DATA Act Awaits Obama’s Signature

More than two weeks after it passed in the Senate, a bill that will make federal government spending data publicly available online was unanimously approved by the House of Representatives on April 28.

Lawmakers said the bipartisan legislation, known as the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA Act), improves fiscal transparency and accountability by requiring standardized reporting of federal expenditures to be posted to a single website, USASpending.gov. This gives Americans the opportunity to track spending in their communities and by federal agencies, and identify improper payments, waste, and fraud.

The Senate passed the legislation on April 10.

Sponsored by representatives Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Elijah Cummings (D-MD) in the House and senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Mark Warner (D-VA) in the Senate, the bill now heads to President Barrack Obama’s desk for his signature. It is not yet known when the president will sign the legislation into law.

“Addressing rampant waste and fraud in government starts with making publicly accessible, structured information available online for everyone – taxpayers and watchdogs alike,” said Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, in a written statement. “The DATA Act is a win for good government, moving the federal bureaucracy into the digital age and setting the stage for real accountability.”

The DATA Act puts into law several key components of Obama’s Open Data Policy and improves upon the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, which then-Senator Obama sponsored in 2006, by mandating the adoption of consistent, government-wide data standards, according to the Data Transparency Coalition, an advocate for the publication of government information as standardized, machine-readable data.

“After three years of debate and negotiation over the DATA Act, Congress has issued a clear and unified mandate for open, reliable federal spending data,” said Hudson Hollister, Data Transparency Center executive director, who helped draft the initial version of the DATA Act in 2011 while working on Issa’s staff. “Our coalition now calls on President Obama to put his open data policies into action by signing the DATA Act and committing his Office of Management and Budget to pursue robust data standards throughout federal financial, budget, grant, and contract reporting.”

The measure requires the US Treasury Department and the Office of Management and Budget to adopt a nonproprietary, platform-independent data standard, such as eXtensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL), for the reporting of federal financial and performance information, which the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) supports.

“This is a good-government bill that will provide taxpayers and policymakers alike with more transparent access to information about how federal agencies spend taxpayer dollars,” AICPA President and CEO Barry Melancon, CPA, CGMA, said in a written statement.

XBRL is an open-source computer language that allows companies to tag precisely the thousands of pieces of financial data included in typical long-form financial statements and related footnote disclosures. The tags allow computers to automatically search for, assemble, and process data so it can be readily accessed and analyzed by investors, analysts, journalists, and regulators.

“The benefits of using data tagging for federal financial and performance information will enhance the accuracy and transparency of that data, resulting in better, more informed decisions,” Melancon wrote in a letter to the Senate last November.

The DATA Act establishes a two-year pilot program for consolidated recipient reporting for entities receiving federal taxpayer funds, including states, localities, and universities. It also authorizes the Treasury Department to create a data analytics center to help law enforcement and federal agency inspectors general prevent improper payments, according to lawmakers.

Related article:

AICPA Calls on the Senate to Support Digital Accountability and Transparency Act

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