Dec 05 2013

DATA Act Could Redefine Federal Data Standards and Systems

It’s time for transparency when it comes to federal spending.

The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, also know as the DATA Act, is poised to provide unprecedented insight into federal spending. The bill, which was recently passed in the House and now moves to the Senate for consideration, would standardize the collection of federal spending data. Here’s a look at some of the problems this bill could solve.

Putting an End to Data Silos

Currently, federal spending data is fragmented across government agencies with inconsistent standards, processes, formats and deadlines, eliminating any possibility of checking for accuracy or aggregating spending.

Government buyers lack access to pricing and performance data, while private-sector contractors cannot be held accountable for their work. Grant recipients struggle to meet differing compliance requirements, while federal agencies attempt to reconcile incompatible data.

The DATA Act would change this with the introduction of data standards. It would apply standards adopted by the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board across all federal spending.Once standardized, spending data could be aggregated, reconciled and published.

Internal auditors and external watchdogs would have access not only to external spending, as reported on, but also to internal expenditures, such as salaries, supplies and facilities. It would make waste, fraud and abuse easier than ever to expose and would allow for the awarding of funds based on performance, making sure the most effective recipients and projects get the money they need to succeed.

The Rise of Machine-Readable Data

The DATA Act also presents the promise of compliance automation and funding management efficiencies through machine-readable data (i.e., data points with unique identifiers that could be aggregated, verified and analyzed with minimal human effort).

Once these initial systems are in place, machine-readable data could save considerable time and expense from a reporting perspective, both for government agencies and for the grant manager. The Grants Reporting Information Project pilot study has already proved that central reporting, including a common machine-readable format and pre-population of data, is possible.

However, the DATA Act also introduces new compliance hurdles and stricter reporting requirements for both recipients and grantors of federal dollars. Funds will need to be tied to performance, and the demand for return on investment will be heightened.

Preparing for Transparency

In preparation for impending open-data reforms, government IT professionals need to adopt the documentation, data structure and internal controls that will enable their organization to collect and report on stricter data requirements as well as establish a framework for managing performance-based funding distribution.

For government agencies responsible for grant distribution, grant-management technology can help centralize grant-management-related activities, tasks, data and supporting documentation so that it is easily searchable and able to be reported on in an efficient manner. On average, this could save organizations 72 percent in administrative time and help to ensure compliance with audits and evaluations.