H.R. 37 — a bill that would exempt more than half of public companies from reporting their financial statements as open data — roared back and passed the House. Will it become law?Continue reading
A bill that's up for a vote would exempt more than half of public companies in the U.S. from reporting their financial statements as open data.Continue reading
Last night the House of Representatives passed H.R. 5405 which, among other things, would exempt more than half of public companies in the U.S. from reporting their financial statements as open data.Continue reading
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the guest blogger and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not reflect the opinions of the Sunlight Foundation or any employee thereof. Sunlight Foundation is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information within the guest blog.
Luke Rosiak is a former Sunlight Foundation reporter and database analyst who now writes for the Washington Examiner. This post addresses the tooling around Extensible Business Reporting Language and provides recommendations on what needs to be done. You can reach Luke on Twitter at @lukerosiak.
In the early 1990s, long before most federal agencies had embraced the digital era, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) undertook a truly “big data” initiative that showcased some of the best that open data had to offer: Its quarterly reports were uploaded in real time, in text, rather than PDF, format, to a public FTP server called EDGAR. (File Transfer Protocol or FTP is a standard network protocol used to copy a file from one host to another over a network.)
Like with the Federal Election Commission, the companies submitted their own reports, but they immediately entered the public record, and it was the government who required the submissions, dictated the forms and made them available.
EDGAR, which was implemented in part by Sunlight Foundation supporter Carl Malamud, revolutionized a massive industry of financial watchers who used the reports to decide what companies to invest in--and which to dump. Firms like Bloomberg and Reuters processed the text files into structured data, and analysts pored over them.
And before long, the SEC was pushing the ball even further, with talk of XBRL or Extensible Business Reporting Language. After all, financial information was almost entirely numbers-based, lending itself to computer analysis, and was fairly structured, with accountants all using a core of the same carefully-defined terms--though Wall Street accounting is too complex to fit in simple columns and rows, necessitating nested structures and the ability to dynamically define new terms.
The X in XBRL was a double-edged sword there. XBRL’s power, advocates said, was derived from its flexibility. It was a unified language that could express financial ideas whether the company was trading goats in Ethiopia or derivatives in Manhattan. To provide that kind of flexibility, it allowed accountants to define their own terms in financial documents, extending from a base of agreed-upon terms, in America called the US-GAAP.
But the US-GAAP itself had thousands of terms, and accountants who were accustomed to filing paper reports never bothered to learn its structure. Lazy filers created their own custom terms when buried somewhere in the GAAP, there was already a universal term that meant the same thing. That defeated the purpose of structured reporting, because it made comparing across companies impossible.Continue reading