Tech companies push for more transparent federal data, common identifiers

Technology companies have formed a group to promote standardization and common identifiers in federal data.

Technology companies including Microsoft and Teradata have formed their own group to promote standardization of online federal data and a common legal identifier for companies reporting to the government.

The Data Transparency Coalition is being advised by several prominent open government advocates, including Earl Devaney, former chair of the Recovery Act Transparency and Accountability Board, and Beth Noveck, former US Deputy Chief Technology Officer.

The coalition has issued a statement of objectives and a list of legislative initiatives it supports. Its main goal is to encourage federal agencies to collect and distribute data in consistent, non-proprietary, machine-readable forms. It has 14 members, including a professional society, the Maryland Association of CPAs.

The group also supports the Legal Entity Identifier Proposal sponsored by the Treasury Department’s Office of Financial Research. Under the proposal, companies would have a standard identification code number that would be used by all financial regulatory agencies across different markets and jurisdictions. Currently, federal agencies use a mix of legal entity identifiers, including federal tax ID numbers and the proprietary “DUNS” numbers from Dun & Bradstreet.

The coalition announced its formation as vendors and advocacy groups await the expected release this month of Federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel’s strategy for mobile and digital government. VanRoekel has been a fan of open source platforms, data standardization and Application Programming Interfaces to allow for interaction with data.

The coalition’s goals appear to be similar to those of transparency watchdog groups that have been pressing for open government, open data and bulk downloads of government data in recent months.

“For years, the Sunlight Foundation has pointed to the need for the federal government to innovate the way it publishes public information,” Ellen Miller executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, said in a news release. “There is no way to ensure that federal data is accurate without consistent government‐wide IDs and machine‐readable, nonproprietary formats such as XML (Extensible Markup Language) and XBRL (Extensible Business Reporting Language). We are pleased to see the private sector joining together to support data transparency.”

The business group data coalition said it supports the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA Act) introduced by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va. If it becomes law, it would provide a single online platform for reports by federal grantees, contractors and agencies. It also mandates governmentwide identifier codes and markup languages.

The group also supports the Public Online Information Act, sponsored by Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mt.. Under that proposal, for all regulations and laws that require information to be made available to the public, the information should be distributed online in a machine-readable fashion.

The group also is backing the Financial Industry Transparency Act, also introduced by Issa, that would require consistent markup languages, such as XBRL, for information reported to federal financial regulatory agencies.

“Too often, the federal government doesn’t publish crucial spending details, regulatory filings, corporate disclosures or legislative actions online,” said Hudson Hollister, executive director of the coalition.

“Without data standardization, citizens, members of the media, watchdog groups, and even the federal agencies themselves have no means of searching the information to identify spending patterns or waste,fraud, and abuse,” he added.

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