Where digital services fails, lawmakers devoted to the DATA Act

Legislators came out strongly in favor of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA Act) in the 2017 spending bills.

While Congress has remained basically unaccommodating in funding digital services, lawmakers came out strongly in favor of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA Act). No surprise since Congress actually passed this bill versus digital services being an administration request.

But what’s ironic is how the two initiatives work closely together. Data runs so much of the design and understanding of what citizens want and how agencies can improve services.

As you may remember, Congress passed and the President signed the DATA Act into law in 2014. It requires agencies to standardize the way the government shares its spending information, making it more transparent to other agencies and to the public. The Office of Management and Budget and the Treasury Department are spearheading the full implementation of the law, set for May 2017.

So for the final nine months of the effort, lawmakers are putting its money where its mouth is for several agencies, including the Agriculture Department ($2 million), the Defense Department ($2.8 million), the Energy Department ($3 million) and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission ($543,000).

It’s not a surprise that the Treasury Department’s Fiscal service would receive $10 million, based on its role in leading the law’s implementation across government.

But it’s not all happiness in DATA Act land.

Lawmakers took OMB to task for its DATA Act oversight efforts.

In the House report to the Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill, lawmakers wrote they are “concerned that OMB has not adequately prioritized DATA Act implementation. The committee directs OMB to ensure agency compliance of the data-centric approach to federal financial reporting and fully standardized automated agency data submissions. The committee includes funding for activities associated with DATA Act implementation and expects OMB to keep the committee informed on its DATA implementation efforts.”

Other agencies weren’t so fortunate to get DATA Act funding support. In the White House’s Statement of Administration Policy, it said it urges lawmakers to provide DATA Act funding to the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as the departments of Housing and Urban Development and Transportation. Both chambers rejected DoT’s request of $4 million for the DATA Act.

Like with digital services, without funding agencies will find a way to make the DATA Act work. It will take longer and departments will face more potential and real challenges, of course, but that is no different many of the mandates that come without real funding.

The inconsistent funding approach also creates a “haves” versus a “have nots” so maybe there is a way for OMB to merge all funding through the use of a Clinger-Cohen letter and share the wealth across the government?

Just a thought to harken back to the days of e-government when Congress didn’t fund a similar citizen-focused, transparency mandate.

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