Agencies have problems collecting Recovery.gov data

Agencies must implement new computer systems or modify existing ones to collect and transmit the data required to show where and how they have spent the money authorized by the economic stimulus law, federal information technology officials have said.

Agencies must post information that accounts for how they have used the funds on federal programs or distributed as grants to states and local governments on the White House’s Recovery.gov Web site. Agencies have also established their own Recovery.gov sites.

The initial data that agencies had to begin posting this week to the White House Recovery.gov site was general information about the amount agencies were authorized to spend and which states would receive funds, said Jackie Patillo, the Transportation Department’s deputy chief information officer. The data required for future reports to Recovery.gov will be more difficult for agencies to establish, she said in comments after a presentation at a Feb. 24 federal IT event sponsored by TechAmerica.

“After that, it will get more hairy because there are specific things that we have to start counting, such as jobs created, which now we are not equipped to do,” Patillo said. “Of course, there are things that we can do to make that happen, but I think we’ll have to burn a little midnight oil to get it done,” she added.

The Office of Management and Budget has published guidance for the data required and the enterprise architecture to connect to Recovery.gov, she said. Agencies must determine how they will collect, store and transmit the data.

For the short term, Transportation will modify a data collection system to gather the information it needs, Patillo said. However, Transportation will eventually use a system -- that is not operational yet -- from one of its agencies, the Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA). That agency has been developing the Research Notification System to capture and preserve information on research projects, she said.

To collect the financial, performance and control data that is required for posting on Recovery.gov, agencies must re-engineer their back-end systems, said Michael Carleton, CIO at the Health and Human Services Department.

“At present, we’re not organized that way because we didn’t have such a system,” he said.

However, HHS may be able to assist some other agencies with gathering data related to grants that agencies distribute to states. HHS is a shared services provider for a number of agencies for OMB's Grants Management Line of Business consolidation effort.

“Agencies that are sharing one service now are using common data definitions,” Carleton said, so they will agree on the type of data requested. However, there are many grants systems across government, and it will be a challenge to coordinate or harmonize data across all those grants systems, he said. If agencies can do that, use of a shared services provider “seems to be the shortest path to the finish line,” he said.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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