US Senate Passes Bill on Spending Transparency

11 April 2014

The US Senate has passed bill intended to make government spending more transparent.

The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (S. 994), passed April 10 by unimous consent, would require the treasury secretary and the director of the Office of Management and Budget to establish government-wide financial data standards as a first step toward more robust disclosure of all federal agency expenditures.

The standardized information would have to be published online and improvements would be made to the existing USASpending.gov website. Agency inspectors general and Government Accountability Office would have to report on the completeness, timeliness, quality and accuracy of data submitted to the site.

The DATA bill also would mandate the review the established reporting requirements for contracts, grants and loans to reduce compliance costs.

The path forward for the DATA bill seems pretty clear. It passed the House easily in late 2103 and the Senate version was worked out with House sponsors, according to the Data Transparency Coalition.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor called passage of the DATA Act “a huge win for open government and the innovators, developers, and citizens who will benefit from it.” He said the House “will act swiftly to send this to the President.”

The Obama administration, however, may have reservations cautioned Politico reporter Alex Byers, who wrote:

In January, the Office of Management and Budget had sought to walk back the bill’s requirement for government-wide data standards, but the bill’s co-sponsors, including Sen. Mark Warner, objected. The final version passed includes the data standards language, but it’s not clear yet whether OMB and the White House will approve of the new version. An OMB spokesman said the agency appreciates Warner’s focus on the issue, and added that “we are committed to working with Congress to pursue our shared goal of improving federal spending transparency,” but did not comment on OMB’s stance on the bill itself.

Other commentators predicted that the House will pass the Senate version and that the president will sign the bill.

“The DATA Act takes a structured data model that has delivered unprecedented accountability in stimulus expenditures and applies it across all domains of federal spending,” says Data Transparency Coalition Executive Director Hudson Hollister, who drafted the initial version of the DATA Act in 2011. “The DATA Act will turn federal spending information into open spending data – a valuable new public resource that strengthens democratic accountability and spurs innovation.”

The data standard must be “a widely-accepted, nonproprietary, searchable, platform-independent computer readable format” and “include unique identifiers for Federal awards and entities receiving Federal awards that can be consistently applied Government-wide.”

In testimony before  the House Oversight Committee, Government Accountability Office Comptroller General Gene Dodaro called the DATA Act “one of the single biggest things you could do” to help find and fix wasteful programs.

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