Thursday, April 10, 2014

DATA Act, Part 3: Senate passage update

by: Cindy MacPherson, Analyst;
This afternoon, a significant stride towards data transparency was made when the U.S. Senate voted unanimously to approve S.994, more commonly known as the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA Act). This bill would require all federal government agencies to report and publish their financials using a common data format on USASpending.gov. By making all spending information readily available to taxpayers anywhere, at any time, and in one location, those agencies would realize a new and higher level of accountability for their use or misuse of appropriated funds.

Next, the bill will go back to the U.S. House of Representatives, where a previous version of the bill passed by a vote of 388-1 in November 2013. Should there be few minimal changes from the version that passed just a few months ago, it is expected that the landmark legislation will be approved and move on to be signed by President Barack Obama.

This legislation is significant as it is the nation’s first open data legislative mandate. This would positively affect American citizens, as the eventual implementation of this legislation would enable everyone to see how government spending is being allocated. Additionally, they would be able to see this in one place (USASpending.gov) in one common data format.

Hudson Hollister, Executive Director of the Data Transparency Coalition, said the following, "The DATA Act takes a structured data model that has delivered unprecedented accountability in stimulus expenditures and applies it across all domains of federal spending." Hollister drafted the initial version of this legislation in 2009.

He continued, "We're excited to welcome this bipartisan – and now, bicameral – endorsement for delivering reliable, accessible data about how taxpayers’ dollars are being spent. The DATA Act will turn federal spending information into open spending data – a valuable new public resource that strengthens democratic accountability and spurs innovation." More from the Data Transparency Coalition can be found here.

In the end, this demonstrates a two-fold, win-win situation with the adoption of open data for governments. Better and more extensive government accountability to its citizens will increase citizen confidence in that same government. And, the government itself can realize efficiencies by having better access to and usability of its own data, and in the end enhance their decision-making ability as well.

This also continues the speculation about the possible open data format that will be chosen. Many groups have speculated that eXtensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL), the machine-readable format currently used by public filers to report quarterly and yearly financials to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, is a contender. The American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) and  Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) have both endorsed the selection of XBRL, stating that using XBRL to report federal spending would organize the data in such a way so that both taxpayers and government officials could understand and more easily analyze the data to make better decisions.

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More in this series:
  • Part 1What is the DATA Act? Is there a need for change? How much would it cost?
  • Part 1b: White House OMB comments and suggested edits; DATA Act leadership response.
  • Part 2Will it improve government reporting? How might XBRL be involved?
  • Part 4: The U.S. House re-passes the DATA Act, this time unanimously.

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