DATA Act slammed for lacking transparency

The federal spending transparency bill came under fire earlier this week when an administration official said the act adds additional regulatory complexity while removing some of the necessary Office of Management and Budget oversight.

At a June 13 panel discussion hosted by the Partnership for Public Service, OMB controller Danny Werfel said the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act is inconsistent with some the lessons learned from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act

The Recovery Act was signed into law in February 2009 as a response to the economic crisis to spur job growth, boost economic activity and promote new levels of transparency in federal spending. In those early stages of the act, “it was sort of an epiphany” that OMB had to write guidance to map out to various stakeholders – agencies, inspector generals and recipients – exactly what the legislation meant and to synthesize it across a wide spectrum of requirements and stakeholder interests, Werfel said.

When OMB began receiving praise for the speed, clarity and effectiveness of its guidance documents, Werfel said he realized that “OMB is good at this.” The comparative advantage the agency has in guidance writing comes from its skill set, experience and relationship with stakeholders, he explained.

Also, very critical, he said, is the transparency by which OMB guidance process is written.

“There’s comment, there’s feedback; it’s a whole process where you get to see how the sausage is made,” Werfel said. “And getting to see how the sausage is made and hearing that feedback, it becomes critical in terms of making key decisions in how to balance the desire to get more information [and] granularity.”

The DATA Act, in contrast, removes the guidance writing from OMB and gives it to a new commission, which creates an additional layer of regulation, or more specifically, two sets of common rule, Werfel said.

Another issue, he added, is that the DATA Act fails to embrace transparency as it currently exists in OMB’s standard way of how it issues guidance, Werfel said.

“This independent commission that’s created in the act is not subject to the Administrative Procedures Act; there’s actually an explicit exemption from the  Paperwork Reduction Act,” he said. “It’s not clear in the act when and where the public gets to see how the sausage is made.”


About the Author

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.


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