DATA Act: Improving Insight into Federal Spending

Posted by Angie Petty on March 13, 2018

The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA), passed in 2014, promises to lend visibility into the world of federal spending by linking agency expenditures to federal programs, establishing government-wide financial data standards, and providing consistent, reliable, and searchable government-wide spending data on http://www.usaspending.gov.

For the past three years, OMB and Treasury have been working implement the DATA Act and provide the public with new, useful federal spending data. Agencies began submitting data to Treasury in May 2017 using the DATA Act Information Model Schema (DAIMS). Under the act, agencies are required to submit spending information quarterly to be published on USASpending.gov.

As part of the DATA Act, Treasury took over management of USAspending.gov and has been improving its functionality.  The site describes its mission as

“to show the American public what the federal government spends every year and how it spends the money. You can follow the money from the Congressional appropriations to the federal agencies and down to local communities and businesses.”

The site now contains enough data to begin to do new kinds of analyses intended under the DATA Act.  Treasury plans to add new functionality and features over time.  The site states, “We will continue to improve the data quality and display on a rolling basis.”

The site currently offers several avenues for exploring federal spending data: Spending Explorer, Awards Search, Profiles, and Downloads. The Explorer menu allows the user to access spending data by budget function, agency or object class. The Award Search offers numerous filters such as time period, agency, recipient, product service code and extent competed.  Results can be viewed via table, map or timeframe. The Profiles function accesses the data via an agency or federal account view.  

In February of this year, Treasury and the Center for Open Data Enterprise co-hosted a Roundtable on Innovating with Federal Spending Data in order to “identify new applications of federal spending data and develop recommendations for increasing its use and impact.” The Roundtable brought together over 50 experts from government, business, nonprofit organizations, and academia.

The Center for Open Data Enterprise recently released the Key Takeaways from this event which are summarized below:

Applications for Federal Spending Data:

  • Improving government operations and evidence-based policymaking
  • Creating opportunities for federal grant recipients
  • Developing new business insights
  • Supporting academic and policy research
  • Increasing transparency and accountability

Recommendations for Increasing Use and Impact:

  • Link performance data with federal spending data
  • Share analytics from USAspending.gov with federal agencies
  • Add contextual information and guidance for using federal spending data

Build on Treasury’s current efforts to

  • Make federal spending data more discoverable and interoperable
  • Improve data quality
  • Engage stakeholders

In November 2017, GAO released the findings from its first review of the quality of the data collected under the DATA Act and made available via the beta USAspending.gov website. GAO identified issues and challenges with the completeness and accuracy of the data submitted, use of data elements, and presentation of the data on Beta.USAspending.gov.  GAO recommended that OMB continue to provide ongoing technical assistance to agencies and, clarify and align existing guidance regarding data element definitions for agencies.  GAO recommended that Treasury assure that the processes for determining whether agencies are submitting spending, and whether the data is complete and accurate, are in place and operating as designed. Also GAO recommended that Treasury disclose known data quality issues and limitations on USAspending.gov, and make known data limitations found in Senior Accountable Officials’ (SAO) certifications more accessible and evident to users.

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