Shared Services

How shared services providers can power DATA Act reporting

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Federal Shared services providers (SSPs) give customer agencies an edge in making their spending data more transparent, but the services can come with headaches, according to the Government Accountability Office.

A July 18 report shows how shared services are facilitating agencies' reporting spending data required by the Digital Accountability and Transparency (DATA) Act. Small agencies, in particular, are tapping the services, it said.

Nearly 80% of small agencies use shared service providers to help them compile and submit spending data, such as general accounting and financial reporting, according to the study.

GAO asked 67 agencies that used SSPs about their experiences with the service providers to submit data to the Treasury Department to be published on USAspending.gov, as well as their experiences working with an external provider for financial management services.

Of the 67 agencies, GAO said 27 responded.

All 27 responding agencies said they used federal financial management SSPs for DATA Act reporting, and the majority of them used the providers for other financial management services, such as general ledger accounting, financial reporting and hosting their financial systems.

Twenty of the agencies told GAO they had positive experiences working with SSPs in compiling and submitting DATA Act information. Agencies said that SSPs had been helpful with details of filing the data and that the providers had given them timely, monthly data files that allowed time to correct any errors that cropped up.

There was a downside too, according to the GAO.

While 11 of the 27 agencies reported no challenges working with SSPs, 16 said they had run into complications that impacted their reporting capabilities.

Those issues included sluggish provider responsiveness and lack of guidance from the Office of Management and Budget, SSP errors, limited customer agency and SSP resources and anemic SSP project management capabilities.

GAO noted that OMB addressed the lack of guidance on shared services after it completed its survey with an April memo that detailed processes for agencies using SSPs, as well as outcomes they should work towards.

The GAO report also said 16 of the 27 shared service customer agencies had “challenges” in using an SSP that affected the timeliness, completeness, or accuracy of agency DATA Act submissions.

However, the study found that most of the agencies -- a dozen of the 16 with problems -- are working through their issues by increasing communications with their providers, improving their technology or developing work-arounds to reconcile their data.

SSPs, said the GAO, are also stepping in to help five customer agencies improve data quality, even though the submitting agency is responsible for the data.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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