Agencies looking beyond Data Act deadline

The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act’s first submission deadline is a few days away, but agencies are already counting the benefits and looking to future uses.

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The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act's first submission deadline is still five days away, but agencies are already counting the benefits they've seen and looking to future uses.

"The efficiencies we're going to see are going to be monumental," said Michael Peckham, the director of the Data Act Program Management Office at the Department of Health and Human Services.

At a May 4 Association of Government Accountants' CIO/CFO Summit, Peckham said he received an email from the Department of Treasury that "all 24 CFO Act agencies were able to submit something." Data Coalition Executive Director Hudson Hollister confirmed that this included the Department of Defense.

Peckham said that HHS had done its part, submitting $333 billion of spending information on April 29 through the Treasury's Data Act broker. He noted that a "small fractional percent" of HHS's spending information "didn't make it through," but added, "we know why it didn't and know how to explain that."

Peckham said the business process and policy issues within HHS that the Data Act highlighted "makes everything that we've done just well worth it."

Small Business Administration CFO Tim Gribben said that through preparing spending data for submission, his agency discovered "gaps" in financial data and that "some records that we thought were being sent all along… were not being sent" to USASpending.gov.

Gribben, who admitted he initially opposed the Data Act and considered it a "boondoggle," said the law will help SBA inform policy decisions and empirically justify effective programs.

"What are some legislative proposals that we need to make in order to be able to deliver our programs the way that they were originally intended?" he asked. The Data Act, Gribben said, "provides us the data to go back to Congress and say, 'here's why we're asking for these legislative changes.'"

He also praised the Data Act as providing insight into what other agencies are doing, adding that the transparency of spending data will reduce overlap and help agencies fulfill oversight recommendations.

"What we're working on now is taking massive amounts of data, and overlaying it with data that's provided from other government agencies, as well as the private sector," Gribben said.

Peckham said that while there will be immediate gains from the freshly submitted data, he asked for patience from oversight bodies to let agencies adjust to the new requirements.

Hollister, who helped draft the Data Act as an aide to Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), said that "Congress can serve as a partner" to agencies. He urged further communication between the two branches of government, adding, "the reception we're going to get from Congress is that [the first round of submissions] is a fantastic start."

Former Office of Management and Budget Controller Dave Mader told FCW the Data Act can help "turbocharge the move to shared services" offered by other government agencies or the private sector, and can reduce the amount of manual work agencies need to do.

Based on the early returns from preparing for the May submission deadline, Peckham said he'd like to see subsequent transparency efforts go a step further.

While the Data Act calls for standardization within the financial management side, "we don't have all the standard terms that we need… across business lines," he said. "Until we're all speaking the language, we're going to have missing information."

Peckham told FCW he's spoken with HHS secretary Tom Price at a "high level" about the Data Act, and plans to speak with him "more in the weeds" on May 8.

"I believe this really falls in line with his… reimagined HHS," Peckham said.

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