New Website, New Agenda, New Advocacy!

Data Coalition

New Website, New Agenda, New Advocacy!

By now, you’re enjoying the Data Transparency Coalition’s new website. – modernized, streamlined, turbocharged – is our platform to advocate, educate, and bring together government and industry.

The new site isn’t our only exciting announcement.

Last week, we introduced our Congressional supporters and the media to the 2015 Data Transparency Agenda, this year’s policy roadmap to transform government information from disconnected documents into open, searchable data.

Industry, consultants, academic experts, and the President of the United States all agree that we should open up government data. Too often, however, outdated policies stand in the way.

Take federal spending, for instance. Federal laws and rules require agencies to report their financial accounts to the Treasury Department, their budgets to the White House, and their contracts to the General Services Administration. These reports – plus the information reported by grantees and contractors – are submitted in disparate formats.

Until last year, nobody had the authority or the mandate to adopt government-wide data standards to bring all that federal spending information together. It was nobody’s job to publish it all as a single open data source.

That changed on May 9, 2014, when President Obama signed the unanimously-approved Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA Act). The DATA Act directs Treasury and the White House to establish government-wide data standards, enforce them, and then publish the whole corpus of federal spending on one website, as open data.

Our Coalition worked hard to pass the DATA Act, and we’re now working to make sure it’s implemented right.

Federal spending is an awfully important area of government information. If the DATA Act is fully implemented, it’ll give citizens a comprehensive picture of what their federal government is doing. It’ll give federal managers new tools to inform data-driven decisions. But there’s much more to transform beyond federal spending. The DATA Act doesn’t address our whole challenge.

Government Management. First, the DATA Act starts to transform the broader category of government management – but there are still plenty of management-related laws and rules that impede the transformation. For example, the Paperwork Reduction Act imposes time-consuming procedures on agencies seeking to collect and share information – even when they want to collect the same information but simply swich from document-based to structured-data collection modes.

Markets and Economy. Second, beyond government management, federal agencies collect and publish a vast array of public reports from the private sector. This information can help investors, watchdog groups, companies, and the public understand our markets and our economy – but too often it is trapped in formats that make it impervious to software. For example, our Coalition has long called [link to blog post celebrating SEC’s September 2014 strategic plan] for the Securities and Exchange Commission to stop using non-searchable document-based forms to collect public information from public companies and other securities market participants, and switch to open data.

Laws and Regulations. Third, even as agencies take a second look at the information they generate, collect, and republish, perhaps the most crucial category of potential open data is largely ignored. If our laws and regulations were expressed as standardized data, instead of text documents, enormous efficiencies would become possible. Imagine automatic redlines between proposed regulations and existing ones, easy navigation between laws and the regulations promulgated under them – and, eventually, software that helps companies automatically comply with government directives.

To transform these areas – government management, markets and economy, law and regulation – into data, policies must change. We need more DATA Act-style reforms – on the state level, no less than federal.

That’s what we’re setting out to do with the Data Transparency Agenda. With last week’s announcement, the companies supporting the Data Transparency Coalition are throttling up an ambitious new phase. This won’t all get done in a year. But we think we can make progress on all three areas in 2015.

Even the Data Transparency Agenda isn’t comprehensive. Policies must change in specific issue areas – like health care, energy, education – to put specific government functions on track toward transformation. We’re hoping to explore these areas in future years.

The DATA Act last year was just the beginning. The Data Transparency Agenda will direct new advocacy this year and determine change for many years beyond.