is fully implemented. The DATA Act requires government-wide reporting on a greater variety of federal funds as well as tracking of these funds at multiple points in the federal spending lifecycle. The act also calls for the federal government to set government-wide data standards, identify ways to reduce reporting burdens, and regularly review data quality to help improve the transparency and accountability of federal spending data.
Some of the issues that remain include the following:
- The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Department of the Treasury (Treasury) should develop a clear data governance structure that would establish a set of institutionalized policies and processes to help ensure the integrity and accuracy of data over time.
- OMB and Treasury have developed standardized definitions for 57 data elements to make it easier to compare different federal agencies’ financial information. Although most of these definitions adhered to leading practices, some could lead to different interpretations of the data required to be reported and result in inconsistent or inaccurate information.
- OMB is working with other agencies on a pilot program involving federal grantees and contractors to identify ways to reduce the reporting burden experienced by recipients of federal funds. However, improvements can be made in the pilot’s design to more clearly articulate its methodology and improve the scalability of its results.
- To help agencies comply with the DATA Act’s requirements and deadlines, OMB and Treasury have issued guidance about what should be included in implementation plans. However, OMB and Treasury have not requested updates to plans from non-CFO Act agencies nor do they have a complete list of agencies required to report under the act.
For an overview of the DATA Act's requirements and information related to initial efforts to establish government-wide data standards, see the infographic below.
Performance.gov supports transparency and decision making. It reports on the federal government’s goals, as well as its progress in meeting those goals. It supports transparency and decision making.
The GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA) requires that federal agencies’ strategic plans, performance reports, and other important performance information be published on Performance.gov. GPRAMA also requires OMB—which runs Performance.gov—to post and update agency priority goals (APG) and cross-agency priority (CAP) goals. APGs are usually the agencies’ highest priority performance goals, while CAP goals improve coordination and management across the federal government. Federal agencies posted APGs and CAP goals on Performance.gov for the first time in 2013.
Performance.gov, however, does not meet some of the requirements for federal websites and has limited usability and effectiveness. Its challenges include an inconsistent user experience and problems with navigation and search capability. The website also lacks a strategic plan to guide future development efforts, as well as an archiving plan to retain data and content.
Additionally, OMB’s customer outreach strategy for Performance.gov does not:
(1) inform users of changes to the website,
(2) discuss social media as a method of communication, or
(3) consider the best use of mobile devices and applications.
These issues with Performance.gov must be addressed in order for the website to be transparent and useful to the public.
GAO-16-693: Published: Aug 30, 2016. Publicly Released: Aug 30, 2016.
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB), General Services Administration (GSA), and the Performance Improvement Council (PIC) took several steps to improve the usefulness of Performance.gov, a website intended to serve as the public window to the federal government's goals and performance. However, their actions do not fully meet selected Digitalgov.gov requirements for federal websites (which a...
GAO-16-824R: Published: Aug 3, 2016. Publicly Released: Aug 3, 2016.
GAO found that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Department of the Treasury (Treasury) have taken steps to assure the quality of the federal spending data that will be made available to the public under the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 (DATA Act). These steps include creating a broker system to (1) check that submitted data follow a standardized format that w...
GAO-16-698: Published: Jul 29, 2016. Publicly Released: Jul 29, 2016.
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Department of the Treasury (Treasury) have not designed and implemented controls or fully documented processes related to the review and use of agency implementation plans for the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 (DATA Act). These controls and processes are to be used for reviewing agencies' implementation plans and monitoring ag...
GAO-16-510: Published: Jun 15, 2016. Publicly Released: Jun 15, 2016.
The GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA) requires agencies to describe their major management challenges and identify associated performance information in their agency performance plans (APP). GAO found, however, that 14 of 24 agencies reviewed did not describe their major management challenges in their APPs as required. This is, in part, because the Office of Management and Budget's (OMB) gui...
GAO-16-509: Published: May 20, 2016. Publicly Released: May 20, 2016.
The GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA) requires the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to coordinate with agencies to develop cross-agency priority (CAP) goals, which are 4-year outcome-oriented goals covering a number of complex or high-risk management and mission issues.Examples of CAP goals and goal statements For the current set of CAP goals covering the period from 2014-2018, OMB and...
GAO-16-438: Published: Apr 19, 2016. Publicly Released: Apr 19, 2016.
As required by the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 (DATA Act), the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is conducting a pilot program, known as the Section 5 Pilot, aimed at developing recommendations for reducing recipient reporting burden for grantees and contractors. OMB partnered with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to design and implement the grants port...
GAO-16-556T: Published: Apr 19, 2016. Publicly Released: Apr 19, 2016.
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Department of the Treasury (Treasury) have taken some significant steps toward implementing the key provisions of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 (DATA Act); however, several challenges need to be addressed in order to successfully meet the act's requirements.Data standards and technical schema. GAO reported in January 2016,...
GAO-16-261: Published: Jan 29, 2016. Publicly Released: Jan 29, 2016.
As required by the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 (DATA Act), the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Department of the Treasury (Treasury) issued definitions for 57 federal spending data elements. GAO found that most definitions adhered to leading practices derived from international standards for formulating data definitions. Specifically, 12 of the 57 definitions...
GAO-15-814: Published: Sep 14, 2015. Publicly Released: Sep 14, 2015.
The Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board's (Recovery Board) Recovery Operations Center (ROC) provided significant analytical services primarily to Offices of the Inspector General (OIG) to support antifraud and other activities. Congress initially established the Recovery Board to oversee funds appropriated by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Subsequently, it expanded...
GAO-15-788: Published: Sep 10, 2015. Publicly Released: Sep 10, 2015.
The six agencies GAO reviewed generally did not publicly report on how they ensured the accuracy and reliability of performance information used to measure progress on their highest priority performance goals, referred to as agency priority goals (APGs). The GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA) requires agencies to identify the following when publicly reporting on their APGs: 1) how performance...
GAO-15-752T: Published: Jul 29, 2015. Publicly Released: Jul 29, 2015.
Since the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA Act) became law in May 2014, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Department of the Treasury (Treasury) have taken significant steps towards implementing key provisions. These steps include the release of 27 data standards, draft technical documentation, and implementation guidance to help federal agencies meet their responsi...
GAO-15-241T: Published: Dec 3, 2014. Publicly Released: Dec 3, 2014.
GAO's prior work on federal data transparency has found persistent challenges related to the quality and completeness of the spending data agencies report to USAspending.gov. For example, GAO reported in June 2014 that roughly $619 billion in assistance awards were not properly reported. In addition, few reported awards—between 2 and 7 percent—contained information that was fully consistent wi...