October 22, 2009 By Matt Williams
Citizens and government officials who are awaiting a clean accounting of the federal government's stimulus package at the end of the month could be left wanting, at least initially. Published reports that some preliminary stimulus data are inaccurate or incomplete could mean there will be some lingering problems with data quality.
If anything, the number of errors might increase in the short run, according to OMB Watch senior policy analyst Craig Jennings. The nonprofit tracks the Office of Management and Budget and advocates for transparency.
"There will likely be even more errors given the sheer volume of reports (7,000 on Oct. 15 vs. 105,000 on Oct. 30), but reports in subsequent data releases in January  and beyond should be of higher quality," he wrote in an e-mail to Government Technology.
Data from more than 47,000 awards -- the combined total of grants, loans and contracts -- were sent in as of Oct. 10., according to a posting on Recovery.gov, the Web site that's releasing information about the stimulus.
The 10-day grace period concluded Oct. 20, capping the first quarterly reporting window for recipients of funding from the federal government's $787 billion stimulus package, known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. State and local government agencies were required to upload their data on expenditures and jobs creation to FederalReporting.gov.
The OMB said it granted a grace period because of "technical challenges" the states were having in collecting the data, though the agency hasn't specified what those challenges are.
"I suspect that beyond the technical challenges, federal agencies were having a difficult time getting thousands of recipients to do something they've never had to do before," Jennings said. "And these process issues could be as simple as recipients not knowing that they had to report, to recipients not understanding the reporting process, to recipients ignoring the requirement."
Vendors have told Government Technology that some recipients are confused about whom they should report to. Some states chose to collect the data themselves and report all data statewide directly to the federal government, while other states opted to leave the responsibility in the hands of the recipients. Some recipients have been tripped up because they didn't registers for a DUNS number, an identifier required for the reporting process.
OMB Watch is urging the federal government to improve the data quality in advance of the Oct. 30 bulk release of the data. Federal, state and local officials will continue to review the data's completeness and accuracy through the end of the month.
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