Treasury, OMB chart path to Data Act implementation

While OMB is leading the development of data definition standards, Treasury is concentrating on data exchange standards.

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The federal government is facing an aggressive schedule to implement the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, which expands the USASpending.gov platform to include detailed and uniform financial data on grants, awards, procurement and other spending.

At a town hall meeting for federal employees charged with implementing the Data Act and stakeholders interested in influencing the process, officials from the Treasury Department and the Office of Management and Budget discussed how they are divvying up their responsibilities.

OMB is leading the charge to develop data definition standards, one of the biggest challenges of the implementation process. It involves creating consistent data definitions, formats and taxonomies, where possible, said Karen Lee, who is leading Data Act compliance at OMB's Office of Federal Financial Management.

OMB is also overseeing a pilot project to reduce the administrative burden on those required to report data, including grant recipients and vendors. Lee said key goals are to minimize data collection and enable information to be reported once and used multiple times.

Meanwhile, Treasury is working on data exchange standards to translate information between systems that have a need for unique identifiers, developing an overall framework for the interaction and interrelationship of data elements to one another, and creating a guide to performing advanced analytics on that data.

The work will be coordinated across the federal government through an interagency advisory committee that includes officials from OMB, Treasury, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the General Services Administration and professional groups within the government.

"Data Act implementation hits across every single type of community of practice -- grants, finance, budget, procurement, IT and others," Lee said.

Despite all the work required, little dedicated funding is associated with Data Act implementation.

Beth Cobert, OMB's deputy director for management, said, "It will take real resources from all agencies across the federal government -- not easy to come by in a budget-constrained time."

The leaders of the implementation process promise agencies that changes won't require expensive additions to IT systems.

Marcel Jemio, chief data architect at Treasury's Bureau of the Fiscal Service, outlined a financial reporting transformation idea dubbed "intelligent data." Current data interchange models are "too costly, too complex, not integrated, need human intervention, are redundant, not interoperable, system dependent and vendor dependent," Jemio said.

The solution lies in mapping data elements in individual systems to a common reporting language that is, essentially, the second language for every agency system, without requiring "a code change to your ERP or database," he said.

That approach would bring new levels of openness by encoding the business rules that govern data collection and reporting in an open-source environment, Jemio said. "Treasury wants to eat its own dog food," he said, and "make it easy for the open-data community to know what we do with the data."

Open-data activists and government watchdog groups had one key refrain at the event: Data Act implementation should be used as a vehicle for ditching the Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) number as an identifier for business entities.

Recovery.gov is losing access to a swath of historical spending data because it opted not to renew a $1.4 million contract with Dun and Bradstreet, which licenses DUNS to the government. Use of DUNS is written into the Federal Acquisition Regulation, making it the default system for most agencies.

Groups complained that DUNS makes it hard to track companies and their subsidiaries through the federal contracting system, and it does not map historical ownership structures as companies are acquired or spun off. The overall recommendation was that the government move toward an open-entity identifier, such as the Legal Entity Identifier in use across Europe, as part of implementing the Data Act.

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