October 30, 2014

Open Data Could Improve Access to the Great Outdoors


Our Coalition focuses on pursuing open data in two key areas of the U.S. government's information: federal spending and financial regulation. We think transforming these two areas from disconnected documents into open data will create huge benefits for government and society.

Not everybody agrees that government information is most valuable when it's published online as machine-readable data. In both our key areas, supporters of data standardization and publication have had to overcome entrenched opposition.

Would you believe the same is true of the U.S. government's camping information? It is.

On October 8, the United States Forest Service posted a draft Request for Proposal (RFP) for “Recreation One Stop Support Services (R1S).” The draft RFP seeks a private contractor to build software for a new reservation system covering campsites, cabins, and tours at all federal parks. The contract will span up to 11 years, over $1 billion in revenue, and critically define how our nation will access public lands for years to come.

As written, the draft RFP places a single contractor in charge of managing campsite availability and reservation information rather than releasing all that information as open data.

If campsite availability and reservations were published as open data, entrepreneurs could build competing platforms to help campers make reservations and advocates could track campsite use. These are the types of innovations envisioned in President Obama’s May 2013 Open Data Policy, which pushes all agencies to “default to open.”

But the Forest Service's draft RFP does the opposite. In fact, it would remove data that is currently accessible from the public view altogether.

  • The goal of this contract is a reservation system that will provide the best access to our nation's parks and public lands.
  • The problem is that the winning contractor will be able build a website that meets minimum requirements without opening up campsite availability and reservation data. Because the draft RFP gives authority to the contractor to keep all these important data sets private, competition will not exist.

This month the Data Transparency Coalition spoke with Alyssa Ravasio, the founder of Hipcamp. Hipcamp has created comprehensive search engine for campgrounds across government agencies by using publically available government data. Alyssa is one of the entrepreneurs who'd eagerly build new ways for Americans to interact with government campsite data—if that data were open.

Chief among Alyssa’s concerns about the Forest Service's draft RFP is the importance of including an Application Programming Interface (API). At a basic level, APIs allow applications talk to each other. Yelp uses Google Map’s API to show you where restaurants are located and TurboTax uses an API provided by the IRS to give you an easier way to file your taxes. Failing to make an API a primary requirement of this contract will greatly restrict entrepreneurs’ ability to develop innovative applications on top of the open data.

Members of Congress who agree that this draft RFP is not a 21st century approach to conservation and outdoor recreation sent a letter requesting an extension for the public comment period.

To its credit, the Forest Service has responded to the concerns from the open data industry and from Congress. The RFP comment period has been extended an additional two weeks until November 7—and the Forest Service has announced it'll host an in-person meeting on November 13th to collect additional views.

The Forest Service has a chance to amend its RFP to transform campsite information into open data. If it doesn't, Congress and the White House should step in.

October 22, 2014

A Jungle of Entity Identifiers, and What We're Going to Do About It

It's awfully hard to track what you can't identify.

Every U.S. government agency has to uniquely identify the businesses, organizations, and other legal entities that must submit information to it. This task may sound straightforward, but it isn't. Across the federal government there are scores of different identification schemes. And they don't agree.

The jungle of entity identifiers creates big problems--for citizens seeking accountability, for entities trying to comply, and for the government itself.

Let's name just a few of the entity identification schemes that make up this jungle. The IRS uses Employer Identification Numbers (EIN) and Global Intermediary Identification Numbers (GIIN) to identify companies and organizations reporting their taxes. The GSA requires contractors (and, indirectly, most grant recipients too) to apply for a DUNS Number in order to get an award and supply an EIN to receive the cash.

In the financial regulatory world, the thicket gets thicker. The FDIC uses Certificate Numbers, the OCC uses Charter or Docket Numbers, and the Federal Reserve Bank uses RSSD ID Numbers. The Securities and Exchange Commission assigns a completely different identification scheme depending on which of the securities laws it's operating under. An SEC registrant might be identified using the Central Registration Depository (CRD), the Central Index Key (CIK), or one of the multiple filing numbers required under the 1933 Securities Act1934 Securities Act, or 1940 Investment Company Act.

And the Defense Department is its own fenced-off grove--a grove dominated by Commercial And Government Entity (CAGE) Codes.

Because these different agencies assign different and incompatible electronic identifier codes, one entity could be denoted by dozens of unrelated numbers. Investors seeking to track a public company's government contracts, regulators trying to determine a firm's exposure to SEC-regulated and CFTC-regulated derivatives, inspectors general trying to find suspicious patterns in a grantee's federal payments are all out of luck. Even with ready access to huge repositories of filings, transactions, and forms, incompatible identifiers make matching difficult or impossible.

And it’s nobody’s job to make sense of it all.

Watch DTC's Hudson Hollister explain the grantee/contractor identifier mess. 

