While a Federal government-wide database on fees would require a lot of resources to implement, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) should aim to make more fee data available to the public, according to a Government Accountability Office report released Thursday.

The report notes that while OMB maintains disaggregated data in its OMB MAX database, the public lacks access to it, limiting Congress’ ability to perform oversight and make decisions. While data is available on specific fees from agencies, there is no central Federal database, and agency data is not standardized, making it impossible to aggregate on a government-wide level. GAO also noted that existing data from OMB includes some non-fee collections, and excludes some fee-related funds.

“No source of government-wide data consistently reports data elements related to fees, fines, and penalties that could help inform congressional oversight of agencies and programs, such as the amount collected annually, account balances, and whether the collection is a fee, fine, or penalty,” GAO noted.

GAO acknowledged that the report was spurred by congressional staff, who report issues with conducting oversight and getting data from agencies. They said a government-wide source would be helpful for understanding enforcement activities and providing a clearer picture of an agency’s resources.

However, GAO noted that creating such a database would be no easy task. With no mandate from Congress, agencies have not standardized their fee data, making it hard to collect into a single database. Treasury Department officials told GAO that standardizing fee data would require an effort on the level of implementing the DATA Act, a process that took three years.

Balancing those concerns, GAO recommended that OMB share more data from its MAX database and report fee collections by agency. GAO also recommended that OMB share more information on the limitations of existing public data on fees, fines and penalties. OMB did not respond to GAO’s recommendations.

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MeriTalk Staff