The delicate, deliberate delivery of the DATA Act

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Rolling out the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act won’t be easy, federal officials cautioned Wednesday.

Karen Lee, branch chief in the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Financial Management, said the DATA Act will shift how the majority of agencies conduct business.

“Everyone in the federal government knows that data is important,” Lee said during an event held by the Data Transparency Coalition. “There are levels of data that are used to drive programs and their decision-making, but what we’re talking about here is institutionalizing that culture so that it’s replicated over and over again.”

In May, OMB and Treasury unveiled 57 standards, a guidance and an abbreviated DATA Act Playbook to help agencies adhere to the DATA Act. The legislation requires agencies to make their financial, budget, payment, grant and contract data interoperable when published to USASpending.gov, the federal government’s hub of publicly available financial data, by May 9, 2017.

OMB and Treasury, along with General Services Administration and the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, are setting benchmarks to help agencies hit that deadline.

Lee and Christina Ho, the Treasury Department’s deputy assistant secretary for financial transparency, said the feedback from the public and federal agencies has shaped what was unveiled in May — as well as plans for future updates.

“To make sure that those standards work as our economies evolve, we are going to have to set up a mechanism to maintain, improve, add to and take away data elements as our use of that data changes,” Lee said.

OMB has released 15 data standards on the DATA Act GitHub page, with plans to open up 30 more for public comment in the coming months. Ho said they are also working with agencies on how to put the baseline schema into effect at every agency.

“We really want agencies to embrace vision and the value of this approach,” Ho said.

Much of that vision is coming from a two-year test pilot at the Department of Health and Human Services. Lee said the government is already gaining insights, including how to make it easier to report information tied to federal grant money.

“We are great at setting standards, but the work does not stop there,” Lee said. “We know there are lots of ways burden happens. We ask recipients too many times for the same information. We ask recipient and applicants for information in slightly different ways depending on who they talk to. There are a ton of opportunities on eliminating redundancies and how to reduce burden.”

It’s opportunities like this, Lee said, that OMB and Treasury are working to identify to find solutions that have a “beneficial, significant and immediate impact,” similar to how people should learn how to create a healthy diet or workout regimen in order to function properly.

“Intellectually, just like eating broccoli or working out, we know this that is data is good,” Lee said. “But how do we make this part of our work across sectors? Everything in this playbook is marching us toward that goal.”

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Agencies, DATA Act, data analytics, Departments, Office of Management and Budget (OMB), open data, Tech, Treasury Department
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