A Year in Review: The Data Coalition in 2016

Data Coalition

A Year in Review: The Data Coalition in 2016

It’s been a busy year for the world’s only open data trade association! We started a new sister organization, welcomed nearly two thousand people to our events, testified before Congress, and celebrated the Senate’s passage of landmark legislation. Our members made all this possible.

Here’s what kept us all busy – and why it mattered.

Bringing our Case to Congress

Our members can do amazing things with government information – but only if it is standardized using searchable formats, and freely published as open data. At our second annual Capitol Hill Fly-In on January 27, our members got a chance to explain this
directly to their representatives in Congress.

We met with supporters of open data from both parties, including Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), and Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC). All three went on to champion open data in 2016: Issa’s Financial Transparency Act gained visibility and cosponsors, Schatz’ OPEN Government Data Act passed the Senate, and Meadows chaired three DATA Act hearings.

We also announced some big changes: the Data Transparency Coalition changed its name to the Data Coalition, and a new sister organization, the Data Foundation, was born.

Demonstrating Open Data’s Benefits for State Governments

From left to right: State Assembly Members Ling Ling Chang and Brian Maienschein answer questions from the Data Coalition’s Hudson Hollister (photo credit: StateScoop) at California Data Demo Day.

In the first week of March, the Coalition team set off for the California State Capitol in Sacramento for our second California Data Demo Day. Hosted by Socrata, with additional sponsorship from the Department of Better Technology, the event spotlighted California’s step-by-step progress in adopting consistent data standards to make its data searchable and publishing it for all to scrutinize and use.

In the last week of March, we were invited by the Arkansas state government to deliver presentations on how open data improves transparency, enables better internal management, and automates compliance.

Modernizing Financial Regulation from Disconnected Documents to Open Data

U.S. financial regulators could make the information they collect more transparent, more searchable, and cheaper to exchange, if only they collected it as open, structured data instead of documents.

Early in the year, the Coalition rallied support in the House against a legislative measure that would have exempted a majority of public corporations from filing their SEC financial statements as open data. It did not become law – and won’t, as long as we can continue our campaign.

Dick Berner, Director of Office of Financial Research delivers the executive keynote at Financial Data Summit, moderated by Booz Allen Hamilton Principal Bryce Pippert.

On March 29, our Financial Data Summit brought together over 300 advocates and leaders from across the financial regulatory community to discuss the many benefits of moving from documents to open data. Workiva kindly hosted this event with the Coalition.

The Summit helped fuel a concerted advocacy effort to advance policies in support of structured data in financial regulation. Helped by conversations we started at the Summit, our comment letter persuaded the SEC to transform key corporate information into open data (as announced last month in the SEC’s Regulation S-K staff report), we welcomed progress in the adoption of inline XBRL filings, and newly-supportive voices for structured data emerged within the SEC.

We continued to educate Congress on the need to take proactive legislative action with the Financial Transparency Act (see Coalition resources). Key members of the Financial Services Committee stepped out as public advocates for this reform – especially Rep. Randy Hultgren, who published a landmark op-ed explaining how open data can help catch fraudsters like Bernie Madoff. Thanks to new connections from the Financial Data Summit, we gathered organizations representing thousands of tech and FinTech companies to sign a joint industry letter to the Financial Services Committee in November.

Here’s our blog post summarizing the Financial Data Summit. You’ll find the Summit videos on the Data Coalition’s Vimeo page, and photos in this online album.

Making Open Data the Default for all Federal Information

Open data ought to be business as usual for federal agencies. The government should standardize and publish all information except where there are compelling reasons not to, like privacy or national security. This year we supported legislation to make open data the default.

In April, alongside the Center for Data Innovation, we co-hosted an announcement event for the Open, Public, Electronic, and Necessary (OPEN) Government Data Act. The OPEN Government Data Act directs all federal agencies to publish their information as machine-readable data, using searchable formats. Four members of Congress introduced it: Sens. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Ben Sasse (R-NE) and Reps. Derek Kilmer (D-WA) and Blake Farenthold (R-TX).

The Coalition joined forty-eight other tech and civic organizations in supporting the legislation and worked hard to help build more support for the bill in the House and Senate. Our efforts paid off on December 10, when the Senate unanimously passed it. Sens. Schatz and Sasse both cited our work in their press releases.

The Senate’s unanimous passage of the OPEN Government Data Act paves the way for quick action early in the 115th Congress.

Showing how Open Data Fights Fraud

On April 26, the Coalition and Esri co-hosted a breakfast panel discussion to explore how open data will make government spending information readily accessible for watchdogs.

