OMB sizing up challenge in new spending database

As legislation requiring the development of a searchable public database tracking federal spending heads for the president's certain signature, Office of Management and Budget officials are already sizing up what could be a mammoth task in collecting and organizing the data.

Clay Johnson, OMB deputy director for management, said today that although most of the data exists for the massive portal, the biggest challenge will be finding it across the government and making sure it is accurate and in a usable format.

'The feeling is most of the data exists,' Johnson said after a briefing on S. 2590 in Washington. 'It may not exist in the form and level of detail it needs, and it may exist in some agencies but not with others. ' The primary technological challenge will be to go out and get the data [and] pull it back when it's requested, not to create the data and create a massive database.'

The bill passed in the House last night, after clearing the Senate last week, and now moves to the president for his expected signature.

Under the legislation, OMB must develop a searchable database with information on federal contracts, subcontracts, grants, subgrants, loans and other financial assistance by January 2008.

Johnson said that the procurement data should be easily available, as a significant amount already is collected through the General Services Administration's Federal Procurement Data System-Next Generation. But collecting the grant information, as demanded by Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) and House majority leader Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), may not be as easy because no such database exists.

Also, agencies will bear the brunt of the heavy lifting, as they must gather and submit information on their contracts and grants to OMB so it can all be included in the database, Johnson said.

OMB, he added, will release a plan in January 2007 that will detail how agencies should collect and turn over this data, including a list of standards and definitions the government must follow.

'The plan we'll produce in January will call for a definition of success, what it means to be successful with what does the bill call for, in OMB and agency terms, by January 2008,' Johnson said. 'We'll have milestones to hit to keep moving it that way, so we'll be able to keep Congress informed.'

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), one of the bill's chief sponsors, said he will be paying close attention to ensure OMB meets the deadline. 'There will be oversight to make sure this database' gets built, he said at the briefing.

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