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This edition of Data Transparency News reports back from Capitol Hill as members of Congress push the DATA Act at a House Oversight hearing; Treasury's Office of Financial Regulation releases a lackluster "inventory" of regulatory data; the Coalition prepares to engage the Government Accountability and Transparency Board's first-ever public forum; and free tickets to the launch of Joel Gurin's new book on the open data revolution.

Data Transparency News

Snow day at the White House
Members of Congress Push DATA Act at House Oversight Hearing

Senators Tom Carper (D-DE) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) appeared January 9 before a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform addressing the issue of "Waste in Government." The rare testimony of two Senators before the House committee came as their colleagues in the upper chamber are seeking full Senate approval for the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA Act). Sens. Carper and Coburn are the chair and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which unanimously approved the DATA Act in November.

Committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), who has championed the landmark open data legislation in the House, opened the hearing by noting that over one-third of the federal deficit could be eliminated simply by identifying wasteful and fraudulent expenditures. Sen. Carper underlined strong bipartisan support for the DATA Act, which would deliver unprecedented transparency in federal spending. He reiterated his commitment to working with Sen. Coburn, Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), and Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) to move the bill through Senate.

With the political pressures of the 2014 election approaching on the horizon, sources on Capitol Hill expect the bill to be passed soon -- likely via unanimous consent. Sen. Warner is said to be working to bring the Senate's bill as close as possible to the more comprehensive House version, possibly including a data analytics platform to ensure quality.

Sen. Carper testified at the hearing that the White House is supportive of the DATA Act. However, neither President Obama nor his Office of Management and Budget have ever made an official statement on the bill or encouraged the Democratic-controlled Senate to pass it. The Data Transparency Coalition has called on President Obama to speak out publicly for the DATA Act.

"At the end of the day, the President has to ask for reforms to come out rather than asking for reform, but then not actually allowing any of them to come out of the Senate," said Rep. Issa, speaking about the DATA Act's prospects in a recent interview.
Treasury
Treasury's Regulatory "Inventory" Falls Short of Dodd-Frank Mandate

The Treasury Department's Office of Financial Regulation (OFR) released a long-promised "inventory" of financial regulatory data on January 13. The OFR was created by the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, which was signed by President Obama in 2010.

In Section 153 of the Dodd-Frank law, Congress tasked the OFR with "standardizing the types and formats of data reported [to] and collected [by]" financial regulatory agencies. Financial regulators currently use a hodgepodge of incompatible formats to collect information from public companies, exchanges, funds, market participants, and banks. For example, the Securities and Exchange Commission alone uses more than 600 different forms. Since these forms are collected in formats ranging from paper to PDF to data, investors and regulators have no way to properly digest the SEC's public data.

The recently-released "inventory" merely lists various forms collected by the regulators. By failing to describe, or even identify, individual data elements within the forms, the list falls far short of the OFR's legislative mandate to pursue cross-agency data standardization. With years to prepare, the OFR should have been able to define these data elements, map them, and express their relationships to each other.

Only when the data elements are identified, defined, and mapped will overlaps between them become relevant. Only then can the OFR and the regulators begin the task of cross-agency standardization. Standardization will allow the financial industry to report automatically, rather than manually; eliminate confusion and uncertainty; and help the regulators better enforce existing laws by applying analytics.

The Coalition urges Treasury's OFR to publicly release a full inventory if it already exists. If such an inventory simply does not exist, then supporters of data transparency in financial regulation will press the agency for answers about its lack of action on the Dodd-Frank mandate for reform.
Columns
Accountability Board to Hold First-Ever Public Forum on USASpending.gov

On January 22, the Government Accountability and Transparency Board (GATB) will host a public forum on the transparency of federal spending. The forum is the first of its kind since the existing federal spending transparency platform, USASpending.gov, was established by the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act (FFATA) of 2006. The DATA Act would build on FFATA to provide more specific and reliable data about federal expenditures.

The USASpending.gov website has been criticized for its poor data quality and for being limited to grants and contracts, ignoring internal spending. At a panel last month on Capitol Hill, the Sunlight Foundation's Kaitlin Devine described the difficulty of performing meaningful analyses of federal spending with such flawed and incomplete data on the government site. Speaking at the same event, the Coalition's Executive Director, Hudson Hollister added that the site is not even searchable.

Hollister will deliver a presentation at the GATB's public forum, which runs from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm in the auditorium of the GSA National Capital Region's Regional Office Building, located at 301 7th Street SW in Washington. His presentation will focus on how the DATA Act will enhance democratic accountability, improve government management, and harness the power of automated compliance. 
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About Us

The Data Transparency Coalition is the only trade association that advocates open data for the U.S. federal government. The Coalition brings together companies, nonprofit organizations, and individuals to support policies that require federal agencies to publish their data online, using machine-readable, non-proprietary data standards.

Book Launch Tomorrow!

Open Data Now












Join us tomorrow (Wednesday, January 22) for the launch of Joel Gurin's new book, Open Data Now. Special guests from the executive and legislative branches will include Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) and Congressional staffers working to pass the DATA Act. The launch will raise a glass to open data with an open bar starting at 5:30 pm at Sonoma on Capitol Hill. Tickets are free, but they're going fast!
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