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Despite ‘Agile’ Approach, Agencies Might Not Meet DATA Act Deadline

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It’s been almost two years since Congress passed legislation requiring agencies to publish and standardize spending data, but it’s still unclear when that information will be available to the public.

“I couldn’t tell you today” that all 24 federal agencies required to comply with the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act “are going to make it” by the May 2017 roll-out deadline, David Mader, Office of Management and Budget controller, said during a House Oversight hearing Tuesday. The legislation tasks OMB and the Treasury Department with implementation.

Agencies still need to update their financial management systems, Mader explained during the hearing, and three separate software providers are issuing technology patches.

“Once we have the design of the patch, the agencies can finish their [implementation] plans … and then we go into full implementation,” he said. Mader estimated those plans could be finalized by the summer.

Mader explained the Treasury has used an “agile” approach when writing up the “data schema,” or an outline of definitions and standards for exchanging spending information. Over the past year, OMB and Treasury have been sharing drafts of the schema with agencies to keep them in the loop, Mader said.

The president’s 2017 fiscal year budget request includes $55 million for DATA Act implementation. That legislation is part of a broader effort to make government data more open to the public. A 2013 executive order directed federal agencies to share the data they collect in a machine-readable format.

Last week, lawmakers unveiled a draft bill that could codify that executive order, requiring federal data to be in a “modern, open and electronic format.”

“This is not the sexiest of topics,” Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., said during the hearing, but he added that the transparency requirement could change the way agencies spend money.

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