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FCW : July 30, 2014
22 July 30, 2014 FCW.COM the Treasury procurement could sup- ply some of the resources needed to support the changes required by the Data Act. “The big complaint that we hear today about the Data Act as we talk to the financial management community is you could characterize it as another unfunded mandate,” said Carlos Otal, managing partner of global public-sec- tor financial management advisory and audit services at Grant Thornton. “It’s another reason to think about going to a shared-services provider that’s implementing the Data Act and all these other agencies are taking advantage of it,” Otal told FCW. “Why spend your dollars trying to com- ply? Share in the cost that others are already incurring to do that.” ‘Apples, oranges, pears and bananas’ Migrating to a shared financial service is not a cure for bad data, said Danny Harris, CIO at the Education Depart- ment and a former deputy chief finan- cial officer who is active in efforts to forge connections between technolo- gists and accountants. “When you look at some agencies that are struggling from a financial management perspective, it’s not the IT or the service that’s the problem,” Harris said. “In some cases, the data is so bad they have reconciliation night- mares and operations nightmares. Is moving to a shared-services provider going to help? The answer is no.” Shared services “When you look at some agencies that are struggling from a financial management perspective, it’s not the IT or the service that’s the problem.” — DANNY HARRIS How bad is it out there? It depends. On the one hand, every CFO Act agen- cy except for the Defense Department has had clean audit opinions; the Department of Homeland Security was added to the list in December 2013. But the government itself still has not achieved a clean audit. And agencies can merit clean opinions and still have problems with their data. “Some of those challenges can be allayed by having more shared ser- vices, more standardization of that data and making sure the definitions are the same across the board,” Otal said. “Right now, it’s apples, oranges, pears and bananas out there. You have agencies that have a single [accounting software] solution, but when you dig under the covers, they have multiple instances of that product and all the configurations are different. The pro- grams aren’t coded the same in one instance and the other.” Angerman backed up this sentiment. “The customization has made it very difficult and very expensive to maintain those systems in any sort of a consis- tent way,” she said. The kind of discipline mandated by the Data Act has the potential to help reverse bad data hygiene, provided the implementation proceeds at a granu- lar level. “Typically in the federal space, we implement processes, and after the fact, we get together and we talk about a data dictionary and what things really mean,” Harris said. “We need to do that on the front end. What stops us from truly standardizing as a government is we can’t agree on what the basic terms are.” Even before the Data Act became law, Ho was leading the charge for data standardization at Treasury. The new law, however, has provided some impetus for other agencies to get involved. “We definitely have been get- ting a lot of interest from the agencies on what we’re doing with the Data Act,” she said. “That’s why we want to make sure we organize it appro- priately to make sure we have a col- laborative structure.” However, it appears that the Data Act will not be used to expand the gov- ernment’s data infrastructure. “We’re not thinking of an approach that is very typical of how we’ve been doing things in the past whenever we have a mandate to publish a lot of data,” Ho said. “We don’t want to build a mas- sive data warehouse. We don’t want to make massive data system changes.” Angerman said she thinks the gov- ernment could reap even more ben- efits from the effort to standardize data if it reduced the number of financial systems. “While I think Treasury’s approach for the Data Act implemen- tation minimizes the need for system changes,” she said, “similar require- ments and changes could be more efficiently and effectively implemented and at lower cost if the landscape of systems was reduced to a much small- er number.” ■
July 15, 2014
August 15, 2014