As the DATA Act goes up for markup in Senate, will its Recovery.gov model survive?

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There will be a markup for the DATA Act (S.994) in U.S. Senate today. The bill, which passed the House, would standardize federal spending and publish it in a similar way as the Recovery Act, which proved to be a successful test case for open data. A proposed amendment to the DATA Act, however, is facing opposition from the same good government groups that supported its passage in the House of Representatives.

Update: The DATA Act passed markup with the amendment.

The amendment, which removes the “accountability platform” from the legislation, faced criticism from the author of the original bill, Hudson Hollister. Hollister emailed the following comment to Federal News Radio:

“Without the accountability platform, there will be no mechanism for inspectors general to use the newly-standardized federal spending data, combined with public and private data sources, to suss out waste and fraud. If the final version of the bill fails to expand the Recovery Operations Center to cover all federal spending, taxpayers’ interests will be hurt in two ways. First, waste and fraud that could have been illuminated and eliminated will go undetected. Second — and perhaps more important — without any internal government effort to use the newly-standardized spending data for any purpose, there will be no internal pressure to improve the quality of data published on USASpending.gov. We recognize that the accountability platform was removed in order to reduce the bill’s Congressional Budget Office score. We hope that an offset large enough to restore those provisions can be included in the bill at a later stage.”

A coalition of good government groups are calling for the the DATA Act to be passed as introduced, not “as amended,” submitting a letter to the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee to that effect. (Below.)

DATA Act – Letter of Support to Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee – 11-05-2013

Prospects for the DATA Act’s passage in the Senate do appear improved over last year, where it foundered in committee, but the form it will emerge from today’s markup in is unclear.

Hollister is warning that the removal of the requirement for a data analytics platform from the bill, modeled on Recovery.gov, would be a mistake and lead to same kinds of data quality issues that exist at the SEC.

Citing a study from Columbia Business School which evaluates the state and future of interactive data at the SEC, Hollister says the platform is a key tool for government inspectors general to examine spending data, which then creates an internal incentive to correct errors. Given the reality that “armchair auditors” have yet to emerge in the United Kingdom to look at similar data, improving the capacity of the IGs to find fraud, waste and abuse is critical.

In advocating for retention of the platform (the “accountability hub”), Hollister suggested that its estimated $20 million dollar cost will be more than balanced by the amount of fraud detected.

“Open data is no good unless it’s accurate,” writes Hollister. “The SEC’s experience shows that the only way to generate internal pressure for accurate spending data will be if the federal government is actively using that data.”

One thought on “As the DATA Act goes up for markup in Senate, will its Recovery.gov model survive?

  1. Pingback: DATA Act passes U.S. House of Representatives, 388-1 | E Pluribus Unum

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