OMB, Treasury Hammer Out Final DATA Act Standards


The new data standards aim to make it easier for the public and good-government groups to track federal dollars.

The federal government has finalized more than four dozen data standards that agencies will use to more consistently report federal spending information.

The new data standards -- a key part of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, or DATA Act -- also aim to make it easier for the public and good-government groups to track federal dollars.  

The Office of Management and Budget and the Treasury Department first introduced standardized definitions for 57 different data elements as part of preliminary guidance issued to agencies in May. The standards were finalized Aug. 31, “following a robust engagement with stakeholders,” according to a new blog post from David Mader, the controller of the Office of Federal Financial Management, and David Lebryk, commissioner of Treasury Department’s Bureau of the Fiscal Service.

Unanimously approved by Congress in May 2014, the DATA Act, tasked OMB and Treasury with first coming up with governmentwide data standards and, later, devising a method for agencies to electronically submit data directly to the website in machine-readable formats.

Up to now, the billions spent each year on federal contracts and grants have not been uniformly tracked and remain “housed in disconnected and siloed systems under various formats using different standards,” Mader and Lebryk noted in their blog post.

“By standardizing what is published on 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,” the blog post stated.

Still, some thorny issues remain surrounding the new data standards .

The preliminary standards published in May drew the ire of data transparency advocates for retaining the use of Dun & Bradstreet’s proprietary identification codes, known as DUNS numbers, to track recipients of federal spending.

Since 1995, the government has used DUNS numbers to identify federal contractors, a practice that eventually embedded itself into the procurement process -- much to the chagrin of open data advocates, who fear the potential effects of the company’s monopoly on the availability of government data.

Despite opposition in public comments to the continued use of DUNS numbers in, the final standards say OMB and Treasury are still only exploring possible alternatives to the proprietary identifiers.

“Changes to standards require significant resources (time and funding) and ongoing analyses will include consideration of these issues,” a July 2015 update on the new standards stated.

For now, that means a tacit endorsement of the continued use of DUNS numbers.

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