Treasury’s implementation of the DATA Act an early lesson in project management

Marla Freedman, assistant inspector general for audit at the Treasury Department’s Office of Inspector General, said the agency is heading making progress in implementing key requirements to make spending data more accessible.


By Rahul Bali
Federal News Radio

There are big hopes that the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA) will be a game-changer for everyone who spends or receives money from the federal government.

“One of the big perks of the act is the taxpayer and the policymakers would be able to track federal expenditures linking federal contract, loan and grant spending down to the zip code level,” said Marla Freedman, assistant inspector general for audit at the Treasury Department’s Office of Inspector General, in an interview with Federal News Radio In-Depth host Francis Rose.

The enactment of the DATA Act in May 2014 was the beginning of a process to modernize the collection of federal spending data by agencies. Specifically requiring agencies to eventually produce standardized detailed reports of financial data.

Agencies will have to start using the standards created under the DATA Act by May 2017.

“We are still a little ways away, but there is a lot of work to be done before then. This is very complex, multi-year requirement. You can never start to early on these things,” she said.

Based on a May report from the Treasury Department’s Office of Inspector General, Freedman said progress has been made, but there is still work to do at Treasury.  (Use first hyperlink here)

So what is going right?

The governance structure is in place.

The Office of Management and Budget and Treasury have divided the implementation work into five high-level work streams based on DATA Act requirements.

Treasury also has developed some project management documentation, including a draft white paper, an executive dashboard and a 12-month plan.

So What is the issue?

The details.

One issue the report lays out is concerns with project management practices.

Treasury’s IG (Use second hyperlink here) found that a the agency was using a combination of agile and traditional project management practices.

Freedman said that combination led to many details not being recorded.

Some of those details include project scope, timing, the cost, quality and risks.

“Regardless of which method you use, the detail is what is really important and how you going to monitor things and how you going to carry them out,” she said. “Also, they didn’t define upfront which tool they were going to use. They didn’t define ‘for this project work stream we are going to use agile, for this project work stream we are going to use traditional.’ I think now, they are in the process of identifying and describing how and what they are going with each work stream.”

Freedman said there also were issues with project monitoring.

‘Treasury did have some tools in place to track and monitor this thing, but they were inconsistent. For example, we were in there doing work on some of their work streams,” she said. “So we could see that work was being completed. It was obvious that work was being completed, but their 12-month plan zero percent of the work was completed.’

Freedman said some of issues of monitoring could have been related to employees focused getting the work done and then not using their monitoring tools.

Another challenge the IG found was a project manager for implementation had not been hired yet when their put the report together. A position that has since been filled with someone certified in agile project management practices.

Freedman said she believes Treasury is headed in the right direction.

“At this point, Treasury management, I am happy to report, has concurred with all of our recommendations,” she said. “They have recognized in their response and from what we see going on, that there are improvements that need to be made. In fact their response describes a number of process improvements that they are in the process of making now. With all of this, we believe their response and the actions they have taken, meet the intent of our recommendations.” 

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