DATA Act: from OGR to HSGAC, or how I learned to love the budget (and you can too)

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On Wednesday, legislation to bring federal spending information into the daylight was favorably reported by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The DATA Act, which would improve and expand public reporting of federal spending information, has lost a few of its bells and whistles since it passed the House last Congress, but likely  gained the ability to move in the Senate.

The House version, introduced by Reps. Darrell Issa and Elijah Cummings, now more closely mirrors a Senate counterpart introduced by Sens. Mark Warner and Bob Portman. This bi-partisan bi-cameral effort bodes well for its future.

As we’ve written before, only congressional pressure can drive real spending reforms, at least these days, and the mere threat of the DATA Act has encouraged the administration to start to pay lip service towards spending transparency. But it’s not enough. Information on grants obligations is still unusable three years after we began highlighting its deficiencies, even with some congressional prodding. It’s time to go to the next level.

The DATA Act will bring more datasets online, including actual spending information, so we can verify whether the reporting is accurate. It will require the use of consistent identifiers, so we can compare apples to apples. And it will empower the creation of standards so that everyone reports what they’ve got,  and we’re all on the same page.

While the legislation is not a panacea, it goes a long way towards empowering all of us to truly follow the money, including many government officials who are often left in the dark. It’s probably the biggest bite of the apple we can hope for at the moment, while laying the groundwork for further improvements. Our friends at POGO have identified 10 questions that USASpending.gov cannot answer … and we hope that the DATA Act will help the government finally get a passing grade.

As the legislation has previously passed the House, it seems likely to pass again, much to the House’s credit. We can expect to see real fireworks in the Senate.

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