Can the next president be transparent if s/he tries?

Rep. Darrell Issa

Rep. Darrell Issa sees a "half-done program" as the best-case scenario for Data Act implementation during the next presidential administration.

Don’t expect the next president to be able to swoop in and save the state of federal IT and transparency, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said Sept. 23.

“If the next president serves eight years and makes it the highest priority, raises to the level of cabinet focus every part of transparency and, if you will, compliance, not just with the Data Act but with a broader program, he or she will leave a legacy of a half-done program,” Issa said, speaking to reporters before addressing the Data Transparency 2015 conference. “This takes time, to move large bureaucracies and contracting.”

Issa, who worked with partners of both parties to pass the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act in 2014, declined to praise or criticize any particular presidential candidate.

“The bureaucracy that builds up separate programs and separate kingdoms and separate pots of money is not a legacy of one president,” Issa said. “If you stay on all through the next administration, you’ll be just as frustrated trying to get the job done then, no matter what president’s there.”

Issa pointed to the labor-intensive “human nightmare” surrounding government responses to Freedom of Information Act requests, in which federal workers manually search for and redact sensitive documents. The public, as well as beleaguered civil servants, would be far better served by searchable databases, he said.

He also blamed the IRS for its tech troubles.

“It sounds like it was their own damn fault,” he said in response to a question about the agency’s legacy system costs. “Look, for half a century the IRS has had their IBM 360s. … They have made decisions to build on legacy.”

The agency has had plenty of chances to prioritize IT modernization, but has often opted for clumsy, one-off solutions, he contended.

“The IRS doesn’t have a leg to stand on when they say, ‘We don’t have the money today,’” Issa said.

The fix, in the IRS and across government: “You have to have people who understand building systems for the long run.”

Bipartisan in both pessimism and praise, Issa noted the invaluable work Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) did in helping push through the transparency-focused Data Act.

And on the presidential front, he wasn’t all doom and gloom.

“There’s great hope!” he clarified, after noting that he hadn’t pointed to any particular presidential candidate as better or worse on transparency. “Anyone that’s ever done a Google search understands that the systems to search data are getting better and better, faster than government or the private sector’s ability to complicate and obfuscate.”

The Data Act, he added, should serve as a check on the next president, Democrat or Republican.

“The Data Act tries to, not change their bad habits because we’re not going to completely change it,” Issa said, “but to require that they at least have their data interoperable.”

About the Author

Zach Noble is a former FCW staff writer.


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