Passage Of The DATA Act Is A Major Advance In Government Transparency

OpEd by Hudson Hollister in Forbes: “Even as the debate over official secrecy grows on Capitol Hill, basic information about our government’s spending remains hidden in plain sight.
Information that is technically public — federal finance, awards, and expenditures — is effectively locked within a disconnected disclosure system that relies on outdated paper-based technology. Budgets, grants, contracts, and disbursements are reported manually and separately, using forms and spreadsheets. Researchers seeking insights into federal spending must invest time and resources crafting data sets out of these documents. Without common data standards across all government spending, analyses of cross-agency spending trends require endless conversions of apples to oranges.
For a nation whose tech industry leads the world, there is no reason to allow this antiquated system to persist.
That’s why we’re excited to welcome Thursday’s unanimous Senate approval of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act — known as the DATA Act.
The DATA Act will mandate government-wide standards for federal spending data. It will also require agencies to publish this information online, fully searchable and open to everyone.
Watchdogs and transparency advocates from across the political spectrum have endorsed the DATA Act because all Americans will benefit from clear, accessible information about how their tax dollars are being spent.
It is darkly appropriate that the only organized opposition to this bill took place behind closed doors. In January, Senate sponsors Mark Warner (D-VA) and Rob Portman (R-OH) rejected amendments offered privately by the White House Office of Management and Budget. These nonpublic proposals would have gutted the DATA Act’s key data standards requirement. But Warner and Portman went public with their opposition, and Republicans and Democrats agreed to keep a strong standards mandate.
We now await swift action by the House of Representatives to pass this bill and put it on the President’s desk.
The tech industry is already delivering the technology and expertise that will use federal spending data, once it is open and standardized, to solve problems.
If the DATA Act is fully enforced, citizens will be able to track government spending on a particular contractor or from a particular program, payment by payment. Agencies will be able to deploy sophisticated Big Data analytics to illuminate, and eliminate, waste and fraud. And states and universities will be able to automate their complex federal grant reporting tasks, freeing up more tax dollars for their intended use. Our industry can perform these tasks — as soon as we get the data.
Chairman Earl Devaney’s Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board proved this is possible. Starting in 2009, the Recovery Board applied data standards to track stimulus spending. Our members’ software used that data to help inspectors general prevent and recover over $100 million in spending on suspicious grantees and contractors. The DATA Act applies that approach across the whole of government spending.
Congress is now poised to pass this landmark legislative mandate to transform spending from disconnected documents into open data. Next , the executive branch must implement that mandate.
So our Coalition’s work continues. We will press the Treasury Department and the White House to adopt robust, durable, and nonproprietary data standards for federal spending.
And we won’t stop with spending transparency. The American people deserve access to open data across all areas of government activity — financial regulatory reporting, legislative actions, judicial filings, and much more….”