XBRL could aid reporting of financial data

Data collection is a crucial part of government operations. All too often, however, it's relegated to the back of the back office, which can make it difficult for government to support high-quality decisions with good information.

The Extensible Business Reporting Language, or XBRL, could be a way to change that.

The open, freely licensed standard for exchanging financial performance data was developed by XBRL International, at www.xbrl.org. This consortium of accounting groups, software vendors, data intermediaries, regulators and corporations set out to tag financial performance information with structure and context so that it need be entered only once for multiple purposes.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Reserve are already partway through a shift to put banks' 'call report' filings into XBRL.
Software vendors also are adopting the standards-based technology. This support plus the strong backing of accounting bodies can define most of the generally accepted accounting principles in XBRL format.

Data needs

Regulators'or government agencies as a whole'would find their tasks close to impossible without substantial amounts of regularly supplied, high-quality information from the private sector.

Agencies must weigh their own requirements for accurate, relevant and timely information against private-sector expectations that business should proceed without unreasonable burdens.

Making changes to regulations and statutes that govern data collection, as well as to the systems that capture the information, can be a slow and expensive process. Many agencies have difficulty measuring the quality, relevance and accuracy of collected information.

Improving the quality of government information has never been especially easy or glamorous. This process needs greater visibility. New technologies such as XBRL mean that collection processes can be more easily analyzed and refined, which in turn should enhance their credibility.

Jerry Jones is a partner with KPMG LLP's Federal Risk Advisory Services practice in Washington. The views expressed are his own. KPMG is a member of XBRL International.

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