The Office of Management and Budget has yet to release required guidance for federal agencies regarding implementing comprehensive data inventories, and it may be delaying agency progress on making government data accessible.
OMB also hasn’t published reports on the 24 Chief Financial Officers Act agencies’ performance and compliance with the Open, Public Electronic and Necessary, or OPEN, Government Data Act, according to a recent audit by the Government Accountability Office.
The first OMB report on OPEN Government Data Act compliance was due in January, but as of last month, OMB had yet to release a report. GAO said at the time of the audit OMB was determining a format for the report and did not have a timeline for when one may be released. OMB is also still deliberating on implementation guidance, which was due July 2019, and the agency doesn’t have a timeline for when that guidance will be released, either.
GAO said access to government data is more important than ever during the coronavirus, and several agencies publicly released datasets specifically related to COVID-19 so lawmakers and the public can understand agency operations during the pandemic. But without further OMB guidance, reports on agency progress and better information on how agencies update their data inventories, it’s a challenge to ensure agencies are upholding the goal of transparency around government data.
“An immense amount of data is now open and available to the public due to government open data initiatives,” the audit reads. “While the availability of this information represents progress in the evolution of open data, much work remains to be done to make a comprehensive list of federal data assets available to the public.”
Federal agencies have made some progress on compliance with federal data standards including the OPEN Government Data Act as well as the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act, GAO found. The General Services Administration, the National Archives and Records Administration, and OMB created an online repository with resources facilitating adoption of open data practices. GSA also created a federal data catalogue that serves as a centralized point of entry for citizens looking to access government datasets.
GAO also noted all 24 CFO Act Agencies have posted their open data assets online, but GSA and OMB have not provided the kind of high-quality data that would allow the public to see how well agencies are meeting various open data metrics. The dashboard GSA created in coordination with OMB to display agency progress on creating comprehensive data inventories were labeled inaccurately and lacked complete data in some cases.
“Data quality issues we identified with the dashboard can impede data users’ ability to access timely and accurate datasets,” GAO found. “For example, the public and researchers could inadvertently use outdated data for analysis or have difficulty accessing data sources due to broken links.”
GAO provided three recommendations. The first two were addressed to OMB and asked the agency to provide the required implementation guidance and begin releasing the biennial reports on agency performance. OMB did not comment on GAO’s report.
GSA did concur with the GAO’s third recommendation, though, which asked GSA to create policies that guarantee errors in agency data are routinely identified and corrected.