The DATA Act Moves Forward
Across the government, agencies are working under leadership from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Department of Treasury to implement the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA Act). This statute, which we first wrote about a year ago in two posts, calls upon OMB and Treasury to ensure that the government carries out spending transparency activities that include: make publicly available specific classes of Federal agency spending data, with more specificity and at a deeper level than is currently reported; require agencies to report this data on USASpending.gov; create Government-wide standards for financial data; and streamline agency reporting requirements. Various activities demonstrate the breadth of commitment to successful implementation by key stakeholders, including leadership and outreach from the Administration; the DATA Act Summit; and other government/industry collaborative perspectives. Some highlights follow. Administration Leadership OMB and Treasury – led by OMB Controller Dave Mader, Treasury Assistant Secretary Dave Lebryk, and their outstanding executive and staff teams – have led a strong cross-agency governance effort to implement the DATA Act. This has come in the context of the Administration’s longstanding initiatives around open data and open government, and at a time when a growing number of agencies have established Chief Data Officer positions to help catalyze a broad range of data programs. As importantly, OMB and Treasury have run a very open process to introduce implementation. A team led by OMB’s Karen Lee and Treasury’s Christina Ho have engaged in a variety of outreach efforts, including solicitation of comments and perspectives from the public and industry that informed the recent issuance of OMB’s implementing guidance document and first set of standards. Given the specific timeframes in the statute, OMB’s openness to public engagement is noteworthy and bodes well for substantive input to improve these standards over time, and for understanding how best to implement those standards in a way that makes financial transparency real. OMB used a similar process to develop guidance foe the Federal Information Technology and Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA), which we have written about previously – this open development process sets an excellent model for future OMB management guidance. Data Summit The June 10 DATA Act Summit, led by Hudson Hollister’s Data Transparency Coalition and supported by partnering organizations such as the Association of Government Accountants and the American Council for Technology and Industry Advisory Council (ACT-IAC – note that I currently serve as Chair of IAC), focused on key priorities from Congress. The Senate’s DATA Act leader Mark Warner delivered a keynote address; the Administration was represented by multiple panels of leaders from OMB, Treasury, and the agencies, as well as GAO and the IG community. The discussion at the Summit pointed out the important result that financial transparency can bring to effective and accountable operations by government on behalf of citizens. The sessions also reinforced the challenges of developing standards that will make the benefits of transparency sustainable and interoperable across agencies. Speakers also addressed critical success factors for implementation that include culture change, a focus on data users, technology leadership, reduced reporting burden, and impact on core financial management. Other key observations from the event were tweeted throughout the day under #Datasummit: @Marthaprzy Accessibility to standardized data provides a platform for innovation. #datasummit @DataCoalition @DataCoalition Inspector General Horowitz: If implemented correctly, the DATA Act is going to be a very important tool for the IG community. #DATASummit @WyattKash Data decision: Go small & compliant? Or go big & value added? We're going w latter - Chris Mihm GAO #datasummit And the day ended with a very lively interchange between Ralph Nader and Grover Norquist, who both agreed on the power of open data: @DataCoalition We've got @RalphNader and @GroverNorquist talking #opendata at #DATASummit! Moderated by @digiphile ACT-IAC DATA Act Initiative In support of the DATA Act’s implementation, ACT-IAC has an ongoing Shared Interest Group (SIG) project addressing Transparency in Federal Financials, with multiple components: The DATA Act Think Tank at ACT-IAC’s Management of Change conference in May, which will soon be followed by a report detailing the results of these interactive sessions. A DATA Act Forum on July 29, which will focus on DATA Act Implementation. This Forum will engage Government and Industry leaders’ critical success factors and lessons learned, and will dive into the advantages of leveraging public-private relationships with respect to tackling some of the DATA Act challenges. The Forum and will feature two interesting tracks: A Data Zoo of open data success stories. The Data Zoo will highlight best practices and showcase the positive impact that open federal financial data can have on decision-making across government and industry. Agencies and industry partners will demonstrate successful applications of government data with visuals and interactive tools. Projects will demonstrate the enormous potential of government data and inspire participants to capitalize on financial data within their own organizations. A Datathon, in which participants will devise research questions around efficiency, spend tracking, and reduced burden, and design a data-driven approach to answering the questions. The session will launch the inquiry areas on a knowledge-sharing site (Idea Scale) in advance of the event. Finally, the ACT-IAC initiative also promotes the release of various white papers that address key aspects of DATA Act implementation: February 2015 - Setting the Standard - Developing the Framework for DATA Act Implementation June 2015 - Transparency Enabling Transformation: The Benefits to Agencies through Implementation of the DATA Act June 2015 - Developing a DATA Act Implementation Plan COMING SOON: Data Quality - Letting Data speak for Itself; DATA Act Infrastructure Guidance; Unique Entity Identifiers Recommendations from Former Federal Financial Leaders Another perspective comes from former OMB Controller Danny Werfel, and an earlier occupant of the same position, Hal Steinberg. Writing in the AGA’s Journal of Financial Management, Werfel and Steinberg provide recommendations for DATA Act implementation in an article entitled “Getting the Most from the DATA Act”. The authors identify a six-step process for DATA Act implementation that captures key actions being led by OMB and Treasury, and then make an interesting contribution to implementation based on the financial standards that will enable cross-agency analysis of spending information by looking at programs, which are different than program activities. Werfel and Steinberg write that while most government spend tracking focuses on program activities, which are unique to an agency and elements within appropriation accounts … they can, and often do, result in spending for identical, or at least nearly identical, services authorized by other program activities”. DATA Act standards, if extended to also encompass programs, will thus enable greater transparency and analytical capability to assess duplication, opportunities for savings and integration across programs, and linkages of spending to programs for which performance is measured under the Government Performance and Results Act Modernization Act (GPRAMA). A Promising DATA future ahead It is not often that a statute with broad bipartisan support reinforces an Administration initiative that has strong and active engagement across government and industry. The path forward for the DATA Act benefits from this set of factors, and prospects for implementation.