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Agencies to start tracking grants in bid to improve USASpending.gov

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Agencies should start assigning unique identification numbers to financial assistance awards such as grants to state and local governments and non-profit organizations – something they've already done for decades with contract awards – says a June 12 memo from the Office of Management and Budget.

The memo (.pdf), signed by Deputy Controller Norman Dong, says agency assertions that they have implemented a process to ensure assistance award data accuracy by comparing a sample of number-tagged awards to agency financial data will be a required part of annual assurances provide under the Federal Manager's Financial Integrity Act starting in fiscal 2014.

Agencies should begin tagging financial assistance awards with a number – what the memo calls a FAIN, for Federal Award Identification Number – starting this October, the memo says.

The memo is part of a push to ensure that data displayed on USAspending.gov is more accurate. Under a 2006 law, the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, co-sponsored at by then Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), USAspending.gov is meant to be a searchable data repository for all federal awards, whether to the private- or public- sectors.

Completeness – for many years the site did not include sub-award data – and data quality have been issues haunting the website since its unveiling in December 2007. A June 6 brief from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, for example, found that reported subcontractor dollars in the system for fiscals 2011 and 2013 comprise less than 10 of Defense Department obligations, even though in reality the majority of DoD obligations go through subcontractors.

The Project On Government Oversight, meanwhile – perhaps CSIS's diametric opposite in its sensibilities on government contracting – also listed in May 15 "ten questions that USAspending.gov can't answer," such as detailed information about federal spending on a local level.

For more:
- download the memo (.pdf)

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