The DATA Act

Transforming U.S. Federal Spending into Open Data

THE BASICS

The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014, or DATA Act, is the nation’s first open data law. It requires the U.S. federal government to transform its spending information into open data.

President Barack Obama signed the DATA Act (Public Law No. 113-101 official text) into law on May 9, 2014. The Data Coalition had campaigned for the passage of the DATA Act ever since its founding in 2012. The DATA Act was structured as an amendment to a previous law, the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 (Public Law No. 109-282 official text).

The DATA Act took two basic steps. First, it required the Treasury Department and the White House Office of Management and Budget to establish government-wide data standards for the spending information that agencies report to Treasury, OMB, and the General Services Administration.

Second, Treasury and OMB must publish this standardized spending data for free access and download.

On May 9, 2017, every agency in the federal executive branch began reporting spending data using the standardized data structure that Treasury and OMB had established. Treasury published the full data set at beta.usaspending.gov.

The DATA Act also sought to standardize the information that recipients of federal funds, such as contractors and grantees, must report to the government. Section 5 of the DATA Act required OMB to run a pilot program to determine whether data standards might relieve compliance costs for recipients. The pilot program ended on May 9, 2017.

For current updates on the DATA Act, browse the Data Coalition’s latest DATA Act posts.

THE TIMELINE

September 26, 2006 President George W. Bush signs the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006
(FFATA)
 into law. The DATA Act will later amend FFATA.
June 13, 2011 Rep. Darrell Issa introduces the DATA Act in the House of Representatives.
June 16, 2011 Sen. Mark Warner introduces the DATA Act in the Senate.
April 16, 2012 The Data Transparency Coalition (later renamed the Data Coalition) announces its launch.
May 21, 2013 Rep. Issa (with Rep. Elijah Cummings) and Sen. Warner (with Sen. Rob Portman) simultaneously re-introduce new versions of the DATA Act in both the House and the Senate. The Senate version ultimately becomes law.
April 10, 2014 The Senate passes the DATA Act.
April 28, 2014
April 29, 2014 The Data Transparency Coalition hosts the first Data Transparency Summit (later renamed DATA Act Summit).
May 9, 2014  President Obama signs the DATA Act into law. The DATA Act (official text) amends FFATA by adding new requirements for government-wide spending data standards, full publication of all spending data, and a pilot program to test standards for grant and contract recipients.
May 8, 2015 Treasury and OMB announce a first, incomplete version of government-wide data standards for federal spending, one day before the DATA Act‘s deadline. OMB publishes guidance to federal agencies.
May 9, 2015 The DATA Act‘s Section 5 pilot program begins for grant recipients, managed by HHS, on the DATA Act‘s
deadline. However, OMB fails to start a Section 5 pilot program for contract recipients.
June 10, 2015 The Data Transparency Coalition hosts the second DATA Act Summit.
January 27, 2016 The Data Transparency Coalition changes its name to Data Coalition and founds a sister organization, the Data Foundation, a 501(c)(3) research organization.
July 29, 2015 Two subcommittees of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hold the first Congressional DATA Act implementation hearing.
April 19, 2016 Two subcommittees of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hold the second Congressional DATA Act implementation hearing.
April 29, 2016 Treasury publishes the complete version of government-wide data standards for federal spending.
May 2-3, 2016 The Data Foundation and the Performance Institute host the first DATA Act Training Program.
May 3, 2016 OMB publishes additional guidance for federal agencies on how to implement the data standards.
May 26, 2016 The Data Coalition hosts the third DATA Act Summit.
July 18, 2016 The Data Foundation and MorganFranklin Consulting publish The DATA Act: Vision and Value.
November 8, 2016 Deadline: Each agency inspector general must issue a report assessing the completeness, timeliness, accuracy, and quality of its agency’s spending data, plus its agency’s implementation and use of data standards, with additional reports in 2018 and 2020, under paragraph 6(a)(2) of FFATA (as added by the DATA Act).
May 3, 2017 The Data Foundation and Deloitte publish DATA Act 2022: Changing Technology, Changing Culture.
May 9, 2017 Deadline: All agencies must begin reporting their spending data using the government-wide data standards, under paragraph 4(c)(2) of FFATA (as added by the DATA Act). Treasury and OMB must publish a complete picture of federal spending, under subsection 3(a) of FFATA (as added by the DATA Act).
May 9, 2017 Deadline: Section 5 pilot program to test standardized reporting by grantees and contractors must end,
under paragraph 5(b)(5) of FFATA (as added by the DATA Act).
August 7, 2017 Deadline: OMB must submit a report to Congress on the results of the Section 5 grantee and contractor reporting pilot program, under paragraph 5(b)(6) of FFATA (as added by the DATA Act).
November 8, 2017 Deadline: The Government Accountability Office must issue a report assessing the completeness, timeliness, accuracy, and quality of all agencies’ spending data, plus their implementation and use of data standards, with additional reports in 2019 and 2021, under paragraph 6(b)(2) of FFATA (as added by the DATA Act).
May 9, 2018
Deadline: Treasury and OMB must make sure that spending data conforms to the data standards, under paragraph 4(c)(3) of FFATA (as added by the DATAAct).
August 7, 2018 Deadline: OMB must decide whether to impose DATA Act standards on all grantee and contractor reporting, under paragraph 5(b)(7) of FFATA (as added by the DATA Act).

