Here’s How SBA Teed Off on DATA Act Standards. (Join us for Breakfast on Tuesday to learn more!)


By law, every federal agency must standardize its spending data in accordance with the DATA Act’s new government-wide data standards by May 2017. The Small Business Administration (SBA) teed off early on a
pilot program to do just that—and hit a drive straight down the fairway.PEBBLE BEACH, CA - FEBRUARY 07: Bill Murray watches a shot during the first round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am at the Monterey Peninsula Country Club on February 7, 2013 in Pebble Beach, California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Even though the SBA is essentially “playing from the white tees,” because its systems aren’t as complex as some larger agencies’, the project shows a pure swing (much like Bill Murray’s, pictured right) and should be observed closely by other agencies developing and refining their own DATA Act plans.

What exactly did the SBA do?

Working with the Treasury Department and GSA’s 18F tech team, the SBA developed a template to connect information from its existing spending systems—accounting details, budget plans, appropriations accounts, grant-writing, contract-writing—to the corresponding DATA Act standards. Treasury calls the template—which is now being offered to all agencies, open-source—a “data broker.”

Data brokers are nothing new. The challenge of matching a specific organization’s spending information to a generalized template is one that the private sector has solved many times. But this challenge has never been tackled across the entire federal government. SBA’s work shows the challenge can be met, with worthwhile results.

What are those results?

SBA’s Deputy Chief Financial Officer, Tim Gribben, now has new insight into how his agency spends our tax money. At Data Transparency 2015, he gave our attendees a first look at how DATA Act standards bring together financial information (accounting, budget, and appropriation) and award information (grants, contracts) in a single view.

“I never had this linkage [between financial systems and award systems] before,” he said. “From the CFO’s perspective, I [could] only see anything at the program level, but I [could] never get down to an award level like this. I [could] never see where the awards were made. I’d have to go to the program office and pull it out of their source system.” Gribben can now respond instantly to data calls that before took days and untold hours of labor to produce.

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The SBA pilot program confirms what the Treasury Department has been suggesting to agencies: standardizing spending data, and making good use of it, isn’t that hard. All that’s needed is a data crosswalk requiring more conversation than coding. The SBA is the first agency to put the Treasury Department’s DATA Act Playbook into practice.

Want to learn more?

If you missed Gribben’s talk at DT2015, don’t despair. He’ll be back by popular demand at the Coalition’s next Data Transparency Breakfast this Tuesday, Oct. 20, alongside other leaders in federal financial management.