Feds take (baby) steps to fight fraud with analytics

Government agencies have begun, tentatively, to mine their vast stores of data for the public good.

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Stumbling blocks

There are some efforts to spread the knowledge and capabilities learned from individual projects more broadly across the government. The RATB, for example, has started providing fraud-prevention services to other agencies through several pilot programs.

However, by law the RATB is supposed to "sunset" on September 30, 2013. The Obama administration has created another board -- called the Government Accountability and Transparency Board (GATB) -- to study RATB's system and processes and consider how they might be continued and used governmentwide.

However, the GATB "is just paper," says Hudson Hollister, executive director of the Data Transparency Coalition, a trade association of technology companies and nonprofit organizations that advocates for data reform in the U.S. government.

"It's just a group of people studying the issue and making recommendations." If no specific entity is designated to take over RATB's work soon, then RATB's system, contractors and expertise will be lost, he warns. Although proposed legislation, called the DATA Act, could ensure that wouldn't happen, it has yet to pass Congress.

The AGA report notes that the systems developed by the United States Postal Service (see USPS fights fraud four ways) could be easily applied by other agencies. "Every agency uses contractors and has workers' comp claims," says Steve Sossei, co-researcher and co-author of the report, "so why don't we make sure that all agencies collect this information and analyze it in the same way?"

There's willingness in the agencies to share their capabilities with other federal organizations, says the AGA report, "however, there is no clear plan to leverage the government's investment in analytics."

Frequent Computerworld contributor Tam Harbert is a Washington, D.C.-based writer specializing in technology, business and public policy.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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