To promote accountability and transparency on the use of Recovery Act funds, the Recovery Board worked with federal Inspectors General to establish a multi-phased approach for reviewing agency oversight of recipient data. The first phase, conducted before the start of the first recipient reporting cycle in October, 2009, provided a snapshot of federal agencies’ data-review processes. The second phase, conducted after the first reporting period assessed the data-review processes at seven federal agencies. The IGs found:
Most of the errors by the recipients were in two categories: key information about the awards and the estimation of jobs. For example:
One recipient received an award of $3.5 million but only reported $367, 000.
The Department of Transportation noted that 1,200 jobs were erroneously listed under the Veterans Administration because the Iowa Department of Transportation, as a recipient, entered the wrong funding agency code.
Interior officials found that one recipient reported creating 10,000 jobs for a $5.25 million award which would mean that each employee would have been paid an annual salary of only $525.
Reasons for the Errors
The agencies identified several factors that contributed to the errors, including:
- Recipients misinterpreted the guidance for how to report
- Recipients had technical challenges in submitting data
- Recipients entered incorrect codes or numbers, and
- Human error.
Actions Taken to Improve Data Quality
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the Recovery Board, and federal agencies all took significant actions after the first round of recipient reporting to improve data quality.
Actions taken by federal agencies included:
- Developing and updating tools to electronically check for significant errors or anomalies in recipients’ reports
- Updating FAQs, posted tip sheets and additional guidance to their Recovery sites, and
- Contacting non-reporting and missing recipients to clarify reporting requirements.
OMB took the following actions:
- Simplified the way jobs are calculated
- Requires federal agencies to provide recipients with detailed award information, and
- Required federal agencies to focus on errors in award amounts, jobs, award numbers, and recipients’ names.
The Recovery Board also took significant steps:
- Adding hard edit checks to the reporting system that prevented recipients from submitting reports when information in specific fields was incorrect, and
- Adding alerts that questioned the information the recipient was entering if it appeared to be inconsistent with other data.
The IGs concluded that the actions taken by the federal agencies, OMB, and the Board should go a long way to improving the data. Coordination and heightened vigilance will be critical to addressing continued concerns with the quality of data reported.
Read the full report, entitled "Recovery Act Data Quality: Errors in Recipient Reports Obscure Transparency," on the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board's Testimony and Reports page.
Another example of the continuing efforts toward improving the quality of recipient reported data took place recently when the Office of Management and Budget, the Recovery Board, and the responsible federal agencies identified redundant records filed in October 2009 and January 2010. This resulted in a reconciliation on March 10, 2010 when these records were eliminated from the Recovery.gov database, resulting in a $16 billion reduction in the awarded amounts previously posted on January 30, 2010.
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