Two authors of the legislation that requires federal agencies to standardize and publish spending information say more work needs to be done to make sure the law doesn’t fall by the wayside when the next administration takes over.
Both men, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said that while they have been happy with the way the initial phases of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act have been put into effect, they hope the next president’s priorities don’t deflect away from the work that is still to be completed.
The two lawmakers spoke Thursday at an event held by the Data Coalition, an open data advocacy group.
The DATA Act requires agencies to make their financial, budget, payment, grant and contract data interoperable and machine-readable when published to USASpending.gov, the federal government’s hub of publicly available financial data, by May 9, 2017.
Issa said agencies’ leadership should be figuring out which career officials they can rely upon to convey to their successors that the DATA Act should not be tossed aside by political appointees who are “following the political whims of the next administration.”
“It’s a tool that’s going to allow the next president to be more successful, but only if someone walks in and says [to a new political appointee] ‘We’re on our way to giving you dramatically better information, Congress is behind it and it’s being funded, and this needs to be one of your highest priorities,’ ” Issa said.
He added that without director-level buy in, he would expect to “look five years from now to start the DATA Act II, that says ‘no, we really need this.’”
Warner said he would like to see the Obama administration lay out a governance structure and an inventory of all government programs. Legislation dedicated to the latter was introduced Thursday by Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc. as part of a greater bill: The Badger Washington Act would require the Office of Management and Budget to create a federal program inventory, among other things.
“I get the fact that almost regardless of any administration, that no matter what they say, full transparency isn’t the highest priority,” he said. “I think with some appropriate nudging, Treasury and OMB have come together. We have to keep this going from one administration to the next.”
In April, Warner issued a letter to more than 35 federal agencies asking if they are on time with the law’s deadlines, how much they have spent on the fulfilling the law’s mandates and what budgetary or other resources would be needed to close any remaining gaps. He said on Thursday that 21 have responded, with a good portion asking for more funds to complete the project.
Issa said that while laws like the DATA Act and the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act provide transparency for the public, he also sees them as a vital tool for giving government officials access to information that often took vast amounts of time and resources to uncover.
“Now there’s a point of accountability that’s qualified and has the ability to stop spending the money, or come in and say why the program is off the rails,” Issa said. “It wasn’t that way when President Obama came into office and unless we implement that important change, we won’t have it implemented for the next president.”
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