The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014, or DATA Act, requires the U.S. federal government to transform its spending information into open data.
President Barack Obama signed the DATA Act (Public Law No. 113-101 official text) into law on May 9, 2014. The Data Coalition had campaigned for the passage of the DATA Act ever since its founding in 2012. The DATA Act was structured as an amendment to a previous law, the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 (Public Law No. 109-282 official text).
The DATA Act took two basic steps. First, it required the Treasury Department and the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to establish government-wide data standards for the spending information that agencies report to Treasury, OMB, and the General Services Administration (GSA).
Second, Treasury and OMB must publish this standardized spending data for free access and download.
On May 9, 2017, every agency in the federal executive branch began reporting spending data using the standardized data structure that Treasury and OMB had established. Treasury published the full data set at beta.usaspending.gov.
The DATA Act also sought to standardize the information that recipients of federal funds, such as contractors and grantees, must report to the government. Section 5 of the DATA Act required OMB to run a pilot program to determine whether data standards might relieve compliance costs for recipients. The pilot program ended on May 9, 2017.
Starting May 9, 2017, the DATA Act required all federal agencies to begin reporting their spending information – including linked financial and award data – using a new, government-wide data structure. Under section 4 of FFATA, as added by the DATA Act, the Treasury Department and the White House OMB must establish this government-wide data structure and direct agencies to use it.
The Treasury Department has developed and published this data structure, known as the DATA Act Information Model Schema (DAIMS). Treasury developed the DAIMS on its Federal Spending Transparency GitHub site, allowing agencies and the public to provide input at each stage.
By standardizing their spending information, agencies gain new enterprise-wide visibility into their accounts, obligations, and awards. Meanwhile, inspectors general are able to deploy anti-fraud analytics more cheaply.
Grantees and Contractors
The DATA Act envisions that standardized data elements and formats for the reports submitted to the government by recipients of contracts, grants, and other assistance can allow the recipients to automate compliance using software. This concept is informally called "TurboTax for grants.”
Section 5 of the DATA Act requires OMB to conduct a pilot program to test the use of standardized data elements and formats for recipient reporting. The pilot program ended on May 9, 2017. OMB reported the results of the pilot program to Congress on August 11, 2017. By August 11, 2018, a year after its report to Congress, OMB must decide whether to apply the standardized elements and formats to all reports by contractors, grantees, and other recipients, across the whole government.
OMB appointed the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to run this pilot program for grantees. HHS established a DATA Act Program Management Office to run the program and invited grantees to submit their reports using standardized data. HHS published a data dictionary known as the Central Data Element Repository (CDER) Library that contains thousands of data elements used in grantee reporting. By submitting reports as electronic data using the CDER Library data elements, grantees tested their ability to use software to automate their reporting tasks and reduce their compliance costs.
According to the GAO, OMB failed to follow the requirements of Section 5 for contractor reporting.
Coders And Activists
The DATA Act requires the Treasury Department and OMB to set up a government-wide, nonproprietary data structure for the U.S. government’s spending. Starting on May 9, 2017, every executive-branch agency began reporting spending using this data structure. Treasury published these submissions as a single, unified open data set, available on a new interactive portal and via API.
The data structure for spending is called the DATA Act Information Model Schema (DAIMS). Treasury developed the DAIMS on its Federal Spending Transparency GitHub site, allowing agencies and the public to provide input at each stage.
As a result of the DATA Act, the U.S. federal government is now publishing all executive-branch spending as a single, unified open data set – arguably the single most valuable open data set in the world. The data is available for anyone to download and use – data platform and analysis companies, transparency advocacy groups, news organizations, and the public.
Citizens and Taxpayers
Congress passed the DATA Act of 2014 to provide Americans with a clearer, more complete, and more reliable picture of how taxpayer money is spent.
The DATA Act requires the federal government to expand its spending transparency portal, USASpending.gov, to provide both a broader scope and more detail. Before the DATA Act, USASpending.gov only provided a summary of federal grants (and other assistance awards, like loans) and contracts. It did not cover information spent outside of grants and contracts, such as salaries and direct payments. Moreover, this information was limited to the amount obligated for each award and didn’t show the amounts actually paid.
Beginning on May 9, 2017, every federal agency began reporting standardized spending data covering all of its finances, rather than just grant and contract spending. The Treasury Department published this information on a new, interactive portal, Beta.USASpending.gov.
Many technology companies and organizations are developing new ways to view and interact with federal spending information, now that agencies are reporting more complete data.
Even though the DATA Act became law in 2014, many years of work are ahead for supporters of transforming federal spending from disconnected documents into open data. The Data Coalition is the nation’s preeminent advocate for the full implementation of the DATA Act. You can follow our work by joining our email list, meeting fellow open data supporters by attending and volunteering at Coalition events, and supporting our campaign by becoming a Coalition member.