The federal government opened its books to the public decades ago – now it wants to make them easier to read. The devil, however, is in the details of implementation.
The House of Representatives this week passed a measure known as the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, sending the bill to the White House, where President Obama is expected to sign the legislation into law.
The 22-page bill aims to standardize financial data reporting requirements on expenditures across all federal agencies and make those figures more accessible to both policymakers and the public. The Treasury Department will be tasked with establishing uniform financial data standards for all government agencies.
The measure will expand the amount and kinds of data already found on the website USASpending.gov, which lists spending related to federal contracts, grants and loans. Included in the new data will be detailed descriptions of how recipients spend federal dollars, as opposed to only describing the amounts awarded by the government.
Additionally, the Office of Management and Budget will be required to implement a two-year pilot program aimed at helping federal contractors and grant recipients meet reporting requirements.
“We have not yet broken the code for how we get to expenditure data on grants and contracts,” said Richard Ginman, director of defense procurement and acquisition policy at the Defense Department and chairman of the Government Accountability and Transparency Board, according to FCW.
An analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that implementation of the law will cost $300 million through 2018.
The challenge will be standardizing reporting methods across all agencies, some of which have different procedures within their own ranks. During congressional consideration of the bill, the White House proposed a different reporting method, one that would make more data publicly available but not in a manner allowing for an apples-to-apples comparison. The approach was rejected by lawmakers.
The law is considered an important first step in reducing unnecessary government spending because it will shine a light on how federal dollars are spent. The next step will require taking action against those misusing taxpayer funds.
“Addressing rampant waste and fraud in government starts with making publicly accessible, structured information available online for everyone – taxpayers and watchdogs alike,” Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said in an April 28 statement. “The DATA Act is a win for good government, moving the federal bureaucracy into the digital age and setting the stage for real accountability.”
The measure received broad bipartisan support in Congress, as well as no public opposition from advocacy groups. Forty-four organizations support the legislation, and none spoke out against it, according to MapLight, a nonprofit that tracks the influence of money in politics. Bill supporters include accounting associations and government watchdog groups.
“I am pleased to support this landmark bill that will make fundamental changes to the way the government shares information about its spending,” Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said in a statement. “By making government spending more transparent, we will reduce wasteful spending and make the government more effective and efficient.”
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