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DATA Act Will Bring Greater Transparency to Federal Spending

Landmark legislation that would create much more transparency in how federal agencies are spending taxpayer dollars passed the House Monday and is headed to President Barack Obama to be signed into law.

The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, more commonly known as the DATA Act, will create uniform spending data standards for more open data and more accurate reporting on USAspending.gov, making it easier to compare dollars between agencies and projects.

The positive improvements of the DATA Act don’t end there. It also will allow for reconciliation of the reported data from agencies with the actual checks cut by the Treasury Department. It also will provide for some additional oversight. Inspectors General will evaluate how effectively their agencies are reporting data every two years and establish an analytics center to identify improper spending.

The House unanimously approved the Senate-passed version of the bill. The DATA Act, S. 994, was the result of extraordinary bipartisan cooperation that is far too rare in today’s Congress. All of the congressional champions deserve high praise for working through differences to enact a bill that will help Americans to finally follow their money. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-California), who has sought sweeping change on federal spending transparency since becoming chairman of House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in 2010, led the charge in the House with the strong support of co-sponsors House Oversight Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.). On the Senate side, Sens. Mark Warner (D-Virginia) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) championed the bill, working closely with Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Tom Carper (D-Delaware) and Ranking Member Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) to advance the bill.

Issa said the DATA Act is “the most important transparency reform,” his committee had produced during his time as chairman. “The DATA Act is but the first shot of a technology revolution that will transform the way we govern.”

The Project On Government Oversight has strongly supported the DATA Act. In February, POGO came together with a number of organizations across the political spectrum, including Gun Owners of America, Government Accountability Project and Sunlight Foundation, to support the pro-transparency legislation. POGO wrote letters to President Obama and Congress touting the merits of the DATA Act.

“The DATA Act promises to allow us to truly track how our taxpayer dollars are spent,” said Angela Canterbury, POGO’s director of Public Policy. “Today's indecipherable patchwork of federal spending information will become standardized, open, and reconcilable. If properly implemented, the DATA Act could be one of the most transformational transparency policies in decades.”

The reforms in this bipartisan legislation could finally make the vision of the landmark Obama-Coburn legislation that created USASpending.gov a reality. It builds upon that infrastructure with key reforms to increase transparency and accountability for federal spending that were identified in the implementation of the Recovery Act. It also puts into statute several elements of President Obama's 2013 Open Data Policy.

President Obama is expected to sign the bill, and so then it will be up to his administration—the Office of Management and Budget and Treasury in particular—to make the reforms successful.

“POGO will lend help wherever possible so that the American people and decision-makers will finally be able to accurately and meaningfully track government spending,” Canterbury said.

By: Avery Kleinman
Beth Daley Impact Fellow, POGO

Avery Kleinman At the time of publication Avery Kleinman was the Beth Daley Impact Fellow for the Project On Government Oversight.

Topics: Open Government

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