Transparency group supports DATA Act, standardized reporting tools

A group of tech companies and public interest groups has formed a coalition to lobby for standardized requirements and formats for reporting and tracking government spending.

The Data Transparency Coalition is calling for passage of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, or DATA Act, which would make the current website a permanent online portal for tracking government spending, as well as adoption of other technical standards to make government more transparent.

Right now the government is not managing its information, which allows waste and fraud to go undetected, said Earl Devaney, a member of the coalition’s board of advisers and former Interior Department inspector general. The tools and technology to do this exist in the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, created to track stimulus spending, but the board and its website are set to expire in September 2013.

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Devaney, who also was chairman of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, said the DATA Act is the quickest way to expand the platform’s use.

“It worked, so why not use it?” he said. “I’ve been part of the bureaucracy for decades. If you want to see bureaucrats act fast, pass some legislation.”

Adoption of such a platform would increase agency efficiency and improve regulatory compliance and transparency, said Hudson Hollister, the coalition’s executive director. Government suffers from a lack of standards for identifying, displaying and tracking data, which makes it difficult if not impossible to locate and compare meaningful information, he said.

“The technology that is needed for this is there, but it has not been put in place because it’s nobody’s job to do so,” Hollister said. “There needs to be a private-sector campaign for data reform.”

The coalition was announced April 16. Founding members include tech companies such as Microsoft, Teradata and Level One Technologies, as well as trade associations and nonprofit groups such as the Maryland Association of CPAs.

In addition to the DATA Act, the coalition is promoting passage of the Public Online Information Act and the Financial Industry Transparency Act as well as adoption of a standard identifier for companies that would be used by all regulatory agencies.

The Public Online Information Act would require that all public government information be published online in a machine-readable fashion. The Financial Industry Transparency Act would require adoption of consistent markup languages, such as XBRL, by financial regulators for the information reported to them.

Some coalition members have an interest in the adoption of technology standards, such as IPHIX LLC, which provides training and software for XBRL reporting.

The DATA Act would establish a new Federal Accountability and Spending Transparency Board that would assume the current functions of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board. The new board would collect and serve as the authoritative government source for information on federal spending.

Devaney said pilot programs have gauged the practicality of expanding the current platform’s use.

“It’s something that could be scaled up very easily,” he said. He said the current Recovery Board has about 40 people working on it, and that the same number of people would be adequate to handle reporting of all government spending. That would be more economical than building agency-specific portals, he said. “Why build centers all over government if you already have one built?”


About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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Reader Comments

Tue, May 1, 2012

I agree. Discovered that my city leaders have spent tons of money on pet projects that would have been disputed had we known about them from the beginning on the website which is a jumbled mess. The city fathers didn't bother to actively make known the use of the Stimulus Money to all citizens. There were no honest discussions of how it would be spent. Now, they're saying there is no money left to revitalize rotting blighted areas because of budget cuts to Community Development for the neediest. The city stil looks a mess outside of town and mostly caucasian areas.

Thu, Apr 19, 2012 SoutheastUS

A transformed Recovery portal to be used going forward for all government spending reporting is a laudable project. It suffers, however, from the same ills the Recovery portal does. There is currently no single entity charged with making sure that all government units comply with a single standard set of semantics for classifying and reporting information on various programs, projects, contracts/contractors, regulated entities, etc. Until all this data is brought under the umbrella of a comprehensive, unified, set of semantics and identifiers, the whole universe of reportable data will remain a virtual "bowl of spaghetti" of information with confusion and rampant double-reporting coupled with a tremendous human effort in overhead to eliminate duplicated data and conflicting data that refer to the same entity or transaction. While it is a desirable thing to have it transparent, the current infrastructure is woefully inadequate. Until a single agency is charged with developing a unified system of semantics to which all government units and their suppliers/contractors/vendors must comply, it will be a mediocre source of questionable statistical information.

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