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Federal IT Officials Grilled on Data Quality

Sen. Tom Coburn tries to pin down Federal CIO Vivek Kundra and Federal CTO Aneesh Chopra on a timeline for accurately collecting "sub-award" spending data.

Photo: U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma. Photo courtesy of Tom Coburn

Remember last year when President Barack Obama's IT brain trust touted the "unprecedented" detail of spending data that would be collected from grants and awards coming from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act?


It turned out to be a tough chore for states and local governments, as they primarily became the "sub-awardees" for which data was to be collected for the first time -- forcing many public-sector agencies to improve and streamline their IT systems for data collection. But one lawmaker -- U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn -- seemed too dissatisfied Tuesday, March 23, about the government's progress on collecting that granular level of data.

"The fact is, right now isn't accurate," said Coburn, R-Okla., during an open government Senate subcommittee hearing at which Federal CIO Vivek Kundra and Federal CTO Aneesh Chopra testified. Coburn said that there isn't adequate data on sub-awards and sub-grants, and "we can't manage America without that information."

When pressed by Coburn for a timeline for when that sub-award data would be improved, Kundra said on April 7 the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) would release specific guidance on the collection of sub-grant reporting, and will unveil an overhaul of in a "month or so."

Kundra said he shared Coburn's frustration in terms of the quality of data, and added that the administration has moved to eliminate the problem of "faceless accountability" by assigning a senior-level official in each federal agency to oversee data collection and quality.

Also on Tuesday, an "Ogov" survey was released by the MeriTalk online network of government IT professionals that found the government is "marginally more open today than one year ago," according to 118 respondents. Among those surveyed, 68 percent gave the OMB a C or D grade "for its clarity and guidance on how agencies can achieve open government goals." In all, 53 percent said government is more open, while 42 percent felt they have a voice in how government works. MeriTalk founder Steve O'Keeffe was scheduled to testify at Tuesday's Senate hearing before all committee work was suspended for the day.


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