Watchdogs worried about DOJ's tech

Shutterstock image (by world of vector): cloud in the shape of a money bag with hanging coins. 

Watchdogs and lawmakers are concerned about the Justice Department's inability to track its spending for contracts, its staffing deficiencies and the use of unreliable tech.

Justice's Office of Inspector General highlighted these issues, along with the agency's suboptimal cybersecurity posture, as the department's top management challenges.

At a recent House Judiciary Committee hearing, lawmakers pressed watchdogs about Justice's challenges in tracking the $7.8 billion in contract spending -- over half of which comprised grant awards -- it reported in fiscal year 2015.

Justice IG Michael Horowitz testified that the department needs to improve its compliance with federal award regulations as well as its deficient post-award contract monitoring.

OIG faces challenges in determining if Justice's awards and grant programs are duplicative is because there isn’t as much transparency as there should be, Horowitz said.

One solution, he said, is the full implementation of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, an open government law passed in 2014 that requires agencies to report their financial information in a standardized, machine-readable format.

The OIG would benefit from an expansion of tech tools to "look at data more broadly," he said. "But frankly, our hope is" that Justice will "collect more data and make it more transparent."

In January, Justice officials told FCW that the department lacks the "granular" financial data to achieve full DATA Act compliance by the May submission deadline and that achieving full compliance would entail a "multi-year effort" and significant systems upgrades.

Voicing concerns over the reliability of its technology, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) brought up the FBI's "improper testing" of facial recognition technology that had been flagged by the Government Accountability Office and that had received scrutiny from the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

"The FBI does some things very well, Lofgren said. "Technology is not one of the things they're known to be the very best at."

Watchdogs reported that the tech, which relies on ranking best matches, failed to place the correct individual in the top 50 of matches in 7.1 percent of cases.

GAO’s Director of Homeland Security and Justice Issues Diana Maurer said FBI and Justice did not take the recommendations made by GAO and NIST to improve the technology's testing into account, a response that left GAO "quite concerned."

Note: This article was updated on March 27 to correct a quote that was misattributed to Horowitz.

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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