The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will consider an amended version of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, or DATA Act, this Wednesday. The DATA Act directs the U.S. Treasury Department to transform federal spending reporting from an antiquated document-based system into publicly-available structured data. If the Senate committee votes in favor of the bill, its next step will be consideration by the full Senate.
The amended version of the DATA Act seeks the same overall goals as the original version that passed the House last year with unanimous consent, but it also removes key provisions that help to ensure the quality of the open data it will produce.
The substitute amendment still follows the basic formula of standardizing and publishing federal spending data. The Treasury Department would be directed to establish government-wide standards for federal funds. It also requires the whole executive branch to implement these standards throughout the data collection and reporting process and mandates the publication of a rich and comprehensive data set.
The Data Transparency Coalition believes that the Treasury Department is best equipped to publish that data on a greatly expanded USASpending.gov. However, the substitute bill would place the Office of Management and Budget in charge of a pilot program to oversee recipient reporting, despite its disappointing track record with administering the USASpending.gov site.
Instead of turning to the OMB, the Coalition urges Congress to reinstate the original bill’s expansion of the Recovery Board’s analytics platform across the whole of government. This accountability platform has proven to be a worthy investment by successfully identifying and eliminating potentially fraudulent stimulus spending.
In an op-ed published this morning in The Hill, our Executive Director, Hudson Hollister, cautions that unless the government seeks to use its newly-standardized spending data internally, they will lack the incentive to maintain the quality of that data. A government-wide accountability platform is needed to deliver the data to agencies’ inspectors general, combine it with internal data sources, and apply analytics to find and stop waste and fraud.
Our members stand ready to use this data — once it is standardized and published — to deliver true transparency to citizens, deploy Big Data analytics for government managers, and automate compliance for grantees and contractors.