Trump tech aide touts DATA Act as 'model' for innovation

A few agencies will miss the May deadline to electronically submit their financial data, but robust support of spending data transparency from the White House, Congress and the private sector will keep the pressure on lagging agencies.

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A few agencies will miss the May milestone to electronically submit the financial data required by the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, but robust support of spending data transparency from the White House, Congress and the private sector will keep the pressure on laggards.

Matt Lira, the special assistant to the president for innovation policy and initiatives, made clear the White House's strong support for the Data Act at an April 27 Data Coalition event.

"From the perspective of the administration, it's difficult to exaggerate how excited we are about what the Data Act represents in terms of the opportunity to transform government institutions," the veteran Republican strategist and tech adviser said.

Lira, a member of the Office of American Innovation, added that the collaboration on Data Act implementation by innovation groups such as 18F and the U.S. Digital Service, government agencies and private industry "is a model… for the broader modernization of the federal government."

Some agencies might need a push getting their data in order. According to a new Government Accountability Office report, three inspectors general reported that their agencies are "not on track" to meet the requirements of the Data Act, an open government law passed in 2014 requiring agencies to publish financial information in a standardized format to the USASpending.gov website.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development will miss the deadline because it did not determine that two of its component agencies were subject to the Data Act until May 2016, and because difficulties with legacy systems and limited resources have hindered the department's efforts.

The IG for the Department of the Interior reported that agency will miss the deadline because of vendors' delays on a software upgrade. The IG also noted that Interior was "six months behind the time frames recommended" by the Department of Treasury's Data Act Implementation playbook.

Additionally, IGs for the Department of Defense and the Environmental Protection Agency said their agencies would not submit "complete data" by the May deadline, and other IGs reported a range of challenges their agencies faced in putting together the data.

Despite the rocky implementation for some, executive director of the Data Coalition Hudson Hollister told FCW that he expects every agency will report "something" and that "we should have substantially all of the executive branch spending" in May.

To that end, some agencies have already submitted at least a portion the required data, and developers at a hack-a-thon hosted by Booz Allen Hamilton have already begun to build applications out of the early submissions.

For the lagging agencies, missing the first submission deadline "doesn't absolve them" from future reporting of spending information, Hollister said. "They still have to do it. And we'll put pressure on them, and so will Congress."

So will the White House, apparently.

The commitment from the Office of American Innovation, and from Office of Management and Budget head Mick Mulvaney, are signs of the administration's "strong support," Hollister said.

Treasury Deputy Assistant Secretary for Accounting Policy and Financial Transparency Christina Ho also voiced her agency's commitment to the Data Act, calling it "the most important thing I've done in my 24-year career, in terms of its impact and value."

In November, IGs will begin issuing mandatory, biennial audit reports of their agencies' progress on the Data Act implementation, focusing on "the internal control over the agency financial reporting systems" and the reliability of those reporting systems as a source for information.

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