Electronic Government:

Implementation of the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006

GAO-10-365: Published: Mar 12, 2010. Publicly Released: Mar 12, 2010.

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The Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 (FFATA) is intended to increase the transparency of and accountability for the over $1 trillion that federal agencies award each year in contracts, loans, grants, and other awards. Among other things, the act required the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to establish, no later than January 1, 2008, a publicly accessible Web site containing data on federal awards. The act also authorized OMB to issue guidance to federal agencies on reporting award data and instructs agencies to comply with that guidance. OMB launched the site (www.USAspending.gov) in December 2007. GAO's objectives were to determine the extent to which (1) OMB is complying with FFATA requirements to make federal award data available, (2) federal agencies are reporting required award data, and (3) inconsistencies exist between data on the Web site and records at federal agencies. To do this, GAO reviewed FFATA requirements and OMB guidance, interviewed OMB and agency officials, and examined a sample of awards reported to OMB.

OMB has taken steps to comply with the requirements of FFATA; of nine requirements GAO reviewed, OMB has satisfied six and partially satisfied one. For example, it established a publicly accessible Web site containing data on federal awards that allows searches of data by all required data elements and provides for totals and downloadable data. However, OMB has only partially satisfied the requirement to conduct a pilot program on collecting subaward data beginning no later than July 2007--two pilot programs began in 2008, after the statutory deadline. OMB has not yet satisfied two requirements. First, it has not included subaward data on the USAspending.gov Web site, which was required by January 2009, and it does not have a specific plan in place for collecting and reporting such data. Until OMB ensures that subaward data are included on the site, it is not fully meeting its requirements under FFATA and the usefulness of the information on the site will be limited. Second, OMB has yet to submit a required annual report to Congress detailing the use of the site and the reporting burden placed on award recipients. However, OMB officials stated that they are collecting the necessary information and plan to issue the report in 2010. While USAspending.gov currently contains required fiscal year 2008 information on federal assistance awards from 29 agencies, 9 agencies did not report a total of 15 awards. These agencies, which include the Department of the Treasury and the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, stated that they plan to report future awards as required. Nevertheless, OMB has not implemented a process to identify nonreporting agencies as originally planned and instead has relied on agencies' voluntary compliance with OMB guidance to ensure complete and accurate reporting. Without a more effective approach to ensuring that all agencies report applicable awards, the utility of USAspending.gov will be impaired by gaps in the required information. In a random sample of 100 awards, GAO identified numerous inconsistencies between USAspending.gov data and records provided by awarding agencies. Each of the 100 awards had at least one required data field that was blank or inconsistent with agency records--or for which agency records lacked sufficient information to evaluate their consistency with data on USAspending.gov. The most common data fields with inconsistencies or omissions included titles describing the purpose of the award and the city where award-funded work was to be performed. These errors can be attributed, in part, to a lack of specific OMB guidance on how agencies should fill in these fields and how they should perform the required validation of their data submissions. In addition, publicly available information that OMB provides on the completeness of agency-provided data does not address a required data field relating to the city where work for the award was to be performed. Until OMB and agencies better ensure that complete and accurate information is included on USAspending.gov, the Web site will be limited in providing the public with a view into the details of federal spending.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Federal Funding and Accountability Act of 2006 directed the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to establish a free, publically available website containing data on federal awards (e.g., contracts, loans, and grants) no later than January 1, 2008; as well as data on subawards by January 1, 2009. The act also authorized OMB to issue guidance and instructions to federal agencies for reporting award information and required agencies to comply with that guidance. In March 2010, we reported that subaward data was not included on the USAspending.gov website, and OMB did not have a specific plan in place for collecting and reporting such data. Accordingly, we recommended that the Director of the Office of Management and Budget develop and implement a specific plan for the collection and reporting of subaward data, including a time frame for including subaward data on USAspending.gov. In response to our recommendation, and to further the goals of the act, in August 2010, OMB issued the "Open Government Directive, Federal Spending Transparency and Subaward and Compensation Data Reporting" memorandum. This memorandum outlined the requirements for federal agencies and prime contractors, grant and cooperative agreement awardees to report subaward data beginning October 1, 2010. It also established subawards excluded from reporting requirements, including those falling below the award amount threshold, awards made to individuals, or those containing classified information. In addition, the memorandum directed agencies to leverage existing systems and platforms for reporting subaward data in order to minimize the burden of reporting requirements. By requiring the collection and reporting of subaward data, OMB has taken key steps to increasing the transparency and accountability of federal government expenditures.

    Recommendation: To improve the accuracy, completeness, and timeliness of all data submissions to OMB's USAspending.gov Web site, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget should develop and implement a specific plan for the collection and reporting of subaward data, including a time frame for including subaward data on USAspending.gov.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Federal Funding and Accountability Act of 2006 directed the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to establish a free, publicly accessible website containing data on federal awards (e.g., contracts, loans, and grants) no later than January 1, 2008. In March 2010, we reported on the extent federal agencies were reporting required award data. In particular, we found that while USAspending.gov contained required fiscal year 2008 data on grants from 29 agencies, 9 agencies did not report a total of 15 awards as required. Furthermore, OMB had not implemented a process for identifying nonreporting agencies, and instead relied on voluntary agency compliance with its guidance to ensure complete reporting. Accordingly, we recommended that the Director of the Office of Management and Budget develop and implement a process to regularly ensure that all federal agencies report required award information to USAspending.gov. In response, OMB issued a memorandum in June 2013 requiring agencies to put in place internal controls to ensure the accuracy and completeness of USASpending data. Specifically, by November 15, 2014, each agency is to compare is spending data to data from either its financial system or another well-recognized, published data source, such as OMB's monthly Report on Budget Execution and Budgetary Resources. By implementing the requirements under this memorandum, agencies will be better able to ensure that complete, accurate, and timely federal spending information is available to the public.

    Recommendation: To improve the accuracy, completeness, and timeliness of all data submissions to OMB's USAspending.gov Web site, the Director of OMB should develop and implement a process to regularly ensure that all federal agencies report required award information to USAspending.gov.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Provisions of the recently enacted Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2013 could address this recommendation, but implementation will not take place for several years.

    Recommendation: To improve the accuracy, completeness, and timeliness of all data submissions to OMB's USAspending.gov Web site, the Director of OMB should revise guidance to federal agencies on reporting federal awards to clarify (1) the requirement that award titles describe the award's purpose; and (2) requirements for validating and documenting agency award data submitted by federal agencies.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: OMB no longer uses the reporting mechanism discussed in the recommendation.

    Recommendation: To improve the accuracy, completeness, and timeliness of all data submissions to OMB's USAspending.gov Web site, the Director of OMB should include information on the city where work is performed in OMB's public reporting of the completeness of agency data submissions.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

 

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