What's next for spending data?

Officials are continuing to iterate on Data Act reporting, and more granular, standardized government info could be in the offing.

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The standardized language for federal data established to meet Digital Accountability and Transparency Act requirements will have broader benefits, according to federal agency experts at the July 29 Data Act Summit in Washington, D.C.

The Data Act Information Model Schema, the standardization guide for federal financial information, is essential for connecting and consolidating information from disparate systems, and opens the door to a range of other projects that can also use the common tongue.

The Treasury's Deputy Assistant Secretary for Accounting policy, Christina Ho, highlighted the benefits of data standardization as a tool for organization and maintenance at the Summit. She observed that "having a data standard will really help mitigate spending 80 percent of the time on cleaning up data."

The DAIMS now contains more than 400 data elements, and is unique in its cross-functional capability. While many data standards exist in the federal government, Ho pointed out, the DAIMS is the only one that reports across different business functions like budget, accounting, grants, insurance and loans. It's a critical first step that "sets a foundation for more data to be used."

Hudson Hollister, the Data Coalition founder, praised these Treasury and OMB achievements, but said he wants to see more functionality and detail in the future.

He'd like DAIMS to be expanded to include checkbook level payments, which are recorded by agencies and by Treasury, but not included in the Data Act schema. Additionally, he said, the DAIMS "needs to get more sophisticated about grants and contracts." Currently, it only duplicates submissions to the Federal Procurement Data System. "That's rather surface level," Hollister observed. Instead, DAIMS should be upgraded "so that agencies go all the way into their source systems to get grant and contract information."

The uses of data standardization extend far beyond spending analysis, said Amy Haseltine, executive director of the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of IT strategy, Policy and Governance. Granular data on IT finances, the types of systems used and other data pegged to large-scale events, such as Superstorm Sandy and the Ebola outbreak a few years ago, could help government to speed the response to future events, she said.

"Data standardization encourages the exchange of information sharing across an organization," she said.

The standard data format, said Craig Jennings, senior advisor at the federal CIO Council, should also help to improve federal agency cybersecurity stance.

The Data Act's record-keeping requirements also have a security benefit, he said. "You can’t protect it if you don’t know where it is. You'll know what data sets you have and where they are" with the act's reporting requirements.

Acquisition outcomes, Haseltine added, will also be better tracked, and common metrics for future similar acquisitions will become apparent based on those outcomes

Ultimately, the model used for the Data Act could sweep in a host of other federal data, including IT spending information. OMB is in the process of shifting agencies to the Technology Business Management model common in industry, with the goal of getting more granular detail on tech spending and providing the basis for more accurate comparison of IT activities across the federal enterprise.

Speaking at the Data Coalition event, acting federal CIO Margie Graves said that down the road she could envision federal procurement, financial management and other systems feeding off the same data stream.

"That's my vision, that's my hope, that's my nirvana," she said. "It's not going to happen overnight, but I have some really effective partners in the communities of interest that are starting to see what this means, and have been supportive."

FCW executive editor Adam Mazmanian contributed reporting to this story.

NEXT STORY: Is the Data Act proving out?

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