Congress

Watchdog groups push Senate, White House on Data Act

data abstract

A coalition of 18 non-profit government oversight groups and other interested associations are pushing the Senate to pass the Data Accountability and Transparency Act, known as the Data Act, a bill designed to create a system for tracking federal spending at a level of detail not currently available.

The groups, led by the Sunlight Foundation and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, urged swift passage of the bill in the Senate -- without the changes suggested by the Office of Management and Budget in a draft document.

In a letter to Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, the groups cautioned that "the draft OMB language would hollow out the DATA Act’s central purpose: to transform federal spending from disconnected documents into open data -- standardized, structured, and available to citizens and policy makers. The revisions would also strip the DATA Act of its funding mechanism and supplant OMB in the Treasury Department's role."

The groups also sent a letter to President Barack Obama seeking clarification on the OMB draft. "We understand that the draft is not necessarily the official position of the administration and hope to have the opportunity to consult with OMB prior to its issuing any final recommendations. While some of our groups have had preliminary meetings with OMB and the White House on this issue, we were surprised by OMB’s draft proposal," they wrote.

The groups signing the letter include the Center for Responsive Politics, the Data Transparency Coalition, whose director, Hudson Hollister, helped write the Data Act as a legislative staffer, the American Library Association, and Gun Owners of America.

The legislation would consolidate federal spending on contracts, grants, and loan programs on the USASpending.gov website, using common data elements to identify government programs and the recipients of federal funds. Agencies would be required to submit all spending data to a centralized portal in machine-readable form and would be accountable for the quality, completeness and accuracy of their data. The House passed the measure 388-1 in November. A Senate version of the bill introduced by Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) has won committee approval and is awaiting action by the full chamber.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is a staff writer covering Congress, the FCC and other key agencies. Connect with him on Twitter: @thisismaz.

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