Earlier this week, the House passed the DATA Act, and the White House confirmed that President Obama will sign it into law. That's good news because the DATA Act has the potential to fix the declining quality of federal spending data.
A major feature of this legislation is the potential for adopting common federal spending data standards. Sounds wonky, but common standards for federal spending data are something you should care about.
Here’s the current problem: Congress authorizes spending and yada yada yada, Treasury cuts checks.
Unfortunately, we don’t really know how the money leaving the Treasury department tracks back to the money Congress says we’re allowed to spend. That particular detail is lost forever in the yada yada of apportionments, warrants, allocations, and obligations.
However, if the federal government can agree on a standard way to categorize dollars as they flow through the budget lifecycle, we can answer all kinds of interesting questions:
• How much money does the government spend on unemployment benefits in your state?
• How are federal dollars flowing to states and communities?
• Does our actual spending match the spending authorized by Congress?
And that’s the beauty of data standards. Learn more on our newly-launched Transparency and Data page.
Make no mistake, there’s hard work ahead. The best technology in the world won’t help us fix federal spending data if the Office of Management and Budget, the Treasury Department, and the agencies aren’t fully committed to doing it right (case in point, the current version of USASpending.gov). But we’re optimistic that the DATA Act is the first step on the road towards the insight we deserve into how our tax dollars are spent.