Government Financial Transparency Will Cure Government Mistrust

Guest Blog Post by Dave Mader, former controller of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and Chief Strategy Officer, Civilian Sector, Deloitte Consulting LLP, a Partner Member of the Data Coalition.


DATA Act Basics

  • 4 years ago this month, President Obama signed the DATA Act after Congress unanimously passed it. This Act was a significant piece of legislation that required the federal government to adopt a single data structure for spending information along with a goal of bringing together all spending information whether it be contract, loans or grants into one unified data set that would be easily searchable by the public.

DATA Act Implementation was led by U.S. Department of the Treasury and Office of Management and Budget, with myself and Dave Lebryk

  • Provided senior executive sponsorship and leadership of the joint team with how to implement an approach that could extract data from a myriad of disperse and legacy systems across the 24 CFO Act Agencies and their components.
  • The first critical step of many was to conceptualize an approach and then a design. Hence the creation of the Data Act Information Model Schema – the first government-wide open data structure of any kind at the federal level.
  • Now that we moved from concept to design to construction of the operating model, an important next step was to design and implement an approach to capture the input from the agencies who would be required to report the data and the community who would be using it.
  • Treasury took the lead in designing, building and testing the DATA Act Broker, and jointly with OMB, in leading agencies toward the reporting deadline.

   DATA Act Reporting by agencies was the next critical phase.

  • Agencies began reporting standardized spending data in May 2017, with full data on the second quarter of FY 2017.
  • Starting in May 2017, the government now had a single, unified data set covering all of the Executive Branch’s spending.
  • And in Fall 2017, Inspectors General delivered mixed reports on data quality, but improvement is part of the process and quality continues to improve. This was not surprising to me when one considers the magnitude of the undertaking from a scale, complexity and aggressive timeframe from the signing of this legislation into full implementation.

Coming next:  The most exciting aspect of this journey is the point at which we now find ourselves—the active use of standardized spending data to improve mission delivery. With the quarterly reporting finished this month (May 9, 2018), we have a full year’s worth of spending data available for the first time.

  • Treasury has created tools to help agencies explore how this data set can be analyzed, now available on the Data Lab thanks to Amy Edwards and the Treasury team.
  • Agencies are now using the data to inform decisions. For example, SBA under the leadership of Tim Gribben, CFO and Performance Improvement Officer who has once again stepped out to lead in demonstrating how this data can be used to improve the performance of SBA’s mission and exploring what I think is the next horizon—linking program outcomes to investment using evidence based techniques.
  • USDOT has been exploring how to use DATA Act data for improving internal control, delivering analytics and visualizations that will help agency leadership improve processes and target investments in automation that will improve the quality of financial data for all users. The project is partnership among the CFO, CAO, and CDO.

Coming later: It is clear that standardized spending data will likely be at the center of federal management from now going forward. This is evidenced by the Administration’s embrace of DATA Act.

  • The President’s Management Agenda, Goal 2, cites the DAIMS: The “Access, Use, and Augmentation” strategy for Goal 2 “will build on work like the DATA Act Information Model Schema (DAIMS)” (see page 16 of the PMA) and “promote interoperability, data standardization, and use of consensus standards, specifications, metadata, and consistent formats” (page 8 of the action plan).
  • Treasury intends to integrate broader spending data resources into the DAIMS, and into the unified data set that is available on payments information, receipt information, etc.

Ultimate results: So, the future course has been set thanks to the hard work of the dedicated career civil servants who embraced the idea and the intent of this legislation and created an operating model designed to help the government improve internal efficiency, make better management decisions and provide full external transparency.

The American public, the Congress and the media will now have immediate access to the same information being used by government decision-makers for shared understanding between our government programs, costs and results. To me these are foundational to a sound democracy.