Taking ownership of the Data Act

GAO and Treasury representatives told lawmakers that implementation of the Data Act is about to enter a crucial phase.

The success of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, which expands the USASpending.gov platform to include detailed and uniform information on federal spending, rests on agency implementation and two different kinds of ownership, agency representatives told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Dec. 3.

Gene Dodaro, head of the Government Accountability Office, said the government is off to a good start in implementing the Data Act, but the point at which requirements are released to agencies and departments is historically when the process "breaks down."

"To get the full benefits of this, you have to make it accessible and transparent, but it also has to be right," Dodaro said. "The data has to be accurate and has to be complete. Without that you are limited in your ability to use this powerful tool we're providing to people."

David Lebryk, fiscal assistant secretary at the Treasury Department, said the key is having agencies take responsibility for making the data useful.

"If we ensure agencies own this data and use it, they will make the changes they need to make," Lebryk said. "If it is a compliance effort in which we're simply doing this for the sake of checking a box, we won't be successful. If it is a Treasury-centric view, if it is a Treasury/OMB-centric view, it won't be successful. It really has to be owned by the [chief financial officer] and by the agency because that's where the real decisions of whether the data has value happen."

Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), ranking member of the Federal Workforce, U.S. Postal Service and the Census Subcommittee, was concerned about who actually owns the data.

As Treasury and the Office of Management and Budget come up with governmentwide standards for tracking federal spending by May 9, 2015, they will have an opportunity to decide whether to continue using Dun and Bradstreet's proprietary Data Universal Numbering System, switch to some other outside system or bring control of the data in-house.

Because Dun and Bradstreet owns the data associated with a DUNS number, GAO auditors concluded in a 2012 report that the system "limits the purposes for which government can use the data and hampers the ability to switch to a new numbering system."

Lynch said the Data Act cannot live up to its full potential unless the government stops using DUNS.

"I don't want that feature in the new iteration of the system," said Lynch, citing the potential for bottlenecks and limited access to data.

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