DATA Act passes House

Open government watchdog groups are applauding the House passage of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA Act) on April 25 that would require federal agencies to consistently report spending information on a new, searchable Web platform.

The legislation passed by a voice vote and will now go before the Senate. If it becomes law, it will establish standards for identifying and publishing electronic information about federal spending.

The federal government would need to spend $575 million over five years to create new structures and systems under the DATA Act, according to a Congressional Budget Office report issued last year.

The transparency proposal is sponsored by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., in the Senate.

“The DATA Act will transform how we are able to monitor government spending online,” Ellen Miller, executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, said in a statement. “The DATA Act will increase transparency for federal spending data and expand when, where and how it is available online.

Along with the Sunlight Foundation and other watchdog groups, a group of technology companies led by Microsoft in the Data Transparency Coalition lobbied for passage in recent weeks.

The provisions of the DATA Act include creation of a new Federal Accountability and Spending Transparency Commission, which is to succeed the board that oversaw spending reports for the 2009 economic stimulus law.

The new board would oversee federal reporting by grantees and contractors, similar to that required for the stimulus. It would also create a new publicly-accessible website to host spending information.

In addition, federal agencies would be required to submit their spending data to the new platform with consistent electronic identifiers and markup language.

Also under the proposed law, the Treasury Department would begin reporting and publishing of disbursement data on the new platform. The financial disbursement data would be retrievable by agencies’ grant and contract systems. This would make it easier for grantees and contractors receiving funds from multiple agencies to comply with reporting requirements.

The DATA Act also imposes travel and conference restrictions, limiting travel spending to 80 percent of 2010 levels until 2016. It also caps conference spending at $500,000 and limits agencies’ conference sponsorships. For more on that aspect of the bill, click here.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.


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