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The DATA Act just passed the Senate. Here’s why that matters.

By Andrea Peterson

April 10, 2014

 

This afternoon, the Senate passed the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, or DATA Act, legislation aimed at shedding light on government spending data. An earlier version of the legislation passed the House in November.  It is expected by supporters on the Hill to easily pass again.

Why does the DATA Act matter? Right now it's difficult for the public to get a full look at government expenditures and make sure the government is being held accountable. And open data advocates argue that when the private sector gets access to government data, it could find new ways to leverage it -- creating new services for consumers and new jobs.

Often, data isn't always available, or when it is, it's not available in formats that can be easily compared.

That's  "pretty unbelievable in this day and age," said sponsor Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) in a speech on the Senate floor about the bill's passage by unanimous consent. The DATA Act would fix that problem by establishing government-wide financial data standards for all federal funds spent by agencies or other entities receiving money. The measure would also centralize where most government financial data will be published online.

"The DATA Act takes a structured data model that has delivered unprecedented accountability in stimulus expenditures and applies it across all domains of federal spending," says Data Transparency Coalition Executive Director Hudson Hollister, who helped draft the initial version of the DATA Act in 2011. "The DATA Act will turn federal spending information into open spending data – a valuable new public resource that strengthens democratic accountability and spurs innovation."

“During a time of record $17 trillion debt, our bipartisan bill will help identify and eliminate wasteful spending by better tracking federal spending," co-sponsor Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio). "I am pleased that our bill to improve federal financial transparency and empower taxpayers to see how their money is spent has passed the Senate, and I urge swift passage in the House of Representatives.”

The version passed by the Senate doesn't set a specific format for the data standard but does require it to be "a widely-accepted, nonproprietary, searchable, platform-independent computer readable format"  and "include unique identifiers for Federal awards and entities receiving Federal awards that can be consistently applied Government-wide."

The final language also requires everything the federal government spends at the appropriations account level to be published on USASpending.gov, with the exception of classified material and information that wouldn't be revealed in response to a Freedom of Information Request. One amendment, added earlier Thursday, gives the Department of Defense the option to request extensions on its implementation of the bill's requirements.

Read More: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2014/04/10/the-data-act-just-passed-the-senate-heres-why-that-matters/

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