Agencies' unique coding systems hinder Recovery Act oversight, official says

The board overseeing Recovery Act money ran into an old problem: agencies doing things their own way and forgetting about unity, official says

Officials who track federal stimulus money hit a roadblock in their oversight of contract and grant awards: no cohesion among agencies on how they code their awards, an official has said.

All 28 agencies that receive funds under the law organized and tracked their awards differently using their own coding systems, Earl Devaney, chairman of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services, and International Security Subcommittee Aug. 3.

He said all federal agencies have unique alphanumeric coding systems for their awards.

“None of them are harmonized or look like each other,” Devaney said. “Each agency does it their own way.” He contrasted the agencies’ systems to credit card numbers, which are a standard 16 numbers long with no letters and no dashes between the digits.

Agencies’ lack of cohesiveness hinders oversight, and the problem came to light as Devaney's board tracked the stimulus money, he said.

His board searches the money to detect fraud and waste and has to gather the contract and grant award data from each of the 28 agencies that received funds. Board employees had to search documents by hand to check on the mismatches in information, because of the differences in coding systems, he said.

“While this may not sound like a big deal, it is,” he testified.

Devaney said he’s working on a solution with Danny Werfel, controller in the Office of Federal Financial Management at the Office of Management and Budget.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

Reader Comments

Thu, Aug 5, 2010 recovery robot

it is no wonder there is confusion. In many cases there are 3 numbers…..
•Contract or GSA schedule number
•IDIQ or BPA Number
•Order number

…that somehow feed into 2 boxes:
•Award number (huh?)
•Order number
This is hard on reporters and hard on agencies. Kudos to all who have struggled to make sense of reporting requirements.

Thu, Aug 5, 2010 Dave K

Chris is right... the lack of standardized accounting systems in the Federal Government is NOT news. Sadder, though, is that Mr. Devaney and his team aren't simply requiring reporting under a standard format... then it wouldn't matter what the various departments do internally. Do I care if DHS spends stimulus money under code 2X1J33F while the DoD uses the code 1Q? NO! Neither should he. Rather than digging into their books, he should require them to report their data without their internal coding attached! Of course, then he couldn't justify a large staff for himself...

Thu, Aug 5, 2010 Chris Washington

Duh....did no one NOT see this coming. Why didn't the administration come up with some standard coding from the start? We are NOT one government in this respect. You can even drill down into Departments and find the same problem with agency data within them.

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