Bill would mandate using XBRL to track TARP money

Measure would standardize business information collection

A House bill would require to the government to track where its money from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) goes by using technology that many companies already use to monitor their financial reporting.

The Government Information Transparency Act (H.R. 2392), introduced May 14 by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), would standardize the collection of business information throughout agencies. It would require agencies to use a single data standard known as eXtensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL) and require that collected information be made readily available for public access.

XBRL has benefits in preparing and analyzing business information. It offers greater efficiency and better accuracy and reliability of data to all involved in supplying or using financial data, experts say. It’s also an open standard, free of license fees, according to XBRL International, a nonprofit consortium of 550 companies and agencies that promote the language.

XBRL tags enable automated processing of business information by computer software, cutting out laborious and costly processes of manual re-entry and comparison. Computers can recognize information in a XBRL document and exchange it with other computers. Experts say XBRL increases the speed of handling of financial data, reduces the chance of error and permits automatic checking of information.

“The technology exists to create real transparency that would allow us to track TARP dollars and value toxic assets, but the federal government is far behind the curve in implementing available solutions,” said Issa, ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

U.S. banks are currently required to disclose information to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. in XBRL format. The Securities and Exchange Commission recently approved a final rule mandating the use of XBRL for all public-company reporting, with some companies required to start complying in June.

“This legislation offers more than the promise of change and transparency, it is a substantive plan to implement it,” Issa said.

The bill was referred to the oversight committee.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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