Transparency of Federal Data
Public access to reliable and complete federal financial and performance data can foster transparency, improve oversight, and enhance public participation.
The federal government spends over $3.7 trillion every year, but tracking this money is difficult because spending data are often incomplete or inaccurate. Currently, the primary website that tracks federal financial spending, USAspending.gov, only provides data on how much the government spends on federal grants and contracts and in 2012 there were major weaknesses in the quality of the data it contained.
The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 (DATA Act) offers the promise of improving the usefulness, accuracy, and transparency of federal financial information once it is fully implemented. The DATA Act requires government-wide reporting on a greater variety of federal funds as well as tracking of these funds at multiple points in the federal spending lifecycle. The act also calls for the federal government to set government-wide data standards, identify ways to reduce reporting burdens, and regularly review data quality to help improve the transparency and accountability of federal spending data.
Some of the issues that remain include the following:
- The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Department of the Treasury (Treasury) should develop a clear data governance structure that would establish a set of institutionalized policies and processes to help ensure the integrity and accuracy of data over time.
- OMB and Treasury have developed standardized definitions for 57 data elements to make it easier to compare different federal agencies’ financial information. Although most of these definitions adhered to leading practices, some could lead to different interpretations of the data required to be reported and result in inconsistent or inaccurate information.
- OMB is working with other agencies on a pilot program involving federal grantees and contractors to identify ways to reduce the reporting burden experienced by recipients of federal funds. However, improvements can be made in the pilot’s design to more clearly articulate its methodology and improve the scalability of its results.
- To help agencies comply with the DATA Act’s requirements and deadlines, OMB and Treasury have issued guidance about what should be included in implementation plans. However, OMB and Treasury have not requested updates to plans from non-CFO Act agencies nor do they have a complete list of agencies required to report under the act.
For an overview of the DATA Act's requirements and information related to initial efforts to establish government-wide data standards, see the infographic below.
Performance.gov supports transparency and decision making. It reports on the federal government’s goals, as well as its progress in meeting those goals. It supports transparency and decision making.
The GPRA Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA) requires that federal agencies’ strategic plans, performance reports, and other important performance information be published on Performance.gov. GPRAMA also requires OMB—which runs Performance.gov—to post and update agency priority goals (APG) and cross-agency priority (CAP) goals. APGs are usually the agencies’ highest priority performance goals, while CAP goals improve coordination and management across the federal government. Federal agencies posted APGs and CAP goals on Performance.gov for the first time in 2013.
Performance.gov, however, does not meet some of the requirements for federal websites and has limited usability and effectiveness. Its challenges include an inconsistent user experience and problems with navigation and search capability. The website also lacks a strategic plan to guide future development efforts, as well as an archiving plan to retain data and content.
Additionally, OMB’s customer outreach strategy for Performance.gov does not:
(1) inform users of changes to the website,
(2) discuss social media as a method of communication, or
(3) consider the best use of mobile devices and applications.
These issues with Performance.gov must be addressed in order for the website to be transparent and useful to the public.
GAO-16-693: Published: Aug 30, 2016. Publicly Released: Aug 30, 2016.
GAO-16-824R: Published: Aug 3, 2016. Publicly Released: Aug 3, 2016.
GAO-16-698: Published: Jul 29, 2016. Publicly Released: Jul 29, 2016.
GAO-16-510: Published: Jun 15, 2016. Publicly Released: Jun 15, 2016.
GAO-16-509: Published: May 20, 2016. Publicly Released: May 20, 2016.
GAO-16-438: Published: Apr 19, 2016. Publicly Released: Apr 19, 2016.
GAO-16-556T: Published: Apr 19, 2016. Publicly Released: Apr 19, 2016.
GAO-16-261: Published: Jan 29, 2016. Publicly Released: Jan 29, 2016.
GAO-15-814: Published: Sep 14, 2015. Publicly Released: Sep 14, 2015.
GAO-15-788: Published: Sep 10, 2015. Publicly Released: Sep 10, 2015.
GAO-15-752T: Published: Jul 29, 2015. Publicly Released: Jul 29, 2015.
GAO-15-241T: Published: Dec 3, 2014. Publicly Released: Dec 3, 2014.