The House just voted to restrict open data at the SEC — what’s next?

Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., the lawmaker who sponsored H.R. 37. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Sunlight Foundation has been monitoring the progress of H.R. 37 (H.R. 5405 in the last Congress) for a while now. The bill, dubbed “The Promoting Job Creation and Reducing Small Business Burdens Act,” includes a provision that would exempt more than half of public companies from reporting their financial statements as open data to the SEC.

Last week the House tried to pass the bill “under suspension of the rules,” a move normally reserved for non-controversial bills. Aside from restricting open data, H.R. 37 makes a variety of changes to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, guaranteeing that it is perceived as controversial.

The bill failed to garner the two-thirds majority necessary to pass under suspension, but yesterday it came back up pursuant to a rule — and passed with a regular majority.

Despite efforts by Reps. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., Jared Polis, D-Colo., and Keith Ellison, D-Minn., to remove the open data restrictions via an amendment, they were ultimately included in the House-passed bill.

The bill is now heading to the Senate. We expect a full debate, including a robust discussion of the language restricting open data at the SEC. Proponents of the move are frustrated that current efforts to modernize the collection and dissemination of data at the SEC have not been up to snuff. We hope that, rather than requiring the SEC to move back into the days of dusty filing cabinets, they can be convinced to help the commission improve its open data offerings.

President Obama has threatened to veto the bill if it passes the Senate, citing some of the changes that it makes to Dodd-Frank. This would mark a temporary win for open data, but in the long run we hope that both Congress and the executive branch will come together to ensure that open data not only exists at the SEC, but is as robust and useful as possible.