Open data will transform our government and society. The publication of government information as standardized, machine-readable data ensures accountability, enables better management tools for government leaders, and allows companies to automate compliance tasks.
Yet the information that will be most valuable as open data is also the most difficult to standardize and publish. The transformation of substantively complex areas, like federal spending and financial regulation, requires both policy changes and the right subject matter expertise.
At Data Transparency 2014, we brought together the policymakers and subject matter experts whose efforts, combined, are making these open data transformations a reality. Nearly 500 agency leaders, civil-society advocates, and tech-sector innovators gathered at the JW Marriott for the Coalition’s largest-ever event.
The Treasury and White House OMB executives in charge of the DATA Act, Fiscal Assistant Secretary David Lebryk and Controller Dave Mader, presented their shared vision for cohesive and collaborative implementation. Mader’s enthusiasm for data standards in federal spending, which he noted as central reason for his return to government, marks an important shift in tone for OMB. Lebryk, who first announced data transparency as a strategic goal for Treasury at Data Transparency 2013, reaffirmed that commitment.
On our “Oversight of the DATA Act” panel, congressional leaders and federal inspectors general promised they would be watching.
U.S. Comptroller General Gene Dodaro continued to express his “loud, vocal support” for the DATA Act. The federal spending data standards required by the DATA Act will help the GAO perform its vital investigations. Dodaro also assured the crowd that GAO would continue to be involved with implementation oversight. “My term goes until 2025. If we can’t get [the DATA Act] done by then, we have a big problem.”
The Comptroller General noted in closing that open data reforms need a legislative basis, echoing a sentiment expressed by the Sunlight Foundation’s Matt Rumsey in an earlier panel: “the DATA Act is law, but open data, more broadly, isn’t.”
|Moderator Theo Francis of WSJ and Rep. McHenry|
Congress has yet to mandate the open data transformation in financial regulation. Rep. Patrick McHenry conveyed concern for the dearth of high-quality open data on many public companies and the need to modernize the financial regulatory disclosure system, especially at the Securities and Exchange Commission. “When the NFL provides more data on their players than the SEC does on companies, that’s troublesome.” McHenry said he argued against including an open data exemption in H.R. 5405, which the House passed last month.
Remarks by the SEC’s new chief economist, Mark Flannery, suggested his agency may be ready to take long-delayed steps to move its disclosure system toward open data. Flannery said the SEC will soon move away from the current dual reporting system, in which companies simultaneously report document-based and open data financial statements, and toward a single submission in the inline XBRL format. Over the longer term, the agency will move toward structured data for other types of information it collects, beyond the financial statements. “Making useable data available to the public is a key function of many of the Commission’s disclosure rules,” Flannery explained, going on to say that open data is also crucial for internal use because “the Commission staff are huge consumers of structured data.”
Other newsmaking sessions throughout the day included a keynote by White House Deputy CTO Nick Sinai, an appearance by former OMB Controller Danny Werfel, and a panel featuring state and local open data leaders. Interactive breakout sessions in federal financial reporting, grant and contract reporting, and financial regulatory reporting, were led by the federal executives actually responsible for those areas. Panels and Q and A sessions were kept on track by prominent moderators, including Jason Miller of Federal News Radio and Theo Francis of The Wall Street Journal.
|Govini’s display was a hit in exhibition hall|
The exhibition hall at DT2014 was a testament to the value of open data to create new business opportunities. Coalition member companies showed they can create new platforms for democratic accountability; deploy analytics to stop waste and fraud; automate currently-manual compliance tasks; and use government data to innovate in ways we haven’t even thought of yet.