House Passes Data Transparency and Accountability Act

What it means to be a data-driven organization
January 3, 2014
There is a growing, bipartisan open data movement within the United States government to require federal agencies to use standard, machine-readable formats for reporting. The objective of this movement is to provide the public with easier access to important data. If the proposed DATA Act legislation is passed, it will enhance the transparency of federal spending and federal regulatory filings. It is important for all companies subject to federal regulation to know the latest updates from Capitol Hill about the growing open data movement.

On Nov. 18, 2013, the House of Representatives passed the Data Transparency and Accountability Act (DATA Act) by a 388–1 vote. This landmark transparency bill would require the Treasury Department to create government-wide, machine-readable data standards for the agency's financial reports, payments, budget actions, contract reporting, and grant reporting. This bill would also direct federal agencies to use set data standards and mandate that this information be published online.

Once federal spending data is fully implemented in a standardized, machine-readable format, the DATA Act would be the most significant federal transparency reform since President Johnson signed the Freedom of Information Act in 1967.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee passed companion legislation Nov. 6. However, the Senate version does not retain an important provision from the House bill about accountability. The goal of this provision would be to expand the mandate of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board's Recovery Operations Center. The Recovery Operations Center has used open data analytics to eliminate potential waste and fraud in stimulus spending. Under this provision, it would cover all federal disbursements rather than just stimulus grants and contracts.

The two chambers will need to reconcile the differences between the two bills. Hopefully, the result will be a unified goal that retains the important accountability provision in the House version of the bill. However, the Treasury Department and the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board are not waiting for the two chambers to reconcile the differences and pass a unified bill. On December 5, at a meeting hosted by the Data Transparency Coalition, representatives from the Treasury Department and the Recovery Board vowed to take action on the goals of this landmark open data bill even before it becomes law.

Mike Starr is the Director of Strategic Initiatives at WebFilings. He previously served as the SEC Chief Accountant's advisor and acted as a liaison aimed to improve the quality of accounting and auditing decisions. Prior to his work with the SEC, Mike served as the Chief Operating Officer for Grant Thornton International Ltd., where he oversaw global strategy and public policy.
Mike Starr

About the author

Mike Starr, Vice President, Governmental and Regulatory Affairs, joined the Workiva team in September 2012. Mike previously served as the SEC Chief Accountant's advisor with a focus on investors’ financial information needs and the role of structured data in meeting those needs. Prior to his work with the SEC, Mike served as Chief Operating Officer for Grant Thornton International Ltd., where he oversaw global strategy and public policy. He earned a Bachelor of Science in accounting from Oklahoma State University (OSU), and in 2010 was recognized as an OSU distinguished accounting alumnus and inducted into the School of Accounting Hall of Fame.