DATA bill introduced

The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act establishes standards for federal spending data published to the USASpending.gov portal.

abstract image of money

A bill to change the way federal government spending data is reported was formally introduced in the House and the Senate on May 21. The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act establishes standards for federal spending data published to the USASpending.gov portal, and requires agencies to report internal spending in addition to awards, grants, and contracts.

The House version was quickly and unanimously approved on May 22 by the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, where it has the strong backing of committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.). Passage in the full House is widely expected. The Senate companion measure was introduced by Sen. Mark Warner (D-Vir.) and Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio).

"The DATA Act will require spending transparency at the program level and will aid our efforts to make smarter investments while reducing improper payments and fraud. This legislation is an example of how Washington is supposed to work -- across the aisle and on both sides of the Capitol," Warner said in a statement.

Congress and private foundations trying to track federal spending have been sharply critical of the quality of the data on USASpending.gov. An analysis of 2011 spending information posted to USASpending.gov by the Sunlight Foundation found more than $1.55 trillion in misidentified federal spending.

The measure is being backed by transparency groups and a coalition of private companies that are looking to provide analytics services based on government financial data, and are seeking uniform standards to streamline the process of acquiring and presenting information. Katherine McFate, president and CEO of the Center for Effective government said, "Passage of the DATA Act would be a good step toward improving the public's ability to tracks federal funds and activities and help citizens better understand how the federal government works."

A very similar measure backed by the same members of Congress passed the House of Representatives in 2012, but was not voted on by the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs committee. According to a Senate staffer, talks are underway to bring the measure before the same committee, now chaired by Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.). Carper is known for his persistence on issues of government spending, including improper payments and program duplication, so it's possible he'll be more likely to seek a vote on the Data Act than his predecessor.

NEXT STORY: Getting government into high gear

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