Recovery Act Data Quality: Errors in Recipients' Reports Obscure Transparency
On February 23, 2010, DOT OIG issued a report on behalf of the Recovery Board on agencies' oversight of Recovery Act recipient data during the first reporting cycle. The review was conducted by seven Office of Inspectors General at the following agencies: Departments of Defense, Education, Health and Human Services, Justice, Interior, and Transportation, and the General Services Administration. The objectives of the review included identifying (1) data errors and omissions in recipients’ first cycle reports and factors that may have contributed to them and (2) actions taken by agencies, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and the Recovery Board to improve the quality of the data that recipients will submit in future reporting cycles.
Each of the seven agencies reviewed had identified a number of inaccuracies in the data that Recovery Act fund recipients provided for the first reporting cycle. The most prevalent errors were in key award and job elements. Surveyed agencies found several factors that contributed to errors and recipients' failure to report, including misinterpretation of guidance and technical challenges.
The actions taken by OMB, the Recovery Board, and Federal agencies to date and the high level of cooperation among stakeholders should go a long way in improving the quality of these data. In moving forward, however, further action will be needed by these entities to meet the level of accountability called for in the Recovery Act. Of particular concern is the need for timely and executable reporting guidance from OMB, continued enhancements to the recipient reporting system by the Recovery Board, and continued outreach and improved data quality review processes from Federal agencies. Coordination and heightened vigilance will be critical to addressing these concerns.