Open Gov

Prime time for the Data Act?

Shutterstock image: data wall. 

The cause of government transparency is due to hit a major milestone in May, when machine-readable federal financial data is finally published online under the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act.

The Data Act, an open government law passed in 2014, pushes granular federal financial data to the USASpending.gov website. It remains to be seen what kind of emphasis the Trump administration places on the effort, which has largely been taking place among career staffers well out of the public eye. The newly confirmed director of the Office of Management and Budget, Mick Mulvaney, professes to be a fan. But for now, carryovers from the Obama administration are largely responsible for the law's implementation -- and with proving its value.

The final policy of the new administration "has not been decided in many areas," Treasury Department Fiscal Assistant Secretary David Lebryk said at a Feb. 16 Association of Government Accountants event. "If you're sitting back and saying, ‘I'm waiting for the new administration to tell me what to do,' that's not a good idea. You should be sitting there right now and saying, 'What does my organization do and where does it add value?'"

Hudson Hollister, who heads the Data Coalition and helped draft the Data Act as an aide to Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), told FCW he believes that the act could be a "higher priority" right now, especially as the Trump administration continues to fill political positions.

"In any situation when not all the political [appointments] are confirmed, like right now, the priorities of whoever is in acting roles are the agency's priorities," he said.

Lebryk, a long-time proponent of the Data Act, also said that the May deadline is "just the beginning," and that he believes agencies' first Data Act submissions will lead to a "demand for more data" as its benefits become clear and as agencies refine their data collecting and reporting practices.

He added that Treasury has put in place "the right structure" to handle the increased demand he expects.

In terms of agencies' compliance status, Treasury Deputy Assistant Secretary for Accounting Policy and Financial Transparency Christina Ho told FCW that she still anticipates most agencies covered by the act will report spending information in time to beat the May deadline, but she noted "there's going to be" imperfections the first time around, due to agencies' gaps in financial records and adjustments to the law.  

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a former FCW staff writer.

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