Government systems inadequate to show spending patterns, advisory board says

Federal agencies need to better integrate their data collection and display systems to provide taxpayers with a fuller picture of how the government is spending $3.6 trillion a year, a high-level federal advisory board is recommending.

Existing systems are inadequate to the task, according to the Government Accountability and Transparency Board, which is an advisory board of government leaders. The board was created by President Barack Obama in June and charged with making recommendations to reduce government waste and increase accountability.

Jack Lew, director of the Office of Management and Budget, released the advisory board’s Report and Recommendations to the President in a post on the White House Blog on Dec. 14.

The board outlined at least three ways to centralize the tracking and oversight of spending using new technology tools.

For example, the board members noted that the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board overseeing the $840 billion in economic stimulus law spending has used forensic tools to help identify fraud in stimulus programs. Those tools can be used by other federal agencies as well.

Secondly, federal agencies should develop plans to integrate and streamline their data collection and display systems. Currently, there are disparate IT and financial systems collecting data. Ideally, those systems all could work together.

An immediate step that would help integrate the systems would be to create a universal identification system for federal awards to contractors, grantees and other recipients of funds. Currently, agencies use disparate numbering and alpha-numeric systems to identify the recipients of funding.

Overall, the report concludes, many improvements are needed to provide greater accountability and transparency to the $3.6 trillion in annual federal spending.

“Citizens must have the ability to know the amounts that are set aside for certain purposes, and when and where agencies spend this money,” the report said. “Current federal financial reporting management systems for grants, loans, and procurements fall short of these simple tests. The existing systems are too often inadequate to deliver data transparency, effectively ensure integrity, or detect instances of fraud or waste.”

About the Author

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

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Reader comments

Sun, Dec 25, 2011 willisw Redstone Arsenal

I can attest that at the program management level every dime is accounted for. I believe that once the budget reaches the Pentagon it disappears into the financial abyss.

Mon, Dec 19, 2011

Concur with previous comment in spades. A large part of the problem is that every department, agency, and command insists on 'rolling their own' when it comes to accounting systems and data elements. Here's a thought- put all the accounting under one group of experts, and let them run it. Oh, wait, isn't that what Treasury is supposed to do>

Mon, Dec 19, 2011 Dave K

I think it's time the Federal Government learned a "new" buzzword: GAAP.

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