Looking Back at 2017: When Open Data Took Hold


In early 2012, we set out to build the world’s first trade group focused on transforming government information from disconnected documents into open, freely-flowing data. As the Data Coalition celebrated its fifth birthday, our ambitious agenda had taken hold for U.S. federal spending information – and was on its way to transforming the rest of the federal information portfolio as well.

Here’s a look at our biggest data reform stories of 2017 and a glimpse of what to expect next year.

Financial Transparency Act Reintroduction in March: Support Grows for RegTech Reform

From left to right: Craig Clay of Donnelley Financial Solutions (moderator), Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-IL) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) on stage at Financial Data Summit 2017.

U.S. financial regulatory agencies use old-fashioned documents to collect regulatory information from public companies, banks, and financial firms. We’re working to change that.

At our Financial Data Summit in March, we celebrated the reintroduction of the Financial Transparency Act (HR 1530) by Reps. Darrell Issa (R-CA), Randy Hultgren (R-IL), and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY). The Financial Transparency Act directs all eight major financial regulatory agencies to modernize the way they collect information. By adopting standardized data fields and formats instead of unstructured documents, they’ll enable RegTech solutions that deliver transparency for investors, analytics for enforcement, and automation for regulated industries.

The bill awaits committee consideration after a busy legislative year for financial services issues, but we are thrilled with the growing number of cosponsors supporting it, including nine members of the House Financial Services Committee.

Our next chance to build support for the Financial Transparency Act will be our RegTech Data Summit next March. Tickets are now available for the RegTech Data Summit. Come join us and help build the movement for modernization!

DATA Act Implementation in May: Spending Information, Now Transformed

The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 (DATA Act) (P.L. 113-101) has been at the center of the Coalition’s policy agenda for five years. We led the battle for its passage, we convened Congress and agencies to get it implemented, and this year we celebrated its first rewards.

In May, under the DATA Act’s statutory deadline, every federal agency began reporting its spending information (totalling $3.85 billion for 2016) using a common data structure, known as the DAIMS. The Treasury Department combined their submissions and began publishing the new data set on a new, modernized version of its USASpending.gov portal, while making the raw data available for free download via an API.

The DAIMS is the backbone to the DATA Act’s successful implementation. By providing a government-wide data structure, the DAIMS puts hundreds of distinct data elements in context to tell the story of how federal dollars are spent.

Source: U.S. Treasury Department

Thanks to the DAIMS, the U.S. federal government  – the largest, most complex organization in human history – now publishes all its spending as a single, unified data set. This means agencies and Congress can make data-driven decisions. It means, as President Thomas Jefferson envisioned in 1802, that we can “see the finances of the Union as clear and intelligible as a merchant’s books, so that every member of Congress, and every man of any mind in the Union, should be able to comprehend them, to investigate abuses, and consequently to control them.”

On November 8th, every federal agency’s Inspector General (IG) published an audit of its agency’s compliance with the DATA Act. The Government Accountability Office (GAO), meanwhile, provided a government-wide view of progress toward the transformation of federal spending information. These reports provided such valuable feedback on the transformation of federal spending that we called November 8th “IG Christmas.” In a nutshell, most agencies are making worthy efforts to produce good spending data, accounting files are reliable, and grant and contract files are questionable.

There’s still much to do – building analysis tools for agencies and Congress, expanding the DAIMS to include receipt accounts and payments, connecting grant reporting to spending reports. But the DATA Act and the DAIMS have created a foundation to modernize all federal management.

Not bad, not bad at all, for our first five years in existence.

SEC Proposal in October: First Open Data Progress in Nine Years

Financial regulatory agencies needn’t wait for the Financial Transparency Act to modernize. For years, we have been recommending that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission should incrementally replace document-based corporate disclosures with searchable and open data. In October, the SEC proposed its first progress in this area in nearly nine years.

The SEC proposed to begin using a standardized data format for the cover pages of corporate disclosure forms – just as we had recommended. This would allow U.S. public companies to be tracked more effectively by investors, regulators, and the companies themselves.

The SEC’s open data transformation has been grindingly slow. But an early October announcement showed it isn’t dead – and in fact is full of promise. We’ll keep pushing.

GSA Announcement in October: Nonproprietary Identifiers are On the Table

Dun & Bradstreet, Inc., enjoys a protected and profitable monopoly on federal information about grants and contracts. Dun & Bradstreet owns the DUNS Number, which the federal government uses to identify all grantees and contractors – meaning that anyone who wants to meaningfully reuse grant or contract data must pay Dun & Bradstreet for a license.

The Data Coalition opposes proprietary identifiers like the DUNS Number. Unless the federal government transitions to nonproprietary data fields, freely reusable without licensing, the underlying data sets cannot be truly open.

