GAO gives lukewarm review to Obama transparency initiatives

New report cites "varying levels" of progress on e-government projects

The Barack Obama administration’s major transparency initiatives get a lukewarm – at best – review from the Government Accountability Office in a new report.

The Sept. 23 GAO audit of the Electronic Government Fund may be especially timely because the House and a Senate committee recently proposed reduced funding for the account in the fiscal 2012 spending bills.

The GAO examined the $34 million e-government fund administered by the General Services Administration that supported 16 projects in fiscal 2010. The fund pays for high-profile initiatives including Data.gov, which has released hundreds of thousands of datasets publicly on the Web; Apps.gov, which offers mobile and cloud solutions to federal agencies; USASpending.gov, which tracks spending; and Challenge.gov, which is a Web platform for agencies to hold innovation competitions.


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The GAO assessed four major programs of the fund — Data.gov, FedSpace, Citizen Services Dashboard and FedRamp — and concluded they had made “varying progress toward their goals.”

Specifically, FedSpace, which was a knowledge-sharing network for federal employees operating as a pilot project, was terminated in May 2011 following Congress’ reduction of funding for the e-government account to $8 million for fiscal 2011. The program also had not fully developed all metrics, the GAO said.

Likewise, the citizen services dashboard, while operating as a pilot, faced funding uncertainties and incomplete metrics, and it was canceled in May 2011 as well following the reduction of funding, the GAO said.

The FedRamp initiative to share strategies on cloud security was “in development” and its implementation had been delayed due to difficulties in obtaining all interagency agreements, as well as incomplete metrics, the GAO said.

Data.gov was singled out as being the only one of the four programs that was fully launched, and had made progress, the GAO concluded.

“The projects we reviewed had made varying progress toward their goals and had begun to define metrics to measure success,” the GAO report said. “Additionally, the projects could potentially lead to benefits including cost savings and efficiency, customer service, transparency, and governmentwide collaboration and information sharing. However, defining performance metrics and aligning these with project goals would help ensure that managers and stakeholders can assess project results and provide credible evidence of progress, which is particularly important in a resource-constrained environment.”

The GAO recommended that the GSA ensure that performance metrics are developed that align with project goals, and the GSA agreed with the recommendation.

Earlier this year, the House voted to consolidate the e-government fund into a $50 million account. The full distribution of funds under the consolidation were not clear, but a Sunlight Foundation official estimated the e-gov fund would receive $13 million.

On Sept. 15, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to reduce the consolidated funding to $39 million, the Sunlight Foundation said. While the exact impact on the e-government fund was not known, the foundation estimated a negative impact on transparency initiatives overall if the Senate cuts are made law.

“Many programs will be terminated. Data quality will suffer. No fixes or improvements to current programs are likely,” the foundation said in its blog on Sept. 16.

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