A year ago, Congress passed the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014, or the DATA Act. Since then, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Department of the Treasury (Treasury) have engaged with the communities that create and use this data and taken important first steps towards creating a more data driven government, and making federal data more transparent and available to the American people. Today marks the beginning of the next phase of implementation of the DATA Act.
Rolling Out Data Standards
Currently, the Federal Government produces huge amounts of data about how it spends money, but in some cases the same words are used in different ways. These inconsistencies make it difficult to use this data in a comprehensive way. Over a two-year period, starting today, the DATA Act requires Federal agencies to streamline this fragmentation and report Federal funds, broken down into specific categories like how much funding an agency receives from Congress and how much they are spending on specific projects and awards. It also requires agencies to use common government-wide data standards when posting that information to USAspending.gov – standards that aren't currently applied across all agencies for all uses.
Today we are beginning the rollout of 57 data standards. Some are final based on public input we have already received, and others will require additional input as we finalize them this summer. As a result of input from our partners in Congress, industry stakeholders, federal agencies, and taxpayers through feedback on our public GitHub collaboration space, 15 final data standards available today will be used by all agencies for all federal spending data posted on USAspending.gov, the Federal Government’s one-stop shop for spending data. We are also releasing 12 additional proposed data standards and 30 existing data elements that we are in the process of standardizing across the government. Conversation and collaboration with the public has been key to our progress thus far and we encourage you to visit our online collaboration space on GitHub for more information on these proposed standards.
In addition to data standards, we have been testing new formats for exchanging data across the Federal Government. In particular, Treasury’s pilots have demonstrated how we can digitally tag award data through the eXtensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL) format. This process is called the DATA Act Schema and it has been released online and will continue to be refined with public input.
Helping Agencies & the DATA Act Playbook
To ensure the government has the necessary tools to adopt these standards within the two-year timeline, OMB also issued guidance to agencies on Increasing Transparency of Federal Spending by Making Federal Spending Data Accessible, Searchable, and Reliable. And to assist agencies with implementation, Treasury created a DATA Act Playbook with eight key steps that, if followed together, will help agencies leverage existing capabilities to drive implementation of the DATA Act. Treasury will continue to refine the Playbook and will hold meetings and workshops with agencies to provide updates on DATA Act activities, encourage agency collaboration, and share important insights and information.
Finally, leveraging the leadership of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), we have begun a pilot program to test and explore ways to simplify the reporting process for recipients of federal grants. We are approaching this pilot in a non-traditional way, with the goal of using the next two years to identify and test multiple ways to improve. To start, today, we have launched a repository for common data elements and a new section of Grants.gov with information about the grants lifecycle, which will test how data standards can translate to actual time saved in reporting and how to put all information about Federal grants in one place.
While we are pleased with the progress that has been made so far on the DATA Act implementation within existing budgetary resources, this is a complex project with challenges ahead. The FY 2016 Budget proposes $84 million to allow agencies to make progress in implementing the DATA Act and increase Federal spending transparency. With better data, we will make better decisions and ensure that every dollar is well spent.
For more information about our efforts under the DATA Act and how the public can participate, please visit USAspending HERE.
David Mader is the Controller of the Office of Federal Financial Management at the White House Office of Management and Budget.
David Lebryk is the Fiscal Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Treasury.