FEDERAL AGENCIES

Starting May 9, 2017, the DATA Act required all federal agencies to begin reporting their spending information – including linked financial and award data – using a new, government-wide data structure. Under section 4 of FFATA, as added by the DATA Act, the Treasury Department and the White House Office of Management and Budget must establish this government-wide data structure and direct agencies to use it.

The Treasury Department has developed and published this data structure, known as the DATA Act Information Model Schema (DAIMS). Treasury developed the DAIMS on its Federal Spending Transparency GitHub site, allowing agencies and the public to provide input at each stage.

By standardizing their spending information, agencies gain new enterprise-wide visibility into their accounts, obligations, and awards. Meanwhile, inspectors general are able to deploy anti-fraud analytics more cheaply.

GRANTEES AND CONTRACTORS

The DATA Act envisions that standardized data elements and formats for the reports submitted to the government by recipients of contracts, grants, and other assistance can allow the recipients to automate compliance using software. This concept is informally called “TurboTax for grants.”

Section 5 of the DATA Act requires the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to conduct a pilot program to test the use of standardized data elements and formats for recipient reporting. The pilot program ended on May 9, 2017. OMB must report to Congress on its results by August 7, 2017 (90 days later). By August 7, 2018, a year after its report to Congress OMB must decide whether to apply the standardized elements and formats to all reports by contractors, grantees, and other recipients, across the whole government.

OMB appointed the Department of Health and Human Services to run this pilot program for grantees. HHS established a DATA Act Program Management Office to run the program and invited grantees to submit their reports using standardized data. HHS published a data dictionary known as the Central Data Element Repository Library that contains thousands of data elements used in grantee reporting. By submitting reports as electronic data using the CDER Library data elements, grantees tested their ability to use software to automate their reporting tasks and reduce their compliance costs.

According to the Government Accountability Office, OMB failed to follow the requirements of Section 5 for contractor reporting.

  • HHS DATA Act Program Management Office website
  • Central Data Element Repository Library (public version)
  • GAO report on failure to establish pilot program for contractor reporting meeting the requirements of Section 5, April 19, 2016

CODERS AND ACTIVISTS

The DATA Act requires the Treasury Department and the White House Office of Management and Budget to set up a government-wide, nonproprietary data structure for the U.S. government’s spending. Starting on May 9, 2017, every executive-branch agency began reporting spending using this data structure. Treasury published these submissions as a single, unified open data set, available on a new interactive portal and via API.

The data structure for spending is called the DATA Act Information Model Schema (DAIMS). Treasury developed the DAIMS on its Federal Spending Transparency GitHub site, allowing agencies and the public to provide input at each stage.

As a result of the DATA Act, the U.S. federal government is now publishing all executive-branch spending as a single, unified open data set – arguably the single most valuable open data set in the world. The data is available for anyone to download and use – data platform and analysis companies, transparency advocacy groups, news organizations, and the public.

CITIZENS AND TAXPAYERS

Congress passed the DATA Act of 2014 to provide Americans with a clearer, more complete, and more reliable picture of how taxpayer money is spent.

The DATA Act requires the federal government to expand its spending transparency portal, USASpending.gov, to provide both a broader scope and more detail. Before the DATA Act, USASpending.gov only provided a summary of federal grants (and other assistance awards, like loans) and contracts. It did not cover information spent outside of grants and contracts, such as salaries and direct payments. Moreover, this information was limited to the amount obligated for each award, and didn’t show the amounts actually paid.

Beginning on May 9, 2017, every federal agency began reporting standardized spending data covering all of its finances, rather than just grant and contract spending. The Treasury Department published this information on a new, interactive portal, Beta.USASpending.gov.

Many technology companies and organizations are developing new ways to view and interact with federal spending information, now that agencies are reporting more complete data.

GET INVOLVED

Even though the DATA Act became law in 2014, many years of work are ahead for supporters of transforming federal spending from disconnected documents into open data. The Data Coalition is the nation’s preeminent advocate for the full implementation of the DATA Act. You can follow our work by joining our email list, meet fellow open data supporters by attending and volunteering at Coalition events, and support our campaign by becoming a Coalition member.

KNOWLEDGE CENTER

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Data Foundation and MorganFranklin Consulting: The DATA Act: Vision & Value, July 2016

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RR Donnelley: Shifting from Documents to Digital Data through XBRL, March 2016

PwC: Your Playbook for the DATA Act Playbook, March 2016

The Changing Landscape of Grant Reporting

Data Foundation and Deloitte: DATA Act 2022: Changing Technology, Changing Culture, May 2017