Denett targets data accuracy in building funding database

The new head of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy wants to improve the quality of data in time for a new database mandated by law

Paul Denett, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, emphasized the importance of accurate information for a new searchable Web database that shows who receives federal funding for contracts and grants.

“How can you manage the contracting program in your individual agency if you don’t know how many contracts you have, if you don’t know what types you have, if you don’t know what provisions you have?” Denett asked rhetorically.

Senior procurement executives should already have the raw data required for the new site. “If they don’t know it, then they can’t manage,” he said.

The Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, sponsored by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and passed by both houses of Congress, directs the Office of Management and Budget to create a searchable online database of federal spending by Jan. 1, 2008, with information updated through fiscal 2007. The president is expected to sign the bill this week.

With a Google-like search engine, users will be able to learn how much funding an organization received in each of the past 10 fiscal years, with a breakdown of transactions and additional details about the organization.

Lawmakers raised concerns about the quality of information currently gathered by the government. Good information will make the database worthwhile. The Federal Procurement Data System-Next Generation, for example, has not consistently received quality information.

“I was appalled to find out that inputting the data too often would fall on the shoulders of a summer-hire student who knew nothing about contracting,” Denett said. The students did not understand the data they were putting into the system, so its accuracy suffered.

Denett is requiring contracting officers to enter the information themselves. They will use software that will fill in the database during a contract’s creation, he said.

Agencies will give OMB the best data if they are held accountable for it, he said.

“That will lead to what we believe will be more accurate data,” he added.

Coburn said he believes the legislation will change the culture of some agencies.

“You can, without transparency, do things that you would not otherwise do,” he said in an earlier interview.

In Denett’s confirmation hearings this summer, he discussed the planned database with Coburn. Although the legislation had not come up for a vote yet, Denett told Coburn he supported the database idea.

Now that the bill has passed and is likely to become law, Denett said it “will be a significant step in the commitment I made during the hearing to Sen. Coburn.”

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