Congress gets its (DATA) Act Together

Everything about the DATA Act makes sense. Except that it’s 2014 and lawmakers should have passed this legislation years ago.

But, hey – better late than never, and President Obama signed the bill last Friday.

There’s a lot to like about the DATA Act, bipartisan legislation sponsored by Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio).

Try to follow government spending on any program now and you’re likely either to run into a brick wall or develop a crippling headache that stops you in your tracks.

The DATA Act lets the sun shine in and could lead to savings of billions of dollars a year by shedding light on spending and giving Feds the tools to end duplication, waste and fraud.

“In the digital age, we should be able to search online to see how every grant, contract and disbursement is spent in a more connected and transparent way through the federal government,” Warner said after unanimous passage of the bill.


Rep. Darrell Issa, who sponsored the original legislation, predicted Feds will save $500 billion by eliminating duplication and identifying waste.

Accountability is good.

So is standardization, and the law sets standards to make all spending data adhere to a uniform set of guidelines, according to the Federal Times. That means Congress will gain the ability to compare data across agencies.

Big hurdles remain.

Standardizing data is easier said than done. The community of Federal grant recipients has identified as many as 1,100 different data elements that could be included in standard reporting.

And it’s a big program that asks a lot of agencies. The final language requires everything the federal government spends at the appropriations account level to be published on, with the exception of classified material and information that wouldn’t be revealed in response to a Freedom of Information Request.

Implementation also will represent a huge challenge.

The new law begins with a two-year pilot program during which the Treasury Department and the Office of Management and Budget will develop uniform coding for federal spending data and develop ways to publish it in machine readable and downloadable formats.

The law is a tip of the hat to the fine work of the non-partisan Recovery Board, whose data analytics work identifies and prevents improper payments and served as an example of what could be done more broadly. It’s also a hat tip to the efforts of the Data Transparency Coalition, which helped write the first version of the legislation three years ago.

Let us know what you think of the law. Will it work? Is it enough? For more insight, follow the conversation about Big Data at MeriTalk’s Big Data Exchange
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Bill Glanz is the content director for MeriTalk and its Exchange communities. In the past 14 years, he has worked as a business reporter, press secretary, and media relations director in Washington, D.C.