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Senate Passes Bill Demanding Uniform Coding for Agencies' Spending Data

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va. // J. Scott Applewhite/AP

The Senate passed the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act on Thursday, raising the likelihood the spending transparency measure will become law.

The DATA Act, sponsored by Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, would require agencies to use a uniform coding system for federal spending data so internal auditors and external watchdogs could easily compare how one agency is spending its money versus another.

The bill would also force improvements to the federal spending transparency website USASpending.gov, making it easier for external watchdogs to track and compare how tax dollars are spent across federal agencies.

A similar bill, sponsored by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and ranking member Elijah Cummings, D-Md., passed the House in November.

Warner described the Senate version of the bill in a press release as a bipartisan compromise draft crafted by sponsors and committee chairs in both chambers.

“Our taxpayers deserve to know how their federal funds are spent -- dollar for dollar -- and it is the government’s obligation to share that information in a clear and accessible way,” Warner said following the bill’s passage.

The White House suggested rolling back some of the DATA Act’s transparency language in a document leaked in January, including by removing a requirement that agencies publish spending information using common data standards. Instead the White House suggested agencies use open data practices. That would have ensured spending information was publicly available but not that it was consistent across agencies.

The White House version would also have required agencies to report information quarterly rather than monthly and would have put the White House’s Office of Management and Budget in charge of implementing the new law rather than the Treasury Department.

The suggested changes were criticized by transparency groups, and Warner said he would not water down the bill.

Issa said the bill as it is lays the foundation for a digital revolution in how we govern. “Without accurate, timely, program by program spending data, we will never be able to truly track federal spending, which is the only way we can address the massive amount of waste and fraud in government,” Issa said in a statement. “I applaud the Senate’s action today, and I will work with my House colleagues to send this bipartisan, bicameral compromise to the president’s desk.”

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