Recovery site hosts bad data, GAO says

Thousands of apparent errors in recipient reports on jobs

The Obama administration’s project to track all spending under the $787 billion economic stimulus law has data quality problems, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

Hundreds of thousands of recipients have submitted spending reports, which have been posted online at Recovery.gov. The reports describe projects funded by, and jobs created from, the $47 billion in spending to date, said the GAO report of Nov. 19.

However, the data has not proved fully reliable, GAO said. The problems include 3,978 reports that showed no dollar amount received or expended but listed more than 50,000 jobs created or retained, and 9,247 reports that showed no jobs created, but listed expenditures of $1 billion combined.

There also were discrepancies between award amounts and the amounts reported as received which, although relatively small in number, indicate “problematic issues in the reporting,” the GAO report said.

In addition, while the Office of Management and Budget has estimated that 90 percent of the recipients required to report to date have done so, there are questions about the 10 percent who have not reported, the GAO said.

While praising the administration’s efforts at transparency, the GAO urged that the data quality problems be fixed.

“While recipients GAO contacted appear to have made good faith efforts to ensure complete and accurate reporting, GAO’s fieldwork and initial review and analysis of recipient data from Recovery.gov indicate that there are a range of significant reporting and quality issues that need to be addressed,” the report concluded.

The GAO recommended that the Office of Management and Budget clarify definitions and continue working with federal agencies to provide guidance to recipients. OMB agreed with the recommendations.

Earl Devaney, chairman of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, which oversees Recovery.gov, said Nov. 19 that the board has corrected a number of errors in the data posted on Recovery.gov associated with nonexistent congressional districts.

Where incorrect congressional districts were identified in states with only a single such district, the data was changed to reflect that district. In states with multiple districts, the data was matched to zip codes used in the reports. In cases where no zip code was provided, the board has utilized a placeholder code until further investigation, Devaney said in a statement.

Devaney said the problem was fixed quickly because of its importance.

“In cases where incorrect data results in a significant risk that the public will be misled or confused, the b0oard, as it has previously done, may opt to step in and correct or omit data in lieu of the established OMB guidance that only recipients can enter or change data,” Devaney said.

Gene Dodaro, acting comptroller general, and Devaney were among the witnesses who discussed the data quality issues at a hearing held Nov. 19 by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

The recovery board recently refreshed Recovery.gov to include more features. The updated Web site got mostly good reviews, but transparency advocates were concerned about data quality and searchability.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

Featured

  • Cybersecurity

    DHS floats 'collective defense' model for cybersecurity

    Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen wants her department to have a more direct role in defending the private sector and critical infrastructure entities from cyberthreats.

  • Defense
    Defense Secretary James Mattis testifies at an April 12 hearing of the House Armed Services Committee.

    Mattis: Cloud deal not tailored for Amazon

    On Capitol Hill, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis sought to quell "rumors" that the Pentagon's planned single-award cloud acquisition was designed with Amazon Web Services in mind.

  • Census
    shutterstock image

    2020 Census to include citizenship question

    The Department of Commerce is breaking with recent practice and restoring a question about respondent citizenship last used in 1950, despite being urged not to by former Census directors and outside experts.

Stay Connected

FCW Update

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.