Esri Breakfast Panel. From left to right: Jason Malmstrom, Assistant Inspector General, DOJ; Gordon Milbourn, Principal, MITRE Corporation; Vijay D’Souza, Director, Center for Enhanced Analytics, GAO; and David Williams, Former Inspector General, U.S. Postal Service

Congress may have passed the DATA Act of 2014 to improve public transparency. But when agencies begin to report their spending as open data in May 2017, the impact on internal oversight will be just as impressive. When spending information is expressed as open data, managers and inspectors general can use it to deploy powerful new analytical tools that reveal patterns, suss out fraud, and direct investigations.

Supporting an Open Data Transformation for Congressional Information

With Rep. David Brat, we hosted our first Legislative Demo Day on May 11, exploring how laws and regulations can be transformed into open data. The bipartisan Statutes at Large Modernization Act, introduced by Reps. Brat (R-VA) and Seth Moulton (MA-6-D), takes a giant step toward a data-driven future by setting up a structured data format for the U.S. Statutes at Large.

Later in the summer we also saw the introduction of two more legislative open data bills: the Searchable Legislation Act by Rep. Amash (R-MI) and the Establishing Digital Interactive Transparency (EDIT) Act by Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY). Brat, Amash, and Stefanik all worked together to present their respective bills as a modernize-Congress package. In June House Speaker Paul Ryan endorsed the expansion of structured legislative data.

Preparing for the DATA Act’s Big Deadline

The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 (DATA Act), the nation’s first-ever open data law, seeks to transform all federal spending information into open data. By May 2017, every agency must begin reporting its spending information using the standardized format that the Treasury Department has created. In 2016, we worked to help the federal government prepare for this critical open data tipping point.

In May, our third annual DATA Act Summit provided evidence that the government is beginning to understand that spending will be more transparent, easier to manage, and easier to automate once spending information is transformed by the DATA Act. Over 450 attendees spent an entire day exploring the value of standardizing and publishing federal spending information as open data. But the Summit also highlighted a number of challenges that must be solved in 2017 if the law’s full vision is to be ultimately realized.

Senator Mark Warner and Rep. Darrell Issa on stage at DATA Act Summit 2016.

Video of Summit sessions is now available and you can read the recap on our blog. View presenters’ slides here.

In addition to the DATA Act Summit, we helped prepare the House Oversight Committee for  April and December DATA Act implementation oversight hearings. We also informed Senate oversight, highlighted GAO findings, tracked developments with Treasury’s schema and openbeta site, offered commentary on OMB memos, and compiled Inspectors General reports for Congressional staff. We provided the Coalition’s perspective on the DATA Act for House Transparency Caucus briefings in March and September.

From left to right: Heather Krause, Acting Director, Strategic Issues, U.S. Government Accountability Office; Kevin Kosar, Senior Fellow and Governance Project Director, R Street Institute; Hudson Hollister, Executive Director, Data Coalition; and Stephen M. Kohn, Executive Director, National Whistleblower Center

And to cap it off, Coalition Executive Director Hudson Hollister was invited to provide Congressional testimony on opportunities to expand the DATA Act to cover agency fines, fees, and collections at a December 1 hearing of two House Oversight subcommittees. We enter the new year with strong expectations for the May 2017 agency reporting deadline and improved understanding of the law in Congress.

Introducing Standard Business Reporting

The Data Coalition and PwC closed out the year with a breakfast panel on Standard Business Reporting (SBR), in which multiple regulatory agencies agree on a single open data structure for the information the collect. SBR reduces compliance costs while improving transparency in Australia, the Netherlands, and elsewhere (see our summary blog). The message is clear: U.S. regulators should do the same by adopting consistent data fields and formats across their multiple reporting regimes. View our speakers’ slides here.

Looking to 2017

For the Data Coalition, 2016 was full of exciting events and vigorous advocacy, all aimed at nurturing Congressional leadership for open data transformations in government management, markets & economy, and law & regulation.

To secure the benefits of open data for taxpayers, investors, watchdogs, the tech industry, and all Americans, continued Congressional leadership is going to be crucial.

In November we announced an ambitious policy agenda for 2017. It details how we’ll ask Congress to enforce and improve the DATA Act, enact the Financial Transparency Act and OPEN Government Data Act, and support open data through oversight and visionary new proposals.

And in December we announced three major events:

  • Financial Data Summit, Thursday, March 16, 2017
  • DATA Act Summit, Thursday, June 28, 2017
  • Data Transparency 2017, Tuesday, September 26, 2017 (hosted by the Data Foundation) 

Buckle up for 2017!