The DATA Act: Vision & Value is the first-ever in-depth research paper on the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 (DATA Act). MorganFranklin co-published the paper with the Data Foundation, the nation’s first industry-focused open data research organization. The DATA Act: Vision & Value describes the law’s history and mandates, surveys its benefits, and outlines the challenges it faces.
What Is the DATA Act? The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 (DATA Act) seeks to transform how spending for the largest, most complex organization in human history—the U.S. federal government—is collected, tracked, and used. First introduced in June 2011 by Rep. Darrell Issa and Sen. Mark Warner, the DATA Act was passed unanimously by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama on May 9, 2014.
The DATA Act sets the government on an aggressive schedule to accomplish two basic tasks: first, apply standard data elements and a government-wide data format to all federal spending information and, second, publish all spending information as a unified open data set.
By applying government-wide data standards to all federal spending information and publishing it as open data, Issa and Warner hoped to make such information electronically searchable and useful for citizens, agencies, government watchdogs, and recipients of federal funds. Issa and Warner also wanted to find a way to help recipients automate their grant and contract reporting.
How Does the DATA Act Work? The DATA Act amends the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 (FFATA), which required the federal government to set up the first spending data portal, USASpending.gov publishes details on every grant and contract award. The DATA Act requires the government to expand this portal to publish non-award spending as well.
The DATA Act directed the Treasury Department and the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to establish, by May 9, 2015, standard data elements and a government-wide format for all federal spending information. Agencies must begin reporting their financial and award data using this data structure by May 9, 2017. To test the potential of data standards to allow recipients of grants and contracts to automate their compliance tasks, the DATA Act directs OMB to conduct a pilot program, in which recipients are invited to submit their reports electronically. The pilot program must end by May 9, 2017, at which point OMB must decide whether to impose data standards across all grant and contract reporting.
Who Benefits From the DATA Act? The American people will benefit from the DATA Act through clear views of how their government is spending their tax dollars. Agencies will benefit from new enterprise-wide views of their own spending and from matching spending to performance on a program-by-program level. Watchdogs—inspectors general, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), and Congress—will derive new insights into spending patterns and deploy government-wide data analytics to fight fraud, waste, and abuse. In addition, recipients will benefit from additional insights into competition for grants and contracts and automated, simpler approaches to compliance with reporting requirements.
Why Does the DATA Act Matter? Through open data, the DATA Act promises to automate many tasks that are manual today, such as tracking federal spending through the life cycle, analyzing program spending across all of an agency’s divisions, uncovering fraudsters, and reporting on grants. The DATA Act means increased accountability, better performance, and more efficiency. These changes are good for Americans, their government, and their society.