As Congress Tackles the COVID-19 Pandemic, Open Spending Data Remains Essential

Federal Open Data

As Congress Tackles the COVID-19 Pandemic, Open Spending Data Remains Essential

In a recent open letter to Congress, the Data Coalition outlined several actions that Congress could take to respond to the pandemic with data. One recommendation would direct agencies to track supplemental spending through USAspending.gov as the federal government is expected to inject unprecedented sums of money into the American economy. With such an influx of spending, accurate and reliable spending data are vital to ensure accountability, transparency, and meaningful evaluation. 

In 2009, in the aftermath of the financial crisis the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009 (Recovery Act, PL 111–5), was passed, it included several oversight mechanisms, including oversight boards and a budget accounting framework that enabled tracking of federal funds that were allocated in supplemental appropriations. This was done in the spirit of transparency and accountability.

Since then, there have been new bipartisan data laws passed to give the American public access to information on their tax dollars are being used, including the DATA Act (PL 113-101), and the recently passed GREAT Act (PL 116-103) 

The DATA Act established government-wide data standards for financial data, simplified reporting, and holds agencies accountable for submitted data to USAspending.gov. Expanding on the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006, the DATA Act: 

  • Established data standards
  • Simplified agency reporting
  • Improved data quality
  • Expanded accountability

The recent GREAT Act accomplishes similar goals for reporting by grant recipients and those who have cooperative agreements. The law:

  • Enhances data quality with the adoption of data standards
  • improves accessibility to grantee audits;
  • establishes an expectation that agencies will promote and adopt new technological solutions to reduce grantee reporting burden and to improve oversight;
  • establishes infrastructure for publishing reports as open data, and  
  • mandates rapid implementation. 

As with the Recovery Act of 2009, it will be important to know how effective interventions are in times of economic crisis. Thankfully, the groundwork laid by the implementation of the DATA Act and on-going implementation of the GREAT Act means that there are already mechanisms in place to help make government spending data open, reliable, accurate, and accessible. That is why the Data Coalition urges Congress to incorporate the existing frameworks of the DATA Act and GREAT Act into the stimulus packages to ensure American tax dollars are being used for the desired outcomes of society.