Lawmakers press agencies to meet DATA Act goals

By Andy Medici | The Federal Times | December 3, 2014

Lawmakers vowed to keep up pressure on agencies to quickly and efficiently implement governmentwide data standards and reporting requirements at a hearing Dec. 3.

Congress passed and President Obama signed the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act — also called the DATA Act — on May 4. The law expanded agency data reporting requirements to include spending data for all federal funds spent or granted by any federal agency. The data would then be reported publicly on the spending website USAspending.gov.

The DATA Act also mandated governmentwide financial data standards and required agencies to adapt their systems and reporting tools to those new standards. The legislation placed the Treasury Department in a leadership position to shepherd agencies through the process.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., who authored the Senate version of the DATA Act, said Congress needs to hold agencies’ feet to the fire, especially as they deal with tight budgets and difficult fiscal climates. Agencies have one year to develop the common data standards.

“We’ve got to make sure that these agencies have the resources to actually implement it,” Warner said. “You’ve got to invest to actually save money in the long run.”

He said Congress must also push agencies to develop the correct tools and standards to allow for greater transparency for American taxpayers, businesses and lawmakers.

“We’ve got to make sure that the Treasury department implements it in line with the goals that we laid out. You ought to be able to google your tax dollar all the way down to the programmatic level,” Warner said.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said if agencies implement the legislation properly the DATA Act will offer an “unprecedented view” into government spending an operations. He said making the spending data truly accessible will require hard work and continuous focus.

“The implementation of this requires some sustained focus by the executive branch as well as by Congress,” Portman said. “It’s not easy to do and that’s why I think implementation is so important.

He said even though he was skeptical early on he has seen some improvement and that agencies are meeting regularly and collaborating on new data standards. He said they have until May 4 to submit their report on data standards and that the Treasury Department and the Office of Management and Budget are on pace to meet that deadline.

“If that deadline slips it’s a real problem because if that deadline slips other implementation deadlines will also slip,” Portman said.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform committee and one of the original DATA Act supporters, said the law is the “first shot” in a technological revolution that will transform government.

“Agencies cannot tell us how many programs they even have. Even more importantly agencies do not and usually cannot tell us or know themselves how much taxpayer money has been spent or given to a particular program,” Issa said.

He said the DATA Act compels agencies to standardize their data and reporting and to create greater transparency into programs and their funding. The bipartisan passage of the bill will help ensure the legislation’s success, he added.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, ranking member of the Committee, said that without sustained focus on effective and efficient implementation of the legislation agencies might falter, and American taxpayers might think their money is being wasted.

“I think it’s so important that we make it work and we make it work well,” Cummings said.

Gene Dodaro, comptroller general and head of the Government Accountability Office, said his agency was also giving the DATA Act implementation process a high priority. He said while the legislation calls for a GAO report on implementation in 2017, he plans to release one in 2015.

“We are going to track every stage of the implementation over time,” Dodaro said. “I want to make sure the data standards are complete and consistent.”

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Originally published by The Federal Times. Article located at http://bit.ly/1yNUIs5