In October, a procurement announcement from the General Services Administration (GSA) confirmed that a new, more open future may be coming. The GSA is seeking information about how to identify grantees and contractors with data that is “available for public use at the government’s discretion” – which is certainly not the case with the DUNS Number.

We’ll keep working to liberate public information from proprietary identifiers.

Congressional Action in November: All Government Information, OPEN by Default

House Speaker Paul Ryan on the House Floor delivering remarks on the passage of Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act (FEBP) (H.R. 4174).

The DATA Act transformed federal spending information from document-based to data-centric.

The OPEN Government Data Act will take the transformation beyond spending and make open data the default for all federal information.

The Data Coalition has been working to support the OPEN Government Data Act for nearly three years – developing ideas with the Senate and House sponsors, representing the data industry in negotiations, and helping broker a consensus between the parties and with the White House. And in March, our Executive Director was invited to testify before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on the bill .

All this work paid off in mid-November, when the House unanimously passed the OPEN Government Data Act for the first time.

The OPEN Government Data Act was included as Title II within a larger package: Speaker Ryan’s Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act (FEBP) (HR 4174). The whole package has now proceeded to the Senate, which already passed previous versions of the OPEN Government Data Act in December 2016 and in September.

By making standardized and open the default for government information, directing every agency to appoint a Chief Data Officer, and creating a government-wide system of open data inventories, the OPEN Government Data Act will help us deliver the transformation that began in federal spending across vast troves of information of all kinds, to the benefit of our government and its people.

All Year: Coalition Events Build a New Community for Change

In 2017, Data Coalition events attracted over 1,800 attendees from across federal and state governments, the executive branch, Congress, civil society, and the private sector.

DATA Act breakfast audience

Collectively we hosted six public gatherings, as well as our annual Capitol Hill Fly-In and six policymaker roundtables with our members. In total, we convened 13 events this year!

Our events in Washington and state capitals provide a rallying point for people who care about data in government. They don’t just build support for reforms like the DATA Act and Financial Transparency Act. They build a community.

Here’s a rundown of our 2017 events:

  • On February 2nd, leaders from 22 of our member companies fanned out across Capitol Hill for our annual Fly-In. We sat down with eight members of Congress and nine groups of staffers.
  • Reps. Darrell Issa (R-CA), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), and Randy Hultgren (R-IL) headlined our third annual Financial Data Summit on March 27th. The Summit’s goals were simple: transform financial regulatory reporting.
  • Our DATA Act: Spending Data Unleashed breakfast event and Hackathon on April 26th featured commentary from Matt Lira, Special Assistant to President Trump for innovation policy and Chairman Jim Jordan of the House Oversight Subcommittee on Regulatory Policy. The hackathon winners included Booz Allen Hamilton, Kearney & Company, and Qlik.
  • We headed south and hosted our first-ever Texas Data Demo Day on May 9th. The Texas Data Demo Day highlighted the ongoing work of state and municipal leaders as they maximize transparency outside government and improve efficiency inside by standardizing and publishing their data.

    Our last-ever DATA Act Summit

  • This year marked our final DATA Act Summit, on June 29th. The Summit was in its fourth year and records were set: our best-attended event ever (738 registrations), with the highest number of speakers we’ve ever featured (66, including six Members of Congress), and the most exhibitors we’ve ever hosted (25).
  • Our final public event of the year, the third annual California Data Demo Day 2017, brought together more than 100 supporters of opening up the Golden State’s data on Thursday, October 19th in Sacramento. During this event, we were reminded of the informative power of freely-shared, standardized government data and
    howCalifornians are able to take advantage of state-level transparency.

Scattered throughout the year we hosted off-the-record roundtables for our members with key federal policymakers. We are grateful to the White House OMB Office of Federal Financial Management, GSA’s Technology Transformation Service team, the Treasury Department’s Office of Financial Research, the Department of Homeland Security’s National Information Exchange Model (NIEM) leadership, our friends at data.gov, and the Department of Treasury’s DATA Act team for hosting these roundtables.

Looking ahead…

We look forward to pursuing policy reforms and technological innovation in 2018! And we hope you’ll keep up. For now, add these three major events to your calendar:

And we believe policymakers will continue to respond to our advocacy! Look out for Congressional action on the OPEN Government DATA Act, the rollout of a new USASpending.gov site, new congressional legislation to modernize federal grant reporting, and, finally, and continued Congressional oversight of the DATA Act’s implementation.

This was a year of celebration for the Data Coalition. However, work still remains and challenges will be inevitable as we diligently work on crucial government modernization reform.

Stay up-to-date on open data news here. Learn more about our policy agenda here.

We are so grateful for the Coalition members whose support makes our work possible and for all our friends and fans across government and society, whose enthusiasm makes our work exciting!