Agencies' unique coding systems hinder Recovery Act oversight, official says

The board overseeing Recovery Act money ran into an old problem: agencies doing things their own way and forgetting about unity, official says

Officials who track federal stimulus money hit a roadblock in their oversight of contract and grant awards: no cohesion among agencies on how they code their awards, an official has said.

All 28 agencies that receive funds under the law organized and tracked their awards differently using their own coding systems, Earl Devaney, chairman of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services, and International Security Subcommittee Aug. 3.

He said all federal agencies have unique alphanumeric coding systems for their awards.

“None of them are harmonized or look like each other,” Devaney said. “Each agency does it their own way.” He contrasted the agencies’ systems to credit card numbers, which are a standard 16 numbers long with no letters and no dashes between the digits.

Agencies’ lack of cohesiveness hinders oversight, and the problem came to light as Devaney's board tracked the stimulus money, he said.

His board searches the money to detect fraud and waste and has to gather the contract and grant award data from each of the 28 agencies that received funds. Board employees had to search documents by hand to check on the mismatches in information, because of the differences in coding systems, he said.

“While this may not sound like a big deal, it is,” he testified.

Devaney said he’s working on a solution with Danny Werfel, controller in the Office of Federal Financial Management at the Office of Management and Budget.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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