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Are Agencies Drowning in Data Mandates?

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Federal agencies might be struggling to keep up with several concurrent mandates to make public, and to standardize the format of, their data. 

Earlier this month, a group of lawmakers announced efforts to make all federal data sets open to the public, under forthcoming legislation known as the Open, Public, Electronic and Necessary Government Data Act, or the OPEN Government DATA Act

But during a recent House oversight committee hearing, an official from the Office of Management and Budget said agencies might miss their deadline to implement another mandate requiring them to make spending public by May 2017: the Digital Accountability and Transparency, or DATA Act.

The 24 federal groups required to comply still must update their financial management systems before they can do so, OMB Controller David Mader said during the hearing. 

These mandates join a host of others, including the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006, which required OMB to record federal awards larger than $25,000 on USASpending.gov and on which the DATA Act expanded, and the Evidence-Based Policymaking Commission Act of 2016, which would create a commission to study how to use data in evaluating federal programs, among others. 

"Not only are agencies trying to implement the standardization, they are also ... trying to upgrade their systems," Vijay D'Souza, director of the Government Accountability Office's Center for Enhanced Analytics, said during a Data Coalition breakfast in Crystal City, Virginia. This is "partly so they can standardize data, [and] partly because those systems are so antiquated that we would have to do that regardless of the standardization."

"To that extent, departments are feeling stressed and taxed a bit," D'Souza said, asked whether federal agencies felt overwhelmed by these mandates. He added: "As long as the resources are put behind it, that will be key. Without the resources, yes, everyone would feel taxed."

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