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United States

Spending Transparency (US0084)

Overview

At-a-Glance

Action Plan: United States Action Plan 2015-2017

Action Plan Cycle: 2015

Status: Inactive

Institutions

Lead Institution: The Administration

Support Institution(s): NA

Policy Areas

Access to Information, E-Government, Fiscal Openness, Open Data, Public Participation, Publication of Budget/Fiscal Information

IRM Review

IRM Report: United States End-of-Term IRM Report 2015-2017, United States Mid-Term Report 2015-2017

Starred: No

Early Results: Major Major

Design i

Verifiable: Yes

Relevant to OGP Values: Access to Information , Civic Participation , Technology

Potential Impact:

Implementation i

Completion:

Description

The Administration continues to look for new ways to increase transparency in Federal spending. In 2015, the
Budget of the U.S. Government was made available in an open-source format for the first time, allowing the
public to explore it in new and creative ways. In addition, the Administration finalized data standards as required
by landmark legislation mandating transparency of spending data, the Digital Accountability and Transparency
Act of 2014 (DATA Act). These data standards provide a basis to improve the quality and consistency of Federal
spending data, and as a result, help provide the public with valuable, usable information on how Federal dollars
 are spent. Better understanding of U.S. government finances will increase public confidence and increased use
of the data will drive innovation and economic growth.

IRM Midterm Status Summary

IRM End of Term Status Summary

Commitment 32. Increase Transparency in Spending

Commitment Text:

Increase Transparency in Spending

The Administration continues to look for new ways to increase transparency in Federal spending. In 2015, the Budget of the U.S. Government was made available in an open-source format for the first time, allowing the public to explore it in new and creative ways. In addition, the Administration finalized data standards as required by landmark legislation mandating transparency of spending data, the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 (DATA Act). These data standards provide a basis to improve the quality and consistency of Federal spending data, and as a result, help provide the public with valuable, usable information on how Federal dollars are spent. Better understanding of U.S. government finances will increase public confidence and increased use of the data will drive innovation and economic growth. In addition to continually engaging stakeholders from inside and outside of government on expanding Federal spending transparency efforts, the United States will:

  • Publish Standardized, Reliable, and Reusable Federal Spending Data. The Department of the Treasury and the Office of Management and Budget will leverage technology to engage stakeholders and adopt a highly participatory and innovative approach to develop a re-imagined USAspending.gov to make spending data more accessible and searchable. This will also include an expansion of the data disclosed to include all account-level expenditures in a structured industry format. The Administration will provide regular progress updates to give both Federal agencies and taxpayers a better understanding of the impact of Federal funds.
  • Improve the Usability of Public Procurement and Grants Systems and Make It Easier to Identify Awardees. The United States will leverage digital technologies and stakeholder feedback to improve the effectiveness of the public procurement and grants systems and foster openness and competition. This includes modernizing the online environment in which contract opportunities can be found and where grant programs are catalogued, and establishing a transparent process to explore alternatives for how Federal awardees are identified.
  • Centralize Integrity and Ownership Information of Contractors. The Administration will facilitate the display, in a unified view, of the integrity information of Federal contractors and grant recipients. For contractors, this will include additional information on labor violations, identification of parent and subsidiary organizations, and information about corporate contractor performance in order to give acquisition officials a comprehensive understanding of the performance and integrity of a corporation in carrying out Federal contracts and grants.

Responsible Institutions: Office of Management and Budget, Department of Treasury, and General Services Administration

Supporting Institutions: All Federal agencies, civil society organizations

Start Date: Not Specified ....... End Date: Not Specified

Commitment Aim

This commitment aimed to increase transparency of federal spending by:

  • Re-designing USAspending.gov with input from stakeholders to make it more searchable and user-friendly, expanding the site’s data to include account-level expenditures in a structured industry format, and regularly updating the data;
  • Improving the effectiveness of the public procurement and grant system based on stakeholder feedback, with the particular goals of “modernizing the online environment” for contract and grant opportunities, and establishing a transparent process for alternative means of identifying federal awardees; and
  • Centralizing the availability of integrity information for federal contractors and grantees, such as information on labor violations, parent/subsidiary structures, and corporate performance.

