Federal agencies are responsible for a great deal of grants, loans and other awards that power the various communities and institutions across the United States, and the management of these tasks demands a high standard of accountability at all levels. Budgetary transparency and allocation clarity are not only important components of sound financial reporting, but also key parts of the federal government's role as a representation of citizen's needs and desires. Nevertheless, many agencies lack the technical resources to properly collect, allocate and track funding projects.
An issue of accuracy
While the process of granting federal awards is an integral part of the government's role overall, there is a shortage of accurate information keeping agencies from optimally allocating resources and making the most of their funds, according to a recent article from FierceGovernmentIT. The source pointed out that the Government Accountability Office has failed to give accurate, complete information regarding the $619 billion given in the form of assistance packages, as reported by the publicly accessible USASpending website.
Following the initiation of the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006, agencies such as the Office of Budget Management cracked down on the financial reporting habits of organizations across the federal landscape, FierceGovernmentIT explained. However, GAO recently completed a large audit, one that began in December 2012, sampling 385 agency records and finding dramatic inconsistencies between these files and the information on USASpending. A significant portion of the data was unverifiable due to gaps, rendering many records inviable.
Shortage of tech tools
Where did agencies come up short in the audit, and what can you do to ensure that your organization doesn't make the same mistake in filling your reports? More often than not, the source revealed, problems boiled down to data management and a lack of the infrastructure resources necessary to accurately file award information into the public domain.
Although the OMB required agencies to report on 21 distinct data elements per award - including recipient names, award type, relevant addresses, zip codes and the like - only 2 to 7 percent of the records in the database were consistent with the website's information. With a more integrated management system that ensured synchronization across these platforms, agencies would likely not have run into these issues. Data center optimization efforts must be a part of your IT strategy if you want to avoid the long-term transparency issued suffered by so many agencies today.
"While OMB placed responsibilities on agencies to ensure their reported information is accurate and substantiated by supporting documentation, this approach has had limited effect on the overall quality of the data on the website, reinforcing the need for a more comprehensive oversight process by OMB and more specific guidance from OMB on how agencies are to validate information reported to USASpending.gov," GAO said, according to InformationWeek.
In addition to upgrading data center assets, you may want to consider implementing more transparent information recording and tracking processes in general, the source noted. With President Obama's recent Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 in action, there has never been a better time to develop better accountability policies throughout your organization, especially in the IT domain.
How can you achieve a heightened level of transparency across your agency? InformationWeek recommended that decision-makers clarify the roles that particular employees play in the reporting process, ensuring that all data elements are accounted for and synchronized in each of its iterations. Award information accuracy may be in the spotlight now, but any aspect of record-keeping must be scrutinized to keep accountability high and budgetary procedures running smoothly.