DATA Act is a Big Win For Data Transparency

For more coverage on the DATA Act, please be sure to listen to an interview Hudson Hollister, executive director of the Data Transparency Coalition on the DorobekINSIDER.

Last week transparency activists got a big win, as the House of Representatives passed H.R. 2061, the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2013 (DATA Act). The Senate version of the bill had passed in April, and the last step to becoming law just rests with the President’s signature.

For transparency activists, the legislation is a great step forward. We have seen countless times how opening up data has led to improved transparency, business growth and improved government services. In a time of tight budgets, the DATA Act will serve as a great way for agencies to combat waste, fraud and abuse. William Welsh of Information Week provides a nice synopsis of what the DATA Act does:

  • Establish government-wide structured data standards for contracts, loans, and grants
  • Create a two-year pilot for consolidated recipient reporting for entities receiving federal taxpayer funds, including states, localities, and universities
  • Authorize the Treasury Department to create a data analytics center to enable law enforcement and federal agency Inspectors General to prevent improper payments
  • Improve the quality of federal spending data by requiring information to be made publicly available in a standardized, downloadable, and machine-readable format on a single website, USASpending.gov

The publishing of data will allow activists to conduct analysis on government’s financial data. With standards now in place, agencies will be able to assess spending trends, and be improved stewards of taxpayer money. This legislation seems long overdue. With our government looking to become more efficient and effective, data transparency is the key to empower improved investment and decision making across government.

The DATA Act overcame some early opposition – and controversy over standards or open source. In the House, the DATA Act was sponsored by Representatives Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Darrell Issa (R-CA), and in the Senate, Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Rob Portman (R-OH) championed the bill.

Today’s passage of the DATA Act is a victory for taxpayers,” said Issa in a press release. “Addressing rampant waste and fraud in government starts with making publicly accessible, structured information available online for everyone—taxpayers and watchdogs alike. I applaud my House colleagues’ bipartisan action today to reform and improve spending transparency. The DATA Act is a win for good government, moving the federal bureaucracy into the digital age and setting the stage for real accountability.”

“I am pleased to support this landmark bill that will make fundamental changes to the way the government shares information about its spending,” said Representative Elijah Cummings, also in the release. “By making government spending more transparent, we will reduce wasteful spending and make the government more effective and efficient.”

The passage of the DATA Act is a breath of fresh air, and now the hard work starts with implementing the legislation.

Photo Credit: Greg Skidmore, from FlickR Creative Commons.

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Profile Photo John L. Waid

I am afraid this may be one of those great ideas … for the other guy. Unfortunately, “waste” is largely in the eye of the beholder, like beauty. A swimming pool built with federal funds in one’s own district is necessary for the health and welfare of one’s own children; built in the next guy’s district, it’s pork. Agencies cannot cut “unnecessary” (who gets to decide what is “necessary” anyway?) spending until they are given full control over their budgets, able to spend the money as they see fit free from all the social restrictions legislators have put on them to achieve ends that may be politically desirable (and further legislators’ election chances) but which impede agencies’ abilities to do their job. Federal budgeting is already so arcane and complex that few people understand it, and those people have access to the info already.

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