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More Sunshine, Less Fraud

The Government Accountability and Transparency Board provides the President an initial report on how we can improve the accessibility, usability, and reliability of our Federal spending data.

From his first day in office, President Obama has been committed to making the federal government more transparent and accountable to the American people than ever before.  As dedicated stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars, we have a responsibility to provide information to the public on how Federal funds are being spent and do everything possible to root out and prevent waste, fraud, or abuse in Federal programs.  The American people expect nothing less from our government than rigorous accountability for every taxpayer dollar.

Over the past three years, we have made tremendous strides towards the President’s goal of full transparency and accountability in Federal spending.  We have made progress on many fronts  including stepped up efforts to crack down on fraud that led to the recovery of billions of dollars last year alone; publicly posting budgets and status reports for Federal IT projects for the very first time; reductions in payment errors known as improper payments in programs like Medicare and Medicaid and making detailed information about spending available to citizens on-line  through  But there is more that we can, and must, do.

That’s why the President created the Government Accountability and Transparency Board, comprised of senior leaders with proven records as fraud and waste watchdogs, back in June of this year as part of his commitment to cutting waste and making government more accountable to the American people.  The GATB was charged with recommending ways to improve the tracking and display of Federal spending data and broaden the use of cutting-edge forensic fraud detection technologies.  And the President directed the GATB to work in close concert with the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, which established a new benchmark for how we should collect, display and oversee Federal spending data under the Recovery Act through and its innovative Recovery Operations Center.

Over the past six months, the GATB has been hard at work, coming up with specific, recommendations for the President on actions we can take now to improve the accessibility, usability and reliability of our Federal spending data.  And today, they provided the President with their initial report.  The report recommends three steps that the Federal Government can take right away:

  1. Adopt a centralized approach to accountability, leveraging cutting edge technology to track and oversee spending.  The Recovery Operations Center (also known as the “ROC”) has been instrumental in keeping fraudulent actors from attacking Recovery Act programs, using cutting edge forensic technology to protect taxpayer interests.  This technology has applications across government, and that is why the GATB recommends that agencies work together to create a centralized framework that leverages the ROC and similar technologies, allowing us to share data and coordinate our efforts to detect and prevent fraud.
  2. Streamline and integrate how we collect and display data.  While we are already hard at work in driving reforms in our IT and financial systems, the reality is that information on Federal spending data exists within numerous disparate systems and processes.  To help us better navigate, and better utilize, these resources, the GATB calls for specific steps to begin a phased integration and streamlining of data collection and display systems.
  3. Migrate to a universal ID system for all Federal awards.  Today, there are countless ways in which various Federal agencies and programs identify the awards that they make to contractors, grantees, and other recipients of Federal funds.  These disparate naming conventions and standards make the task of reviewing and tracking spending data challenging even for the most expert investigator, much less the everyday taxpayer.  To address this, the GATB calls for the adoption of a single identification system that can provide clarity on Federal awards and be managed from a single, centralized source.

These efforts are important steps, but we cannot stop there.  Transparency and accountability measures must keep pace with the challenges presented by bad actors who are continuously trying new tactics to take unfair advantage of  Federal programs.  And so our efforts must be constantly evolving as well. 

With these recommendations now in hand, the President will continue to push Federal agencies to take bold steps in improving tracking and oversight of Federal spending.  Both the President and the Vice President will continue to push us to root out waste and drive efficiencies in our Federal spending through the Campaign to Cut Waste.  And the GATB will continue its important work, implementing new systems, new techniques, and new technologies that will make our government function more efficiently, effectively, and accountably for the American people.

Jack Lew is Director of the Office of Management and Budget