Treasury 'on track' to hit Data Act milestones

Despite concerns, Treasury Department officials said they are on schedule to publish agency spending data by the May 2017 deadline.

abstract head representing big data

Despite concerns about delays in the implementation process of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, Treasury Department officials said they are on schedule to publish agency spending data by the May 2017 deadline.

The Data Act, an open-government law passed in 2014, seeks to make the $3.7 trillion dollars in annual federal spending more transparent by standardizing how financial information is reported and shared on the USAspending.gov website.

Treasury and the Office of Management and Budget are charged with overseeing its implementation. Treasury released its first technical guidance for standardizing required data submissions in April, five months later than planned. Data Act sponsor Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) sent two letters -- one in April and one in September -- checking on the status of agency implementation plans.

But Treasury officials insist the department is on schedule.

"We are painfully aware of the fact...that the deadline is fast approaching," Treasury Deputy Assistant Secretary Christina Ho said. "I am happy to report...Treasury is on track to have the system and the website in place to publish the data that agencies submit to us."

However, just because Treasury is on track to publish agencies' spending data, that does not mean the data will have no gaps or the process will be flawless.

"I do not expect that by May 2017 we will have perfect data," Ho said. "But...publishing the data, even with its known gaps, will be a huge progress forward for us to set a foundation for further improvements."

She told FCW the biggest challenge Treasury faces is unlocking the data from more than 300 interconnected data elements from some 100 federal agencies -- and doing so for systems that are not interoperable.

"Being accountable and transparent is not being perfect," she said. "This is going to be the first time we're combining the budget, accounting, procurement and financial assistance data together. It will be the first time we can link appropriations with the funding that goes to the recipients."

In addition to the technical schema, Treasury's oversight efforts include developing a Data Act Playbook and a broker system and conducting ongoing communication with agencies.

Ho described Treasury's approach to oversight as engaging rather than prescriptive and said it consists of weekly calls and monthly meetings with agencies to make sure they are on track.

Treasury will release the full version of the broker system sometime this fall, she added, and the development of the data source system will be finished later this year so agencies can begin submitting spending information.

The Data Act also mandates that inspectors general, in collaboration with the Government Accountability Office, submit biennial reviews beginning in November 2017. Those reports will focus on "the internal control over the agency financial reporting systems" and the reliability of those reporting systems as a source for information to be published on USAspending.gov, said Andrea Smith, an auditor at Treasury's Office of Inspector General.

"There are going to be bumps in the road," she added. "But within about five years? Smooth sailing."

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