CTG Online News
Fri, 22 Jan 2010 14:20:00 EST
Information and Transparency: Learning from Recovery Act Reporting Experiences
Robert Martin, Division of Military and Navel Affairs
At CTG’s November 20th Leveraging Technology for American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) Best Practices and Knowledge Sharing Forum, attendees heard an insider’s perspective on how a cross-section of six New York State agencies prepared for the October 10th deadline. As part of an ongoing series about ARRA, CTG brought together state agency representatives to share their experiences and how they handled subrecipient reporting.
New York State Agency Panel Participants
- Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC)
- Department of Transportation (DOT)
- Division of Military and Navel Affairs (DMNA)
- Department of Health (DOH)
- Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA)
- State Education Department (State Ed)
Challenges and Issues
The level of reporting mandated by ARRA is not unprecedented; in fact, the federal government has been requesting this type of information from agencies who receive federal money for decades. However, the novel aspects of ARRA include the coordination of information from a variety of different programmatic areas, a central data repository between states and the federal government, the speed at which states are required to turn around data to a federal repository, and the desire and willingness to make information more accessible and transparent. While it is still too early to tell what the overall impact of these activities will be on government transparency and accountability, states like New York are using this experience to move towards new levels of intergovernmental collaboration.
The panel highlighted the experiences of six New York State agencies, some with less than ten stimulus grants, one with over 900 subrecipients. Despite the differences among the agencies in size, mission, number and dollar amount of stimulus grants, the challenges agencies faced preparing for October 10th were quite similar:
- limited resources both in terms of staff and money available to develop or purchase new technology or software to aid in tracking stimulus funding;
- a compressed time frame in which to prepare for the first reporting period;
- rapidly changing, inconsistent, and often ambiguous reporting requirements from the federal government; and
- taking on the responsibility of troubleshooting and providing feedback to the federal government regarding suggested report format changes.
Phillip Bell, Department of Transportation
State agencies also developed sub-recipient reporting processes to coordinate the collection of ARRA data from local level governments, non-profit agencies, and private firms receiving money. Representatives described the wide range of technological capability among the various subrecipients which posed data quality and coordination challenges. Data quality was identified as a major issue for all of the representatives, especially those with the responsibility for ensuring the accuracy of data on projects awarded to subrecipients. In order to address this issue, Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) found their best strategy was to focus on quality assurance of the subrecipient reporting by using internal control models and quantitative triggers and by focusing on areas they knew they could control.
From left to right: Deborah Cunningham, Department of Education; Mike Sawicz, Department of Health; William Herman, Department of Environmental Conservation
Other subrecipients relied on faxing paper copies of reporting forms for manual entry to the relevant state agencies. It was clear that the state agencies accepting paper submissions from subrecipients were keen to find more efficient ways for future reporting periods.
Data governance emerged as a significant issue going forward, in particular for those applications that will live beyond the ARRA reporting requirements and become central to meeting new commitments to open government.
Keys to Success
From left to right: Scott Edwards and Richard Umholtz, Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance
Panelists commented on how their experiences with ARRA reporting are fueling some internal changes in operations. Many at the forum noted that leadership in their agencies were taking note of the value of the new data resources and work practices and asking “Why can’t we have this type of reporting for everything?” Many of the participants at the forum agreed with the panelists’ sentiments that the ARRA reporting requirements have triggered a new level of coordination around tracking spending on projects, and created new opportunities to provide the public with useful and usable access to ARRA information.