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The DATA Act of 2011: Rep. Issa Introduces Major Federal Spending Transparency Legislation

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This morning, Rep. Darrell Issa introduced a major transparency bill that would transform how we track federal spending and identify waste, fraud, and abuse. The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2011 would establish an independent body to track all federal spending on a single website and require the the use of consistent government-wide data standards.

The DATA Act would build upon the successes of USASpending.gov and the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board -- the independent body that reports upon recovery spending -- by creating a board responsible for publishing and monitoring all federal spending, to be known as the Federal Accountability and Spending Transparency Board. The FAST Board would oversee a successor website to USASpending.gov, which currently tracks all federal spending, but contains nearly $1.3 trillion in spending discrepancies that we identified as part of our Clearspending project.

While the creation of the FAST Board will garner the lion’s share of attention, the effort to create government-wide financial data reporting standards should not be overlooked. It will have a tremendous effect on public participation and oversight by empowering the American people to look at the data themselves. Indeed, Sunlight supports legislation, the Public Online Information Act, that promotes the creation of government-wide data standards and sets up an entity with similar responsibilities.

The White House is at least partially in agreement with this new transparency effort. This morning’s Washington Post reported that President Obama will sign an executive order today that will put Vice President Biden in charge of an 11-member oversight board -- very similar to the RAT Board -- to address federal agency waste and fraud. We won’t know until the EO is released whether the president will seek to modernize agency reporting methods by improving data standards as well. UPDATE: here's the EO.

Our executive director Ellen Miller will be testifying tomorrow on federal financial transparency before the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which Rep. Issa chairs. While we are still looking at the details of the DATA Act he introduced today, its broad outlines make a lot of sense. Agencies need to be motivated to fix their reporting systems and follow common reporting methods. And there's new funding to support this particular government transparency effort, an ongoing issue that I wrote about here as part of the #savethedata campaign. There’s a lot more to come.

Here’s the legislation.

The DATA Act