The First DATA Act Reporting Deadline Is Here
The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA Act), unanimously enacted in May 2014, is the first federal open data law in the United States and links three categories of federal spending reporting requirements: award data, cash-based agency budgets, and accrual-based accounting data.
May 9, 2017 marks a major deadline of the DATA Act. On that day, all 24 agencies named in the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990 must begin reporting their spending data using government-wide data standards. The CFO Act, signed into law by President George H.W. Bush, aimed to improve the government’s financial management, performance, and disclosure. Tomorrow’s deadline is one of the two major milestones of the DATA Act. The second major milestone happens on May 9, 2018, when the Department of Treasury and the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) must publish all spending data on USASpending.gov.
Thanks to the DATA Act, taxpayers will soon be able to examine the $3.85 trillion in federal spending annually. This level of financial transparency in the federal government is unprecedented and exemplifies good governance by providing more context for citizens. Increased accountability better protects citizens from fraud, waste, and abuse of funds. Federal spending impacts not just every citizen of the United States, but also the government’s policies and relationships to other countries. Because of this, federal spending data could become one of the most valuable datasets in the world. Taxpayers will have a clearer, more complete, and more reliable view into how their tax dollars are spent.
One privilege of democracy is the ability to question those in power. Hudson Hollister, Executive Director of the Data Coalition, has written previously for Socrata about the transformative power of open data and government transparency. “Once spending data is consistently standardized and published, it’ll be easier for citizens to hold government accountable. Today it’s impossible to match a particular grantee or contractor to the payments it received, track a program’s internal spending on salaries alongside its external grants and contracts, or trace money from congressional appropriation through agency obligation to final disbursement. Government-wide data standards, coupled with government-wide publication of the whole corpus of federal spending, will make those analyses possible and give citizens and watchdog groups new tools to understand — and question — what their government is doing.”
To get a better picture of how this will work, check out USASpending.gov. The site is currently in beta and accepting feedback and ideas for how it can improve. Explore the site, submit your ideas, and participate in the movement toward federal financial transparency.
A cornerstone of the DATA Act is the focus on data standards. The law requires the Treasury and OMB to establish government-wide data standards for the spending information agencies report. These standards allow agencies to share data widely without its meaning getting lost in the process. Having federal agencies agree on data standards means all consumers can view and understand federal spending data, which is a historical landmark for the open data movement. To learn more about how federal spending data will be standardized, read this article from the Data Coalition — A Government in Transition: From Documents to Data.
What’s Next for the DATA Act?
On November 8, 2017, The Government Accountability Office will issue a report that assesses the completeness, timeliness, accuracy, and quality of all agencies’ spending data, in addition to their implementation and use of agreed upon data standards. May 8, 2018 is the final deadline for the Treasury and OMB to publish all spending data on USASpending.gov.
If you’d like to learn more about the DATA Act, check out the Data Foundation’s report, The DATA Act: Vision and Value.