Sweeping change and open data are dawning for U.S. federal spending.
From the beginning, the core of the DATA Act has been comprised of twin mandates to (1) adopt data standards across the whole landscape of federal spending and (2) publish the whole corpus online.
Can we be more specific about what data standards will be set up? Yes. Congress does not force Treasury and OMB to establish any particular identifier or format, but it does make its preferences clear. The data standards to be established must “incorporate a widely-accepted, nonproprietary, searchable, platform-independent computer readable format” and “include unique identifiers for Federal awards and entities receiving Federal awards that can be consistently applied Government-wide.” This language favors XML, XBRL, and the Legal Entity Identifier, but it doesn’t permanently impose those standards.
The government must eat its own standardized dog food. New paragraph 4(c)(3) of FFATA requires that USASpending.gov must publish federal spending information using the same data standards that Treasury and OMB will establish. And new paragraph 2(c)(7) requires the data published on USASpending.gov to conform to principles set by President Obama’s May 2013 Open Data Policy.
The DATA Act has never covered the judicial or legislative branches. We’ll have to keep advocating truly comprehensive federal spending transparency.
What are Congress’ goals? They explain! The Senate sponsors added new language at the beginning of the bill expressing Congress’ purposes in passing this law. For the first time, government-wide data standards are an explicit purpose of the bill (item 2). For the first time, Congress says (in item 5) that it intends to expand the Recovery Board’s successful accountability platform to cover all government spending, which was a key goal of the first version of the DATA Act.
Inspectors general keep ’em honest. So do we. The final bill requires the inspector general of each agency and the Government Accountability Office to audit the quality of spending data reported by each agency–and that agency’s use of data standards. That’s in new Section 6 of FFATA.
And Treasury and the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) must consult with public-sector and private-sector stakeholders as they establish the new data standards. Who are the private-sector stakeholders? These organizations make a pretty good starting list.
The text of the final DATA Act makes it clear where open data supporters must concentrate their advocacy over the next few years.
- Treasury and OMB have one year after enactment to issue guidance on government-wide data standards. (This deadline has not moved.)
- Agencies have two years, rather than one, after the guidance is issued to report spending information consistently with the data standards.
- USASpending.gov must publish all federal spending data, expressed using the data standards, three years after enactment, rather than one.
But there is reason to hope. The strong data standards mandate requires Treasury and OMB, right away, to start working on data standards for information “required to be reported … [by] entities receiving Federal funds” (new Section 4 of FFATA). That means, assuming Treasury and OMB do their job, that the necessary data standards will be ready to go, and available for voluntary adoption, even if not mandatory for some time.