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WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Ranking Member and Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, along with Senators Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), united in their commitment to improve transparency and accountability in federal spending through robust implementation of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA Act) of 2014, sent a letter to Shaun Donovan, Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Specifically, the lawmakers raised concerns regarding the status of a pilot program, which was designed to reduce contractor reporting costs and increase transparency.

OMB initiated a pilot program to create software that would allow contractors to post reports to a central, secure website rather than mail paper copies of the reports to multiple government monitors. The pilot program focused on helping small construction companies first, with the longer goal that all contractors could use the same software for financial reporting if the pilot were successful. However, a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found that the procurement pilot is four months behind schedule, does not adhere to leading practices for pilot program management or design and, as it currently stands, is unlikely to reduce reporting costs for most contractors. 

In the letter, the Senate leaders pressed OMB to promptly implement GAO’s recommendations and deliver a completed pilot program that is fully responsive to the DATA Act’s requirements and intent.

The text of the letter can be found below and in PDF form here

Dear Director Donovan:

We write regarding implementation of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA Act) of 2014.[1] As you know, when fully implemented the DATA Act will improve transparency of federal spending, set government-wide financial data standards, streamline recipient reporting requirements, and improve overall federal financial data quality. The Act will help taxpayers identify and understand where their taxpayer dollars are spent, improve government performance, and will help agencies identify and eliminate improper payments. We ask your assistance in fully implementing this important law.

The DATA Act requires the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to conduct a pilot program on recipient reporting, to among other benefits, reduce compliance costs for recipients of federal awards.[2] The goal is to learn from this pilot and then implement a program across the federal government that will reduce costs for all federal contractors and grantees. OMB selected the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to conduct a pilot focused on grants and the OMB Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) to conduct a pilot focused on reducing reporting burdens for federal contractor reporting.[3]

We write to express our concern regarding the status of the OFPP pilot. A recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found that the procurement pilot is four months behind schedule, does not adhere to leading management practices, and is unlikely to yield information that is broadly scalable to all contractors,[4] because it targeted a very narrow reporting requirement for construction contractors. GAO noted that “this narrow approach stands in contrast to the grants portion of the pilot where HHS has a broader, more comprehensive plan to explore several areas where grantee reporting burden might be reduced.”[5] GAO recommended that OFPP redesign the pilot program to test data elements applicable to all federal contractors and create a project plan that incorporates leading practices in project management. We request your assistance in implementing GAO’s recommendations to bring the procurement pilot back on track so it fulfills its statutory requirement by May 2017.                 

To assist in understanding OFPP’s efforts to promptly implement GAO’s recommendations and deliver a completed pilot program that is fully responsive to the DATA Act’s requirements and intent, we request the following information:

1.  Please provide the plan for completing each of the GAO recommendations including tasks, estimated completion dates and individuals responsible for completing each task. Include all risk mitigation tasks that might be necessary if issues occur during the data reporting phase of the pilot.

2.  Please describe the General Service Administration’s role in the pilot as well as the tasks assigned and results they achieved.

3.  GAO identified several leading practices common to the design of a high-quality pilot and found that the procurement pilot was not using any to design or manage. How does OMB plan to implement GAO’s recommendation to incorporate leading management practices into the design of the procurement pilot?

4.  The DATA Act requires the pilot program to include a diverse group of award recipients with an aggregate award value of $1-2 billion. GAO found that the procurement pilot may not meet this statutory requirement. How does OMB anticipate changing the pilot to address this finding?

5.  GAO expressed concern that the procurement pilot was too narrowly focused and should be revamped to apply to all federal contractors. Please explain how OMB will revise the procurement pilot to address GAO’s recommendation or describe how the results of the pilot program associated with construction contracting can be expanded to reduce the reporting burden for other types of contracts.

6.  Do you anticipate that you will have a full 12-month cycle of data collection by May 2017? If not, please provide a summary of what data will be available by the end date for the pilot program as required in the statute and discuss the value the data in applying the portal to other contractor reporting requirements outside of construction contracts.

Please provide this information as soon as possible, but by no later than 5:00 p.m. on May 27, 2016.