Special Report: DOE-OIG-18-08

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November 8, 2017

Department of Energy’s Implementation of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014

The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 (DATA Act) requires Federal agencies to report on financial and non-financial data in accordance with standards established by the U.S. Department of the Treasury (Treasury) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Agency reported data is made available to the public and other stakeholders on USASpending.gov, a Web site operated by Treasury in consultation with OMB. In May 2015, Treasury and OMB published 57 data definition elements and required agencies to report on the data elements, such as obligation amounts and legal entity address, beginning in January 2017. Once submitted by agencies to the Treasury, the data is displayed quarterly on USASpending.gov for taxpayers and policy makers. 

The DATA Act requires each Office of Inspector General (OIG) to report on the completeness, timeliness, quality, and accuracy of data submitted by the cognizant agency. In preparation for the initial report to be issued in November 2017, we conducted a review to determine the Department of Energy’s readiness to implement the provisions of the DATA Act. Our report on The Department of Energy’s Readiness to Implement the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 (OIG-SR-17-03, November 2016) determined that the Department of Energy was well-positioned to execute and implement goals of the DATA Act. Consistent with guidelines established by the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, we completed this review to determine the completeness, accuracy, timeliness, and quality of fiscal year 2017 second quarter financial and non-financial data submitted for publication on USASpending.gov. This report documents the results of our test work related to the Department’s implementation of the DATA Act.

We determined that the overall quality of available Department information related to the DATA Act was negatively impacted by weaknesses in completeness, accuracy, and timeliness of information reported in the second quarter of fiscal year 2017. In particular, we identified weaknesses related to completeness, accuracy, and/or timeliness of information in the data files tested. While the majority of these errors were caused by other external agencies’ data management processes and were outside the control of the Department and the scope of this audit, we found that 28 percent of the 354 transactions sampled contained errors caused by Department weaknesses. To the Department’s credit, we noted that 91 percent of the 23,688 data elements tested from the sampled transactions were complete, accurate, and/or timely.

To meet the needs of the Inspector General community, the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, Federal Audit Executive Council, established the DATA Act Working Group. The Working Group developed a guide intended to provide a baseline framework for the reviews required by the DATA Act. In performing this audit, we adhered to the Inspectors General Guide to Compliance Under the DATA Act, issued in February 2017.

In conducting our audit, we evaluated and assessed the internal controls over the Department’s and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s information systems used to report financial and non-financial data. Based on test work performed, we noted that the information technology controls tested for DATA Act purposes on the Department’s financial and procurement systems appeared sufficient. 
Just prior to issuance of our report, the OIG received allegations related to the Department’s internal control environment over financial data. At the time our DATA Act test work was completed, the OIG was still evaluating the allegations and any potential impacts. If the results of our ongoing inquiry prove necessary, we will consider issuing supplemental correspondence in the future.

The weaknesses identified occurred, in part, because the Department did not always ensure that data exported from external systems maintained by Treasury and GSA was complete, accurate, and timely. Without complete, accurate, and timely data, policymakers and the public may draw conclusions and make decisions based on inadequate Department DATA Act information.  Specifically, without an adequate review process, the Department may continue to provide information to stakeholders that is misleading or erroneous.  Due to the limited scope of our review, nothing came to our attention to indicate that the errors identified resulted in a misuse of funds. In light of the weaknesses identified during our review, we made recommendations that, if fully implemented, should help officials improve DATA Act reporting.

Management did not concur with our findings and recommendations. Management commented that the Department should not be held responsible for data discrepancies caused by other agencies and indicated there were no actions it could have taken to address certain issues identified in the report.  Throughout the report, we recognized the challenges encountered by the Department when errors occurred due to actions of external organizations. However, such challenges do not relieve: (1) the Department of its responsibilities under the DATA Act; (2) the Department from coordinating with external agencies to resolve the issues identified in this report; and (3) the OIG from the requirement to test the quality of the data and to report on the results. The DATA Act requires Federal agencies to submit data for publication on USASpending.gov. Users of the Web site have a right to assume that the Department’s data is complete, accurate, and timely.

Topic: Management & Administration