States are becoming increasingly comfortable with the process for reporting data related to the Recovery Act, although it remains imperfect, according to an oversight report released Wednesday, May 26.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) said this spring's quarterly reporting period for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act saw better data quality and that states reported the necessary information in "a relatively smooth fashion."

"Overall, we're finding that the process is beginning, in a sense, to settle down and smooth out; that is, both federal agencies and, more importantly, recipients are getting far more comfortable, far more understanding of the requirements and the responsibilities to report under," said Chris Mihm, the GAO's managing director of strategic issues, in a podcast Wednesday. "So we're seeing less nonreporting recipients, better data that's in the system -- notwithstanding that there are still some issues, some significant issues, that need to be addressed in terms of inconsistencies in the data and data quality."

The GAO examined data for Jan. 1 to March 31, 2010, the first of the year's four quarters. Since last fall, states and other "prime recipients" of Recovery Act funds have been uploading financial data and grant information to FederalReporting.gov. At first the process was plagued by confusion, as government agencies were required to collect and report data that's more detailed than any other federal grant-making effort in history, and includes data like the number of jobs created and financial information collected from "sub-awardees."

The new requirements forced some state and local governments to revamp the IT systems for their financials.

"State officials credited their growing familiarity with compiling and reporting the data as a key reason recipient reporting is becoming easier," according to the GAO report. "For example, District of Columbia officials noted that the process went smoothly primarily because the district agencies have been reporting for several rounds, and there were no changes to the reporting process this quarter."

Although the outlook is improving, challenges remain, the report said, as complications are still arising when states compute the number of jobs created by Recovery Act funding, and the money's estimated financial impact on local regions.

But on the whole, the GAO said the Recovery Act reporting process is spurring states to improve how they share data with the public, such as in Iowa, where "officials said that the Recovery Act has given the state the impetus to provide citizens with better information on how federal funds are spent in their state" and "officials in Massachusetts indicated that they are revising the state's website so citizens and state-level managers can see how public money is spent."

 

Matt Williams  |  Associate Editor