Oversight

IG: Commerce lags on Data Act

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The Department of Commerce is lagging on its preparations for implementing the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, jeopardizing the department's ability to meet the May submission deadline.

The Data Act, an open government law passed in 2014, mandates all CFO Act agencies to submit federal spending information in a standardized, machine-readable format to the USASpending.gov website by May.

In a recent status report, Commerce's inspector general deemed the department "significantly behind schedule" and voiced concern about Commerce's ability to catch up and meet the deadline.

Auditors found that Commerce had not started or only partially completed the first four steps laid out in the Data Act Playbook issued by the Department of Treasury, "which all should have been completed no later than September 2015."

Before the May deadline, Commerce must complete these steps along with four more to achieve Data Act compliance.

Additionally, although Commerce as a whole is responsible for reporting financial data on behalf of all its branches, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office operates on its own financial and procurement system, so planning and implementation there is occurring on a separate track.

While both Commerce and USPTO met all required categories for their implementation plans, IG stated that they both fell short in meeting OMB's best practice guidance, limiting their plans' practical usefulness. The shortfalls also hindered the ability of Treasury and the Office of Management and Budget to oversee implementation.

Commerce's plan incorrectly stated the department had fully completed steps one and two of the playbook, did not describe business processes in detail and did not include a cost management or risk mitigation strategy, according to the oversight report.

The IG also pointed out the plan failed to include how to develop internal controls to ensure data accuracy, did not address planned use of contractors and did not contain Commerce's strategy to integrate USPTO's plan into the department's overall reporting.

Regarding USPTO's plan, auditors found it did not identify which officials were responsible for overseeing the completion of tasks, did not address planned use of contactors and did not include how internal controls would detect and correct inaccurate data before submission.

Commerce officials told auditors these delays and deficiencies were due to personnel and financial constraints, and that the department now has satisfactory resources to complete the implementation requirements.

Auditors urged Commerce to ensure there are sufficient oversight activities in place to monitor tasks and meet the May deadline, and to consider adding more detail to its implementation plans.

In response to the findings, Commerce said it has made substantial progress since the IG concluded its review in August 2016, and that the department "remains on schedule" and "is confident" it will meet the May deadline.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a former FCW staff writer.

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