Federal agencies have made significant progress on open data, but the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has not issued implementation guidance or performance reports under the OPEN Government Data Act, according to a report released today by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The report highlights the administrative requirements of the OPEN (Open, Public, Electronic, and Necessary) Government Data Act – focusing not on agency implementation but on the related guidance and duties delegated to OMB, the General Services Administration (GSA), and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). GAO found that while these agencies successfully implemented a Federal data catalog and an online repository, OMB failed to meet all its required duties under the law.

While the law required implementation guidance by July 2019, that guidance remained in draft form as of August 2020. OMB cited the need to engage further with agencies in explaining the delay and directed agencies to follow previous open government data guidance in the interim. But GAO said this did not cover the full breadth of OPEN Government Data Act requirements.

“Implementation of this statutory requirement is critical to agencies’ full implementation and compliance with the act. In the absence of this guidance, agencies, particularly agencies that have not previously been subject to open data policies, could fall behind in meeting their statutory timeline for implementing comprehensive data inventories,” the report states.

GAO recommended that implementation guidance be issued, and OMB declined to comment on that recommendation.

The report also dings OMB for not issuing a biennial report on agency compliance and performance under the new open data requirements, which was scheduled to occur in January 2020. OMB staff told GAO that they were still deciding on a format for the report, and did not have a timeline for release.

“Without OMB’s report … Congress and the public lack key information about the extent to which agencies are meeting their requirements under the act,” GAO said.

GAO recommended that the report be published, while OMB declined to comment on that recommendation.

Without the benefit of the report, GAO attempted some analysis of agency progress of its own, but ran into difficulties with the numerous formats and varying data quality among agencies. The report hones in on the Evidence Act Milestones dashboard – overseen by OMB and maintained by GSA – and its lack of routine scanning for data errors. GAO recommended that the dashboard have a policy in place to routinely check for errors, which GSA agreed to, while OMB declined to comment.

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MeriTalk Staff