House passes DATA Act

Rep. Darrell Issa

Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, introduced by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), would standardize federal spending data and make the information easily accessible to the public. It passed the House on Nov. 18 by a vote of 388-1.

Legislation aimed at standardizing federal spending data and making the information easily accessible to the public passed the House on Nov. 18 by a vote of 388-1.

The bipartisan bill, introduced by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and backed by ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings of Maryland, would require that all federal spending be recorded on the website, with detailed information on agency, sub-agency, account and program. The spending data would be in a standardized computer language and machine readable so it could be exported in bulk for analysis.

The bill would move oversight of from the Office of Management and Budget to the Treasury – a shift also called for in President Barack Obama's fiscal 2014 budget.

The House measure, known as the DATA Act (for Digital Accountability and Transparency Act) also would give agency inspectors general and the comptroller general some oversight authority for the quality and accuracy of the spending data. A companion Senate bill, which has won committee approval, does not contain that oversight language. The absence of the oversight provision gives the Senate bill a lower projected cost as measured by the Congressional Budget Office. But supporters are concerned that, without such oversight, the measure would be less effective.

"We are hopeful that the Senate will answer this call from the House of Representatives to reap the rewards from greater accountability and tech-sector innovation that real spending transparency can provide," said Hudson Hollister, executive director of the Data Transparency Coalition and an author of the legislation as a former House staffer.

The Professional Services Council, which generally supports the bill, is seeking changes to a pilot program included in the bill. That pilot is to be administered by the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board and is designed to include data contributions from federal award recipients. PSC President and CEO Stan Soloway said that his organization, which represents government contractors, has "serious concerns about the undefined, open-ended nature" of the pilot program. Soloway is concerned that the pilot program could lead to the release of proprietary company information, and recommended limiting data requests to information already reported to government.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), sponsor of the Senate bill, cheered passage of the House version. "Transparency is critical to our democracy -- especially for a federal government that spends more than $3.7 trillion each year," Warner said. "And in this tough economic climate, we should be doing all we can to ensure that taxpayers and policymakers can follow the money to hold our government more accountable."

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy, health IT and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mr. Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian started his career as an arts reporter and critic, and has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, Architect magazine, and other publications. He was an editorial assistant and staff writer at the now-defunct New York Press and arts editor at the online network in the 1990s, and was a weekly contributor of music and film reviews to the Washington Times from 2007 to 2014.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.

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