from the hill

USASpending.gov Rollout is a Model of Government Done Well

The rollout of USASpending.gov, the culmination of three years of work to implement the requirements of the DATA Act of 2014, represents a laudable example of the federal government successfully tackling an enormous project efficiently and effectively, as noted by Government Executive.

As has been discussed elsewhere, the entire project – which is broad in scope, to say the least, encapsulating the entirety of federal spending data – is a historic first. Yet despite the challenges inherent to the task of both unifying all federal spending data in a unified, open format and subsequently presenting that data through a public-facing website, the project was completed ahead-of-schedule and under budget, even as it incorporated multiple stakeholders’ feedback throughout the development process.

Government Executive highlights ten key factors discussed by panelists at the recent DATA Coalition that allowed the project to serve as a model, going forward:

  1. A mandate.There were clear legal requirements and timeframes for agencies set in the statute. Having a law in place was critical to making progress and motivating agency compliance.
  1. Experienced leadership. OMB and Treasury are jointly accountable under the law for implementation, and the leadership of both were on the same page. Lebryk (Treasury) and Mader (OMB) knew each other and had previously worked together. This relationship, and their willingness to stick their necks out within their own respective organizations for each other, cascaded down within their teams.
  1. An inspiring vision.The top leaders created a common strategic intent/vision for the overall project—“Better data, better decisions, better government”—that helped guide the effort overall.
  1. A solid business case.Because of agency antipathy to a mandate that was perceived as costly busywork, the leadership of the DATA Act implementation initiative set out to make a business case for why this initiative is important. For example, they created a common sales pitch to agency chief financial officers, explaining how implementation of the law could elevate their role and give them the data needed to better inform decision-making.  
  1. A governance structure.The implementation team created a three-part governance structure to ensure effective execution. This included a small executive steering committee, comprised of OMB and Treasury officials; an interagency advisory committee, comprised of representatives of the business and functional communities that have stakes in DATA Act implementation (such as the Chief Financial Officers Council); and senior officials at each agency accountable for certifying the data submitted to Treasury.
  1. A full-time program management office.The leadership team created a program management office in Treasury with staff dedicated to implementing the law. Deputy Assistant Secretary Christina Ho…recruited a mix of talent, including former congressional staff, former staff from the Sunlight Foundation advocacy group, former Recovery Act staff, contractors, and detailees from other agencies and 18F, the internal government digital consulting team.
  1. External pressure.Several congressional sponsors of the legislation remained actively engaged. The House held hearings and the bipartisan oversight and interest was critical to the success of the project. External advocacy groups, notably the DATA Coalition, provided expertise and public oversight…In addition, the law included statutory requirements for GAO and the agency IG to assess progress and the quality of the data. These actions helped focus agency attention.
  1. A robust communications strategy. Individual members of the leadership team and the PMO invested a lot of time and effort in consulting with a wide range of stakeholders, both inside and outside government. For example, the team proactively held regular calls and meetings with external stakeholders, not just meetings with agencies and an online collaboration webpage, an open beta site.
  1. A data-centric approach.Ho put in place an implementation approach that allowed agencies to map the required data from their existing systems and submit the data to Treasury based on a standard format rather than expecting agencies to build new financial systems. This lower-cost approach minimized IT system modifications, which was key to the project’s success and significantly reduced the burden and costs to agencies. Ho sought counsel from the experts at 18F and the U.S. Digital Services to help advise and build support for the data-centric approach.
  1. An open implementation strategy and agile methodology. The key reason Treasury met the deadline…is because it strategically chose to implement an agile development approach, instead of a traditional waterfall development approach, and to leverage existing resources to the greatest extent practicable.


The full Government Executive piece also highlights four components of the “agile” approach employed that made a significant difference in the project’s ultimate success:

  1. The PMO team typically did not seek permission to do things. They just did them.

  2. Every two weeks, there were new deliverables, then adjustments based on user feedback.

  3. The PMO team focused its approach on user-centered design, where they consulted widely and frequently with agencies, the public, and stakeholders.

  4. The PMO team used an open development approach, where the code is open source and anyone can look at it and offer tweaks.

 

Though full DATA Act implementation isn’t mandated until 2022, the early, and arguably most difficult steps, have been extremely positive signs of the project’s long-term success.

 

Posted in From the Hill

Tags: DATA Act, USASpending.gov

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