Status

Midterm: Limited

At the midterm, the government had made limited progress on this commitment:

  • With respect to Milestone 32.1, in November 2015 the government launched a beta version of USAspending.gov [472] and, per the government’s midterm self-assessment report, held in-person consultations with stakeholders. [473] The government also launched a new beta version of USAspending.gov that allowed the public to comment on proposed features. [474] However, at the close of the midterm reporting period, account-level expenditures were not available on USAspending.gov, resulting in substantial completion for this milestone.
  • With respect to Milestone 32.2, in November 2015, the government proposed a rule [475] to replace references in regulations to proprietary unique identifiers currently used to designate federal contract and grant recipients with generic terminology. The current system is based on the Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS), which is managed by a private company. Given that the DUNS standard is proprietary, much of the contracting data is not public or reusable. The proposed rule represents an initial step toward creating a regulatory environment that facilitates the public disclosure of more information on contractors and grant recipients. Given the preliminary state of the rule, completion for this milestone was limited.
  • With respect to Milestone 32.3, on 7 March 2016, the Department of Defense, the General Services Administration (GSA), and the National Aeronautics and Space Association (NASA) issued a final rule concerning “Information on Corporate Contractor Performance and Integrity” to amend the Federal Acquisition Regulation by requiring that the Federal Awardee Performance and Integrity Information System (FAPIIS) [476] identify immediate owners, subsidiaries, and predecessors for federal contractors and grantees having received federal awards over the past three years. [477] At the midterm, however, the FAPIIS website did not include this information, and no progress was apparent with respect to publishing other integrity information described in the milestone text. As such, completion for this milestone is limited.

End of term: Limited

Progress on this commitment remains limited at the end of term:

  • At the close of the end-of-term reporting period, the redesigned USAspending.gov website remained in beta and account-level expenditures were still not available on USAspending.gov. While the beta version of the website launched in May 2017, [478] at the time of writing, a message on the USAspending.gov homepage indicated that the government would release a new (presumably non-beta) version of the website in fall 2017. Progress on Milestone 32.1 therefore remained substantial (as opposed to complete) at the end of term.
  • On 31 October 2016, the proposed rule to replace proprietary-unique identifiers for federal contract and grant recipients became effective, [479] and GSA began to search for alternatives to DUNS. [480] However, during the evaluation period, GSA also indicated that it does not intend to move away from its use of DUNS in the short-term, [481] highlighting the potentially long-term nature of the government’s search for an alternative system. Progress on this milestone therefore remains limited.
  • By the end of term, information on owners, subsidiaries, and predecessors for federal contractors and grantees was still not available via the FAPIIS website. In 2016, the US System for Award Management (SAM) [482]—where all organizations seeking federal contracts and grants must register in order to do business with the US government—was updated to require registrants to submit information on their parents, subsidiaries, and predecessors. This appears to be a preliminary step necessary for the government to obtain the required ownership information for subsequent incorporation into FAPIIS. However, integrity information remains unavailable on a centralized platform, resulting in limited completion for Milestone 32.3 at the end of term.

Did It Open Government?

Access to Information: Major

Civic Participation: Marginal

This commitment significantly opened government with respect to access to information and civic participation. With respect to access to information, the updated SAM.gov registration requirements implemented under Milestone 32.3 can be viewed as an early step toward facilitating greater public access to integrity information for contractors and grantees. However, the integrity information collected thus far has a limited scope (i.e. only ownership information) and, more importantly, no new information has been published yet.

More substantial progress has been made with respect to revisions to USAspending.gov under Milestone 32.1 via the launch of a revised beta platform. In particular, relative to the version of USAspending.gov that existed at the start of the action plan, the beta website now includes a spending explorer to filter funding by agency, class, and function, as well as a more user-friendly agency profile tab and award search. Moreover, as described in press reporting on the beta site, the revised site comprises a centralized repository of data spanning 100 federal agencies in machine-readable and open source format, with its features and data receiving praise in the media. While the data made available during the beta site’s initial launch covered only fiscal year 2017, historical data is envisioned to be added at a later date. [483] There is also already evidence of usage of the new data to track spending by government officials. [484] In light of the substantial improvement in access to information occasioned by the launch of the beta version of USAspending.gov, the IRM researcher assesses this commitment as having caused major movement toward greater access to information.

