On Friday evening, while most of Washington was starting their weekend, President Obama quietly signed the DATA Act into law.
The DATA Act is arguably the first open data bill to become the law of the United States. It will bring transparency and accountability to federal spending information by ensuring that agencies use a common set of data standards and putting accurate, timely information online for public consumption. It was passed without objection by both the House and the Senate, proving that financial data transparency is a non-partisan issue.
President Obama himself has been a champion of federal financial transparency in the past, acting as a driving force behind the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 (FFATA). Given that, as well as his continued support for strong open data programs, we expected a bit more fanfare from the White House. Instead, all we got was this bland statement from the Press Secretary:
"Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014" or the "DATA Act," which amends the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 to make publicly available specific classes of Federal agency spending data, with more specificity and at a deeper level than is currently reported; require agencies to report this data on USASpending.gov; create Government-wide standards for financial data; apply to all agencies various accounting approaches developed by the Recovery Act's Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board; and streamline agency reporting requirements.
We have written before that passage of the DATA Act was merely the first step towards truly transforming federal spending information. Successfully implementing the bill is key, and the OMB — one of two offices given power under the DATA Act — has not seemed particularly interested in doing so.
We were hopeful that the White House would recognize the excitement from civil society, the private sector, various offices in the federal government, and Congress and and throw some of its energy behind the DATA Act. Without passionate backing from the White House, this important legislation could easily wither and die during the implementation process.