OMB sets timeline for spending database

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The Office of Management and Budget set the timeline today for launching the federal spending database mandated by Congress last year.

OMB, which has 10 months to get the Web portal working, will launch a pilot program for subgrants and contracts in July and work on specifying missing data elements between now and the time it puts up the test site.

The timeline, frequently asked questions and a request for public comments are the main features on the new Web site OMB released today.

The site also includes links to existing sources of federal contract and grant data, including the Federal Procurement Data System-Next Generation, the Federal Assistance Award Data System for grants and FedSpending.org, the site developed by OMB Watch, a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C.

"We will take public comment until we launch the final solution," said an administration official who requested anonymity.

Congress mandated the creation of the database by Jan. 1, 2008, and President Bush signed the measure into law in September 2006. The bill, titled the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, calls for a Google-like search engine and database to track about $1 trillion in federal grants, contracts, earmarks and loans.

The official said the working group will not issue a request for proposals and instead plans to use existing systems and components, including the USA.gov infrastructure.

The overall technical approach is still under discussion.

OMB also will lean on its policy on search and retrieval instead of developing a new one.

"The approach we are taking is using existing data sources and making them searchable to the public with a low burden and hopefully a low cost," the official said.

OMB created a task force last October, and it finalized its implementation plan in January. The task force also inventoried existing data elements last month, and will decide on the elements that agencies still need to collect in the next five months. The task force includes four subcommittees: grants, contracts, loans and information technology.

"The data is the big issue," the official said. "Some data elements already are searchable and some are not. We need to decide what needs to be collected and compare it to what is already available."

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