The DATA Act: The Road to Federal Funding and Spending Transparency

Published: October 01, 2014

Business SystemsOMBPolicy and LegislationTREAS

The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA) promises to lend visibility into the world of federal finances, and as such has received a good deal of attention since it was signed into law four months ago.

The purpose of the act is to  

  • Disclose direct federal agency expenditures and link federal contract, loan, and grant spending information to federal programs to enable taxpayers and policy makers to track federal spending more effectively.
  • Establish government-wide data standards for financial data and provide consistent, reliable, and searchable government-wide spending data that is displayed accurately for taxpayers and policy makers on  
  • Simplify reporting for entities receiving federal funds by streamlining reporting requirements and reducing compliance costs while improving transparency. 
  • Improve the quality of data submitted to by holding federal agencies accountable for the completeness and accuracy of the data submitted.
  • Apply approaches developed by the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board to spending across the federal government.

Work has already begun to meet the seven year implementation timeline.   OMB and Treasury are tasked with delivering data standards by May 2015.   Agencies are to start submitting data that meets the new standards before May 2017. 

The DATA Act is different from other transparency laws in that oversight is baked into implementation requirements.  The Act calls for agency Inspectors General, in conjunction with GAO, to audit samples of spending data submitted to to test for quality, timeliness, completeness and accuracy and to report findings to Congress three times over the next six years.  The first IG reports are due to Congress in November 2016.

On September 26th, Treasury released an RFI for the best data exchange standards implemented across the government or in the private sector.  Treasury and OMB are also creating a 12 to 36 month implementation roadmap. 

At a Data Transparency 2014 event in DC earlier this week, Dave Mader the controller of OMB said, "This will be a very iterative approach and we will rely on lessons learned, and we also will look at opportunities to experiment because we don't want to do, nor does anyone have the resources to build the world's biggest database. We believe that technology and data, and data analytics will allow us to create a very innovative approach for how to implement the next iteration of spending that's transparent to taxpayers."

Contractors will be affected by requirements to report data as a recipient of federal funds.  Also, opportunities will likely arise to assist with implementation of the act in the way of technology solutions for data entry, storage, retrieval, analysis and display.