While the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act will open spending data for the public, watchdogs inside the federal government are making sure they can also benefit from the law once it’s put into effect.
At an event Wednesday held by the Data Transparency Coalition, Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency Chairman Michael Horowitz said inspectors general are keeping an eye on how the DATA Act is evolving. Horowitz, who also serves as the IG for the Justice Department, said the transparency into spending data will become a vital tool moving forward.
Inspectors general “stand for transparency, that’s what the DATA Act is all about,” Horowitz said. “The best way to improve government programs is to obtain, use and provide data so that we can assess how effective government programs are.”
While agencies do not have to be fully compliant with the DATA Act until May 9, 2017, IGs have started to put tools in place that will allow them to proceed quickly once the spending data is available. Horowitz said the council has already created a working group to share best practices, which formed a library of open source tools that will help IG offices make sense of the data. The council has also stood up an information-sharing website on the White House’s Office of Management and Budget’s MAX.gov platform, which will host a consolidated database of federal data sources.
“It’s very important for us as an IG community to work together, to pool our resources to understand how we best accomplish the goals that we are looking to accomplish in the implementation of the DATA Act,” he said.
Horowitz said the DATA Act is crucial for the government because the ability to find accurate, reliable data has been “a management challenge.” He pointed to a past example of where data failed the Justice Department: His office found that data used in 2012 to commend the department’s efforts in combating mortgage fraud were extensively wrong, due to faulty data collected by the FBI.
Horowitz said other challenges will need to be addressed before the act becomes permanent. He points to a provision in the act that says department IG offices need to prepare a report on how their agencies are adapting to the act’s provisions by November 2016, although agencies are not required to be fully compliant until May 2017.
Agencies also need to figure out how inspectors are going to validate and test the integrity of the data that is given to the Treasury Department, along with how often and by what means the data will be provided.
Challenges aside, Horowitz was positive about what the DATA Act means for agencies in the future. Horowitz is certain that the DATA Act will make government more financially prudent.
“We hope the tools given to IGs through the DATA Act, if implemented wisely, correctly and properly, will make it easier for us to do the kinds of jobs we do day in and day out,” he said.