White House Finalizes Data Standards For Federal Spending

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The White House announced a final set of federal spending data standards Monday in what it is calling a “key milestone” in its efforts to make government spending data more consistent and transparent.

Nearly four months after releasing the proposed standard data definitions and issuing formal policy guidance to agencies, the Office of Management and Budget said it has reached agreement – along with the Treasury Department – on 57 data standards that will govern how agencies comply with the requirements of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014. Known as the DATA Act, the law requires agencies to make spending data more accessible and transparent. Consistent data elements and structures are central to the government’s ability to comply with the DATA Act.

“By standardizing what is published on USAspending.gov and providing context and a user friendly format, we have taken an important step to provide valuable, usable information on how tax dollars are spent, who they are spent on, and for what purpose,” wrote David Mader, acting deputy director for management at OMB, and David Lebryk, the fiscal assistant secretary at the Treasury Department, in a joint blog posted on the White House web site.

“The power of Federal spending data is only as strong as the utility of that data. Today, with these final data standards, we have made significant progress towards providing clear, high quality information of how taxpayer dollars are spent and a more open and transparent government,” Mader and Lebryk wrote.

But the White House’s efforts to develop the standards has not gone without controversy. When the administration released the proposed data standards for public comment in May, many argued that they lacked specifics. The most controversial of the 57 data standards is the requirement to continue using the proprietary DUNS Number – an identification code that is owned by Dun & Bradstreet – to identify grantees and contractors receiving federal awards.

Hudson Hollister, executive director of the Data Transparency Coalition, applauded the administration’s hard work to date in attempting to modernize federal financial data reporting. But there are aspects of the final standards that remain troublesome, he said.

“Treasury and OMB did, indeed solicit electronic input on all 57 data fields on the GitHub web platform. But it isn’t clear that they took this input into account,” Hollister said in an email to MeriTalk. “Notably, Treasury and OMB chose to adopt the proprietary DUNS Number as the favored, government-wide identifier for recipients of federal funds – even though every GitHub comment said they shouldn’t. It also seems that all the input submitted by stakeholders is no longer public, meaning we’ll need to file a Freedom of Information Act request in order to test claims about engagement.”

The final set of standards can be viewed here.

Dan Verton
About Dan Verton
MeriTalk Executive Editor Dan Verton is a veteran journalist and winner of the First Place Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for Best News Reporting -- the highest award in the nation for business/trade journalism. Dan earned a Master's Degree in Journalism and Public Affairs from American University in Washington, D.C., and has spent the last 20 years in the nation's capital reporting on government, enterprise technology, policy and national cybersecurity. He’s also a former intelligence officer in the United States Marine Corps, has authored three books on cybersecurity, and has testified on critical infrastructure protection before both House and Senate committees.
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