The Office of Management and Budget is trying to make federal spending data easier to interpret.
OMB has released a new framework for federal agencies reporting their spending -- standard definitions for financial terms, among other elements -- as part of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014. The DATA Act requires federal agencies to report categories such as how much congressional funding they receive, or how much money they're spending on specific projects, and post it to USAspending.gov.
Though the federal government produces large volumes of spending data, “in some cases, the same words are used in different ways," and “inconsistencies make it difficult to use this data in a comprehensive way," according to a blog post by David Mader, controller of the Office of Federal Financial Management at OMB, and David Lebryk, fiscal assistant secretary at the Department of Treasury. (The fiscal year 2016 budget proposal allots $84 million for agencies to implement the DATA Act, according to the post.)
The guidelines direct agencies to publish monthly spending reports, and to submit data to OMB and the Treasury Department using the Treasury system. OMB and the Treasury plan to produce XML versions of this data, and make those accessible from USAspending.gov.
OMB also set standards for terminology. For instance, it clarifies a financial "obligation" is "[w]hen you place an order, sign a contract, award a grant, purchase a service, or take other actions that require the government to make payments to the public or from one government account to another."
Additionally, the agency is running a pilot with the Department of Health and Human Services to streamline grant making; among its goals is to make Grants.gov more accessible for public use.
OMB has also been experimenting with data formats -- the actual language in which the data is transmitted. According to the blog post, the Treasury has piloted the eXtensible Business Reporting Language or XBRL, which can digitally tag data.
This standard is currently in place for some financial data, but hasn't yet been formally implemented for awards data, according to OMB.
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