OMB posts financial reporting guidance for Recovery Act funds

National Information Exchange Model chosen for automated data reporting

The Office of Management and Budget has posted guidance for how organizations should submit their reports that detail how they are spending their American Recovery and Reinvestment Act dollars.

The technical details are in a supplemental section to the OMB guidance, titled "Implementing Guidance for the Reports on Use of Funds Pursuant to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009."

"As significant recovery funds have now made their way into local communities and the work to rebuild our economy continues to gain momentum, it is essential that the public have access to information on the manner in which funds are being expended at the local level," noted OMB director Peter Orszag, in a memo accompanying the guidance.

Organizations that have gotten Recovery Act funds must start filing quarterly reports of how this money is being used, to the site, beginning this October. The Act disperses $787 billion to public organizations to upgrade the public infrastructure, stimulating the economy in the process.

Organizations can submit the data either manually or by automated means. Manually, they enter data into a pre-formatted spreadsheet supplied by OMB. For automated compilation of financial data, OMB also supplies an Extensible Markup Language (XML)-based schema that can be used to format the data.

The schema is based on the National Information Exchange Model (NIEM), a set of XML tags maintained by the Homeland Security and Justice departments that federal, state and local agencies can use to share information. To supply tags for entries that were not already in the core NIEM set of tags, OMB also commissioned the development of a set of tags.

An organization can automatically prepare reports formatted in this XML Schema Definition (XSD), using directly data directly from its own enterprise financial system, noted Michael Daconta, who is the chief technology officer from Accelerated Information Management, as well as a co-creator of NIEM.

If an organization has already encoded its financial information in XML, rendering the grant information into OMB's desired format would be as simple as writing an Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformation (XSLT)-based template, which could map fields from the organization's own XML schema into the OMB schema. Creating the report would simply involve running the XML-encoded data through the XSLT template.

Extracting the data from a relational database and inserting it into an XML document would also be easily possible, by a similar mapping process, Daconta said. "Instead of calling XSLT to convert [data] from one XML document to another, you'd just be generating an XML document."

Overall, the use of XML and spreadsheet may help organizations get a handle on meeting the rigorous reporting requirements put forth by the White House. Observers have noted that states and other organizations have found it challenging to alter their current finance systems to accommodate the additional reporting.

Daconta praised the use of XML for potentially expediting the financial-reporting process.

"You can't do this [project] in a data warehouse-[driven] quarterly reporting type of situation," he said. "You want to do real-time reporting as things occur, and this definitely opens up the possibility of a real-time reporting mechanism."

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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