With respect to civic participation, the government’s engagement with stakeholders in the context of Milestones 32.2, namely through requesting public comments on a proposed rule, was limited in scope and represented a one-off instance of engagement as opposed to an ongoing engagement process, inhibiting a more substantial opening of government. Moreover, while the government engaged substantially with civil society on the redesign of USAspending.gov over a three-year period via an online platform soliciting public inputs, [485] this process occurred largely in the context of the previous national action plan. The actions taken under this commitment are therefore limited to a marginal opening of government relative to the status quo.

Carried Forward?

At the time of writing, the US government had not published its fourth national action plan, so it is unclear if this commitment will be carried forward. The government should nevertheless aim to continue to improve the USAspending.gov site, publish account-level expenditures, modernize the online environment for contractor opportunities and grant programs, and centralize and expand the contractor integrity information on the FAPIIS website. As described further in the progress report, the beta version of USAspending.gov was particularly well received by civil society stakeholders, and represents a particularly promising means of furthering open government in the UNITED STATES.

[472] USASpending.gov. “Open Beta Site.” https://openbeta.usaspending.gov/index.html. Consulted 27 June 2017.

[473] Open Government Partnership. “United States of America Midterm Self-Assessment Report for the Open Government Partnership: Third Open Government National Action Plan, 2015–2017.” p.34. September 2016. https://www.opengovpartnership.org/sites/default/files/USA_NAP3_self-assessment-report_20160916.pdf. Consulted 2 October 2017.

[474] Open Beta Site. https://openbeta.usaspending.gov/index.html. USASpending.gov.

[475] Federal Register. “Federal Acquisition Regulation; Unique Identification of Entities Receiving Federal Awards. ” 18 November 2015. https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2015-11-18/pdf/2015-29414.pdf. Consulted 9 October 2017.

[476] Federal Awardee Performance and Integrity Information System. “Help.” https://www.fapiis.gov/fapiis/help.action. Consulted 9 October 2017.

[477] Federal Register. “Federal Acquisition Regulation: Information on Corporate Contractor Performance and Integrity.” 7 March 2016. https://bit.ly/2uJ23O7. Consulted 9 October 2017.

[478] U.S. Department of the Treasury Press Center. “Treasury Unveils New Website to Track Federal Spending.” 9 May 2017. https://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/sm0076.aspx.  consulted 17 March 2018.

[479] Federal Register. “Federal Acquisition Regulation; Unique Identification of Entities Receiving Federal Awards.” 30 September 2016. https://bit.ly/2K838Gw

[480] Goldman, Ken. “GSA Issues Request for Information for Entity Identification and Validation Services.” GSA Interact. 13 February 2017. https://interact.gsa.gov/blog/gsa-issues-request-information-entity-identification-and-validation-services  

[481] fsd.gov. “Do I need to get a new unique entity identifier because of FAR Case 2015-022, Unique Identification of Identification of Entities Receiving Federal Awards?” https://bit.ly/2vxmEsM.

[482]General Services Administration. “System for Awards Management.” https://www.sam.gov/portal/SAM/##11. Consulted 22 September 2017.

[483] Lawder, David. “US Treasury upgrades website to better track federal spending data.” Reuters. 9 May 2017.  https://reut.rs/2JiBtRX . Consulted 17 March 2018. See also Fed Manager. “USASpending.Gov Rollout Is A Model Of Government Done Well.” 11 July 2017. https://www.fedmanager.com/columns/from-the-hill/2788-usaspending-gov-rollout-is-a-model-of-government-done-well Consulted 17 March 2018.

[484] Quaintance, Zack. “What’s New in Civic Tech: Data from USASpending.gov Contributed to Reporting that Led to Cabinet Secretary’s Resignation,” Government Technology, 5 October 2017, http://bit.ly/2DDtThx.

[485] OpenBeta.USAspending.gov. “Concepts.” . Consulted 17 March 2018. For a history of government engagement on the beta site, see also Independent Reporting Mechanism. “United States End-of-Term Report: 2014-2015.” http://bit.ly/2sEBDv0.. Consulted 17 March 2018.


Commitments

Open Government Partnership