Devaney: Quality goes up when recipients report

Earl Devaney, chief overseer of billions of economic stimulus law money, said June 14 the government would get more accurate information if recipients of the federal money reported it rather than the agencies.

Contractors and grant recipients want to save face and avoid unwanted attention, so the quality of data would go up and they would revise numbers and information if they find errors in their past reports to the government, he said. Devaney, chairman of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, instituted a “List of Shame" for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, whcih comes out quarterly and has helped with compliance.

“They come back and change things because they don’t want to be embarrassed,” he said.


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Getting information directly from those get government funds saves the government money, he said. It’s less expensive than having federal employees entering data into a system.

“Agencies are still invested in the quality assurance of the data, but now they need not employ legions of data entry personnel in the name of transparency,” Devaney testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Get details from the hearing.

Further, information on that money is updated quarterly. As the board did on its website, Recovery.gov, numbers were quickly checked for quality, displayed, and uniquely arrayed online, he testified.

“In the end, the data was not merely published as a jumble of numbers in a hardbound catalog that sits on a shelf somewhere,” he said.

Devaney’s board is seen as a success in forcing government to get its data right and also driving recipients to do the same. As a result, both President Barack Obama and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the oversight committee, unveiled proposals June 13 to build on what the board showed could happen in government. Obama issued an executive order, and Issa introduced a bill (H.R. 2146.) Read more about the Obama’s order. Read more about Issa’s legislation.

When asked, Devaney said both of the avenues will lead to better transparency with tougher oversight and possibilities for investigations by inspectors and the public. However, he said legislation goes further.

“They’re both good,” he said. “But nothing works better than legislation. I really believe that.”

The aaw takes options out of the hands of agency officials, he said. “It leaves the discussion about whether we want to change out of the question.”

About the Author

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

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