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DATA Act Gets a Boost at Transparency Conference

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Following the actual spending of taxpayer dollars is nearly impossible today, in spite of unprecedented efforts such as USAspending.gov. However, at the Data Transparency Conference this week, there was a lot of bipartisan support for proposed legislation to fix the many problems the public encounters with tracking federal spending: the Digital Accountability and Transparency (DATA) Act (H.R. 2061 and S. 994).

Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) pledged to push for passage of the DATA Act during his keynote speech at the conference. Senate staff also announced an upcoming committee vote on the legislation. In addition, the Obama administration expressed support for the DATA Act goals of government-wide data standards, which is necessary to improve the accuracy of reporting spending.

Indeed, it looks like after stalling in the last Congress, the DATA Act is on the move. The Project On Government Oversight has long supported the DATA Act, which passed the House in 2012. However, it never moved in the Senate, even though the Senate version was far less ambitious. This year, in the hopes of winning more support in the Senate, Chairman Darrell Issa reintroduced a DATA Act that more closely resembles last year’s Senate bill. With co-sponsorship from Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the DATA Act sailed through House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in May. Now Cantor plans to bring it to a House vote after the cost of the bill is scored by the Congressional Budget Office, according to an article in Federal Computer Week.

Meanwhile, Senators Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) have reintroduced the DATA Act in the Senate. At the transparency conference, Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee staff announced that the bill will get a vote at their next business meeting. However, that version is again likely to look different from the House bill, since Chairman Mark Warner and Ranking Member Tom Coburn have been working to refine the reforms (legislation by Senator Coburn and then-Senator Obama created the landmark first attempt at online tracking of federal spending, USAspending.gov).

While some government spending data can be accessed through USASpending.gov, but the data is often incomplete and it’s difficult to verify its accuracy. For instance, here are 10 questions you can’t answer with USASpending.gov. There have been many lessons learned in the years since the site was created, and now it’s in desperate need of the kind of upgrade that the DATA Act would provide.

In addition to sponsoring the DATA Act, Issa is also working to improve data quality at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

From Federal Computer Week:

The SEC is supposed to collect company reports in an Extensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL), but according to Issa the process isn't fully automated and reports often have to re-entered on the SEC side. "Only in government would 10-K [reports] delivered digitally be put on paper so they could be manually typed in so they could then be digitized," Issa said. "It sounds absurd, except it's really happening."

For more, watch video of Cantor and Issa’s remarks at the conference.

By: Angela Canterbury
Director of Public Policy, POGO

angela canterbury Angela Canterbury is Director of Public Policy for the Project On Government Oversight.

Topics: Open Government

Related Content: Budget, Cost Accounting Standards, Information Access, Reform Agenda, Transparency in Contracting

Authors: Angela Canterbury

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