If you’re wondering whether the concept of transparency in government has taken hold outside Washington, D.C., you have only to look at the Utah Transparency Project, the brainchild of twelve students in the Honors Think Tank on Transparency and Privacy at the University of Utah. This initiative to improve government transparency across the entire state is the result of their recent study of the rapidly evolving and often clashing paradigms of privacy and transparency, particularly as they impact government and people.
The students have developed Five Transparency Best Practices for Local Governments that will be distributed to all local governments with a request that officials adopt the Best Practices in principle and that they implement as soon as possible the practices they deem immediately feasible; governments should work toward implementing the remaining practices. The students will also be reviewing existing transparency practices in 16 Utah cities and counties.
Additionally, the Think Tank students are also conducting an independent, statewide survey to assess whether Utahans are interested in transparency in government. One group definitely is: The Utah League of Women Voters has officially endorsed the Best Practices. The students also plan on expanding the Transparency Project to local student groups in Utah.
– Alice Siempelkamp, Assistant Director, Content, Recovery.gov
In Fiscal Year 2011, the federal government spent $3.6 trillion and most would agree that taxpayers are entitled to know where that money went.
Unfortunately, government financial reporting systems fall short of a fundamental test: Revealing to taxpayers how federal agencies spend their money.
That’s not an issue at the Recovery Board. With the support of Congress and the administration, we’ve made sure that citizens know how their money is spent on Recovery Act contracts, grants and loans issued by federal agencies.
We developed a password-protected website, FederalReporting.gov, to collect spending data from more than 170,000 recipients of Recovery Act funds.
Each quarter, that information is passed along to Recovery.gov, the Recovery Board’s public website. Users can easily find information on contracts, grants and loans in their communities or across the nation.
We watch over the money using the Recovery Operations Center, a state-of-the-art analysis center, to try and make sure that the funds aren’t stolen or wasted.
In December, our job got bigger.
The President’s Government Accountability and Transparency Board, of which I am a member, issued a report containing far-reaching recommendations that would give average citizens easy access to spending data across the government.
The GAT Board, created by the President as a key element in his effort to rid government programs of waste, fraud and abuse, made these recommendations:
- A government-wide framework should be developed to detect fraud, waste and abuse in spending across federal programs. The GAT Board cited the success of the Recovery Operations Center.
- The numerous data collection and display systems throughout government should be integrated, a step that would “reduce or eliminate current system redundancies and achieve significant savings.’’
- A universal award identification system should be implemented for all federal awards. This would help reconcile spending data from multiple sources and improve oversight.
Administration officials would like to see follow-up action on the GAT Board’s recommendations—and so would the Recovery Board.
We are working diligently to develop a framework that will support the GAT Board’s findings.
For one thing, we are conducting pilot programs on fraud prevention tools with personnel from several agencies and the Inspector General community.
These pilots give the agencies and IGs access to the Recovery Operations Center, or ROC. This helps agencies perform their own risk evaluations before awarding federal contracts, grants or loans.
IGs, meanwhile, can use our analytical tools to prevent and detect fraud and waste. The ROC also fields special requests for analytical assistance from other law enforcement agencies that need our expertise.
Almost daily, moreover, we brief many folks across government on the operations of the ROC.
In the end, the way we see it, the analytical center could be used across government to protect taxpayer dollars.
On the issue of developing a single, integrated system for collecting and displaying all government data, we will be meeting with other federal agencies to assess how this might be done and what the costs would be.
Finally, on the issue of a universal award ID, which would permit much better oversight, we are working closely with a non-profit federally funded research organization on the best way to implement such a system. A final report from the organization is now being evaluated.
I will keep you posted on future developments.
– Kathleen S. Tighe, Chair, Recovery Board
Here’s a stat you’ll probably not enjoy reading:
In the past fiscal year, the federal government estimates that it has made $115 billion in improper payments.
That’s billions, not millions.
First, to be clear: Not all improper payments represent fraud. Many result from government overpayments or other errors, according to a government website, www.paymentaccuracy.gov.
The high-error programs include Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security — vital support systems for millions of Americans.
Here at the Recovery Board, we have technology in our Recovery Operations Center that might be of service to other agencies seeking to prevent improper payments.
The ROC, as it is known, can be used for analysis at all stages of a contract award: Pre-award, at-award, post-award, and pre-payment.
Right now, we are using the ROC to identify irregularities or other problems in Recovery Act awards.
But the Board stands ready to assist other federal agencies in overseeing all of their spending. The Board recently began discussions with the Treasury Department, which is developing similar technology for identifying payments that should not be made.
We are also conducting pilot projects with several agencies and Inspectors General, permitting them to do risk assessments and analysis on Recovery awards.
Down the road, it’s possible we could play a major role across government if the proposed DATA Act is enacted by Congress.
The DATA Act would create a new agency known as the Federal Accountability and Spending Transparency Board. The FAST Board would absorb the Recovery Board’s functions and be given the responsibility to collect and display all government spending data for federal contracts, grants and loans.
I’ll be discussing improper payments, the DATA Act and other subjects when I testify on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, February 7, before the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on government organization, efficiency and financial management.
– Michael Wood, Executive Director, Recovery Board
The following post was written by Kathleen S. Tighe, the Chair of the Recovery Board and the Inspector General for the Department of Education
Challenges keep you on your toes. In two decades in government, I’ve had plenty of them, serving in law enforcement-related positions at the Department of Justice, the General Services Administration, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Education.
Last month, President Obama handed me a new—and exciting—challenge: He selected me to serve as Chair of the Recovery Board, the independent agency that oversees the $840 billion economic stimulus program approved by Congress nearly three years ago. It’s a big job, something I know from personal experience as a member of the Recovery Board since April 2010.
The Recovery Act requires the Board to post detailed spending information on Recovery.gov and to provide oversight so that the funds aren’t wasted or stolen. In a nutshell, that means we need to be transparent and accountable to taxpayers.
I can assure you of my long commitment to government openness and accountability. I work for the taxpayers—not the other way around—and I wake up every morning feeling that I can make a difference. I felt that way the first day I walked into the Department of Justice in 1988 to begin serving as a trial attorney in the Fraud Section of the Commercial Litigation Branch. And I did make a difference, settling multi-million dollar cases that benefitted taxpayers.
My work as the Education IG should also give you a good idea of the way I think. From the time I first took that job 22 months ago, I have made it clear that no one—no individual, no company—is above scrutiny. Under my watch, the IG’s office has saved taxpayers millions of dollars by pursuing settlements and other actions against those who sought to defraud taxpayers.
The Recovery Board has a different oversight function. It does not conduct investigations. However, our analysts use sophisticated IT tools, housed in a facility known as the Recovery Operations Center, to pinpoint irregularities in Recovery Act contracts, grants and loans issued by federal agencies. The findings are sent to the IGs who oversee the 28 agencies that issue awards and serve as the basis for audits and investigations.
In its short history, the Board has been hailed for its commitment to accountability and transparency. Rest assured that those good government practices will be continued during my time as Chair.
Earl Devaney, Chairman of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board has laid out a plan for expanding transparency and accountability beyond Recovery funding to include all government spending.
This plan would eliminate redundancies and inefficiencies, saving taxpayers tens of millions of dollars and providing increased accountability and transparency. The main feature of the plan is the elimination of eight separate data collection websites across government. Instead, they would be rolled up and combined into a “universal one-stop shop” consisting of three sites: one to collect data from recipients of federal awards; one to collect agency data; and one to display and visualize all the data, just as Recovery.gov does for Recovery data.
Read the entire Template for the Future.