RAT Board: Build a “universal one-stop shop” for federal spending transparency

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by Jacob Hutt, Policy Intern

The government’s point person for Recovery Act transparency and accountability called for an online “universal one-stop shop” in federal financial data reporting at a hearing on Tuesday. Expanding on his comments, Chairman Earl Devaney of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board announced a new report, “Accountability and Transparency: Template for the Future,” which identifies lessons learned from the Board’s oversight of Recovery spending.

The report highlighted three important lessons:

  • “The most identifiable obstacle to transparency and accountability of federal funds” is the “lack of a uniform award ID number” for contracts and other forms of financial assistance. Thus,  a single agency be responsible for distributing award ID numbers “across the entire government,” providing coherence and efficiency to a confusing system of identification.
  • Agencies and inspector generals should have equal access to transparency and accountability tools.  Although IGs are thought to be more inclined towards fraud detection, both agencies and IGs have a common goal of fraud prevention.
  • The Board’s accountability and transparency tools are interdependent and should not be split into separate divisions.

The report also explained key achievements of RATB and how they should guide the next step in government transparency and accountability, with a particular emphasis on fraud prevention. The Board used software to analyze “potential problems” in federal fund recipients by drawing on criminal records, lawsuits, bankruptcy information, etc.

Ultimately, the report calls for the creation of a successor Board to oversee federal spending generally. It should be independent, and maintain a website that centralizes how data is reported, how it is displayed to the public, and how programs are held accountable. All federal financial data would be available to the public in one central site.

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