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12/9/2009
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Open Government Directive Tackles Data Quality

The Obama administration will require federal agencies to take steps to improve the quality of their financial data.

The Obama Administration's Open Government Directive, issued Tuesday, requires federal agencies to take steps to improve data quality, which has become an evident problem in recent months as the administration has ramped up its transparency efforts.

For now, the directive takes particular aim at spending data. By January 22, every agency will have to designate high-level officials who will be accountable for the quality, objectivity, and internal control over any agency spending information that gets released to the public.

If current problems with open government Web sites and federal financial systems are any guide, these officials will have no easy task. Stimulus-tracking site Recovery.gov, which gets its information directly from data reporting site FederalReporting.gov, has been hounded by many reports of inaccurate data, and many federal agencies continue to have a number of non-interoperable financial systems in place.

Federal CIO Vivek Kundra chalks the financial data quality problems up to governance, and he believes that the combination of transparency and data quality requirements will improve governance even more broadly. "We want to make sure that agencies across the board are putting out information, and making sure that information is accurate, timely, and comprehensive," he said. "It's a forcing model to really say, so how are you managing your projects?"

By early February, the directive says, OMB will issue a data quality "framework" that will require agencies to submit their plans for improving data quality, including details of internal controls and system and process changes. OMB will also launch a Web site, the Open Government Dashboard, where it will release details of agency plans to be more transparent, including, Kundra said, details about how well agencies are complying with data quality requirements and what agencies are doing to improve data quality.

Following that, by early April, deputy director for management and chief performance officer Jeff Zients will issue "a longer-term comprehensive strategy for federal spending transparency" that will require agencies to update their progress and strategies on improving data quality on a quarterly basis.

Though the data quality effort currently only deals with financial data, the OMB says that it will also eventually make a formal assessment on whether it needs to broaden its guidance or issue new guidance on improving data quality of any other type of government data.

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