Oversight

IG: Challenges remain in GSA's DATA Act implementation

Shutterstock image (by Andrii_M): computer binary code. 

With roughly six months remaining before the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act implementation deadline, the General Services Administration still lacks the ability to reliably track spending and certify the accuracy of data submissions, according to an inspector general audit released Nov. 30.

The DATA Act is an open government law that mandates the reporting of standardized spending data to USASpending.gov, and puts the Department of Treasury and the Office of Management and Budget in charge of oversight. The law also requires IGs to report on whether their agencies are fully compliant.

In the report, Office of Inspector General auditors noted the progress made by GSA to implement the Act. For example, GSA submitted implementation plans to OMB on time, has completed four of the DATA Act Playbook's eight steps and is working on or planning for the remaining ones. 

However, the OIG cautioned that challenges remain that could threaten the agency's ability to ensure a timely and full implementation.

A critical missing data element, discovered by auditors to be unavailable in GSA's financial system Pegasys, is the Parent Award ID, which is the number assigned to companies and awards to track spending.

As a workaround, GSA told auditors it plans to rely on the Treasury's Award and Awardee Attributes for Procurement file to retrieve this tracking number. However, this adds an extra step, and as of Oct. 31 GSA had not tested the viability of this plan.

The report also found that some data submissions differed between systems. And while auditors noted there are legitimate reasons for those inconsistencies, such as exempted leases, payroll and travel submissions, they pointed out that GSA had not created a complete inventory of these discrepancies, or confirmed with Treasury or OMB to make sure such a list would be DATA Act-compliant.

Additionally, the OIG said OMB's new guidance on intragovernmental transfers complicates GSA's reporting methodology. The guidance allows the funding agency to decide whether the funding or awarding agency will submit financial data to USASpending.gov, so GSA must devise a process to make sure there are not duplicative submissions, auditors noted.

Auditors found that GSA's internal controls to ensure the validity of spending data submitted by the agency were still under development. And they raised concerns about GSA's reliance on a shared service provider, the Department of Agriculture, for its financial management system, which means that also relies on USDA for upgrades to the Pegasys system, including the incorporation of the Parent Award ID field.

GSA officials told auditors they were aware of the challenges and have strategies to address them before the May 2017 deadline.

The OIG said that it will submit its first report on GSA's DATA Act implementation status in November 2017.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

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