GAO: Agencies Need Guidance to Establish Comprehensive Data Inventories

Federal agencies create and collect large amounts of data as they carry out their mission. Public access to open data—data in a standardized format that is free to use, modify, and share—promotes government transparency and private sector innovation. The OPEN Government Data Act requires federal agencies to publish their information as open data.

The Government Accountability Office found that 24 agencies display their data inventories on their websites, but it’s unclear how often they update them. GAO made 3 recommendations, including that the Office of Management and Budget issue required guidance on implementing data inventories and publicly report on agencies’ performance and compliance with the Act.

The Open, Public, Electronic and Necessary Government Data Act of 2018 (OPEN Government Data Act) codifies and expands open data policy and generally requires agencies to publish information as open data by default, as well as develop and maintain comprehensive data inventories.

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has not issued statutorily-required guidance for agencies to implement comprehensive data inventories, which could limit agencies’ progress in implementing their requirements under the act. OMB also has not met requirements to publicly report on agencies’ performance and compliance with the act. Access to this information could inform Congress and the public about agencies’ open data progress and statutory compliance.

GAO found that all 24 Chief Financial Officers (CFO) Act agencies display their data inventories on their websites, as well as on an online catalogue of federal data assets. Agencies took a variety of approaches to providing public access to individual data assets such as using Data.gov as the human-readable public interface, hosting searchable inventories on their own agency websites and providing lists of data or downloadable files on their websites.

Information on the extent to which agencies regularly update their data inventories is limited. OMB and GSA do not have a policy to ensure the routine identification and correction of errors in electronically published information. The absence of such a policy limits publicly available information on agency progress.

As of September 2020, seven of the 24 CFO Act agencies had also publicly released COVID-19 related datasets or linked to related information from their open data web pages as required by the Federal Data Strategy. These datasets provide data on a range of COVID-19 related topics including data on disease transmission and loans provided to businesses.

GAO is making two recommendations to OMB to issue required implementation guidance and report on agency performance. GAO also recommends that OMB and GSA establish policy to ensure the routine identification and correction of errors in agency data. GSA concurred with GAO’s recommendation and OMB did not comment on the report.

Read the GAO report

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