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Wood: Recovery Board lessons learned can enhance governmentwide accountability

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The recently-launched Government Accountability and Transparency Board--a follow-on to the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, which is scheduled to sunset in September 2013--should heed the lessons learned from overseeing American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 dollars, says RATB Executive Director Michael Wood.

During a Nov. 30 hearing of the House Science, Space and Technology subcommittee on investigations and oversight, Wood advised legislators not to entirely scrap efforts now underway at RATB but to build upon them.

The Recovery Board is currently piloting fraud prevention tools with agency personnel as well as with inspectors general, said Wood. The program, called FederalAccountability.gov, will assist agencies in performing their own risk evaluations for those seeking recovery funds, just as it helped enforcement officials review recovery funds in order to detect waste, fraud and abuse, he said.

"Another lesson has been the tremendous inefficiencies caused by the government's lack of a uniform award ID. Currently there is no requirement that awards be standardized across government and we are working toward this goal," said Wood.

Other areas for improvement at RATB or a future board include the ability to pre-populate some data on reporting sites, said Wood. Performance metrics could be improved, he said. "We can track the dollars, we do collect information on jobs, but the performance metrics is probably not an area where we specifically collect information."

Wood also said an accountability tool may be better off with fewer data elements. The Recovery Act limited the number of data elements to 99. "That sounds like a lot, but that's a limited data set for some of the things the federal government does. I think you could look at even reducing the number of data elements some, making sure that you really were collecting exactly what you wanted."

Under the Recovery Act, entities receiving $25,000 or more have to report, but if legislators are concerned about the reporting burden on small entities, Wood suggested they could raise that threshold.

"I know the DATA Act includes a provision for providing some administrative overhead, I think it's .5 percent for recipients to use for things like reporting and so forth. So, there are some things that could be improved. We looked at one of the concerns was reporting burden when we were getting going and looking at the Recovery Act," said Wood.

The "DATA Act," Darrell Issa's (R-Calif.) Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (H.R. 2146) introduced June 13, was joined by companion legislation June 16 from Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and aims to stand up through legislation a Federal Accountability and Spending Transparency Board. 

Recovery Board Chairman Earl Devaney--who announced (.pdf) Dec. 1 he plans to retire from his post at the end of the calendar year--said June 14 that the RATB supports the DATA Act's proposal to combine the board's website and oversight systems into a universal "one-stop-shop" to be used more broadly across all federal spending.

FederalAccountability.gov, which is now being piloted, would serve as a portal through which agencies and oversight personnel could access the accountability tools currently housed in the Board's Recovery Operations Center, according to Devaney.

"Assuming the existing work of the Recovery Board could be utilized as a starting point, then a FY 2012 appropriation of approximately $19.5 million should permit the consolidation of USAspending.gov, as well as the rollout of FederalTransparency.gov and FederalAccountability.gov," wrote Devaney.

For more:
- go to the hearing page (includes archived webcast and prepared testimony)

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