Help may be on the way. Since 2010, the U.S. Treasury's Office of Financial Research has been working with financial regulators around the world to establish the Legal Entity Identifier (LEI)--a global standard for entity identification. The LEI is built for interoperability. And it's domain-agnostic, which means it's just as easily used by a securities regulator as by a contracting office.

At Data Transparency 2014 last month, Matthew Reed, chief counsel in the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Financial Research suggested that the LEI is ready to be used by agencies to tame the jungle of identifiers. Reed has previously described the LEI as “a bar code for identifying entities” and “a linchpin for making connections in the massive volumes of financial data that course through the international economy every day ... [the LEI will] help companies manage their risk and government regulators analyze data related to financial stability.”

Matthew Reed at DT2014
Reed outlined three important questions the LEI could answer:

  1. Who is who? LEIs uniquely identify entities.
  2. Who owns whom? LEIs show parent-child corporate relationships.
  3. Who owns what? LEIs attached to products show who owns what.


Our Coalition has called on the Treasury Department and the White House to start taming the jungle of identifiers when it comes time to set up government-wide data standards for federal spending, under the DATA Act.

Whenever the government collects information, it should reuse an identifier code that is already being used somewhere else. Equally important is choosing a standard that is non-proprietary. We must avoid identifiers carrying restrictions that impede the free reuse of open data.

The LEI fits both these criteria. That's why our Coalition urges the Treasury Department and the White House, when they adopt the common identifier for grantees and contractors that is required by the DATA Act, will adopt the LEI system. And as we pursue future open data mandates in other areas of government information, we'll try to make sure that the decision-makers in these areas, too, also consider the LEI.

Gradually, outdated and incompatible identification schemes can be retired and replaced by the LEI. This won't happen fast, but it can happen eventually.

With the LEI uniting disparate reporting requirements, the jungle of entity identifiers will become a garden of open, interoperable data--producing abundant insights and opportunities for all.

October 10, 2014

Will Senate Restrict Open Data in Financial Regulation? H.R. 5405 Would Raise Barrier to Modernization

The U.S. federal government is slowly transforming its information from disconnected documents into open data. Our Coalition scored its first major legislative victory earlier this year with the passage of the DATA Act, the nation’s first open data law. On May 9, 2014, after Representative Darrell Issa and Senator Mark Warner successfully marched the bill through a gridlocked Congress, President Obama signed it into law. The DATA Act is a mandate for the government to adopt comprehensive data standards for all of its spending information and to publish that information online.

Spending is a great start. But other areas of the federal government’s information need transformation, too. And financial regulation should be next.

U.S. financial regulators have yet to adopt comprehensive data standards for the information they collect under the securities laws, the commodities laws, and the Banking Act. If they standardized this information, and made the public portions of it available online—investors could make better decisions, enforcers could deploy analytics to find the next Enron, and early-stage companies could access capital more cheaply.

Comprehensive, searchable data on smaller companies would enable analysts to cover and recommend them more cheaply. Without open data in financial regulation, buyers are less likely to invest.

Rep. Patrick McHenry and Theo Francis of WSJ
At Data Transparency 2014 last week, Representative Patrick McHenry (R-NC) put it this way: “When the NFL is providing more data on their players than the SEC is providing on public companies, that’s deeply troublesome. When I can find a fourth-option wide-receiver—all the data I need on whether or not to start that player this week in my Fantasy Football league—yet I see a company with a market cap of $450 million and I can’t get a damn bit of information about them, that is troublesome.”

In 2009, the Securities and Exchange Commission took an initial step towards opening up financial regulatory information by requiring public companies to submit their financial statements in the eXtensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL) format. But after this important step, the transformation to open data stalled. The SEC stills collects two versions of every financial statement: an XBRL version and a document version. Further, until three months ago the agency had taken no serious steps toward enforcing the quality of the XBRL version. Without assurance of data quality, investors have been reluctant to use XBRL data. And despite calls from investors, industry, Congress, and its own staff, the agency still has no plan to transform its hundreds of other forms from documents into data.

Recently the SEC has begun to resume its stalled transformation. In July, it took its first steps toward quality enforcement. And its brand-new chief economist, Mark Flannery, also joined us last week at DT2014. His comments show the agency’s recognition that open financial data is good for investors and companies alike: "Helping smaller companies to improve the quality of their data is important because their ability to disseminate machine-readable financial information critically enhances their ability to access capital in financial markets." Flannery went on to explain that open data in SEC reporting improves accountability to investors and companies’ ability to automate compliance.

Mark Flannery at Data Transparency 2014
Flannery made news by announcing that the SEC is poised to stop collecting two versions of company financial statements.

"DERA staff is working with outside contractors on ‘Inline-XBRL.’ Consistent with its name, this new technology would allow companies to integrate (or embed) the XBRL tagging of the financial statements directly into their standard HTML formatted 10-K and 10-Q filings.  This effectively eliminates the need to reconcile separate HTML and XBRL versions of the financial statement content, thus reducing the possibility of rekeying or similar errors."

But the SEC’s positive steps toward quality enforcement and toward a single open data version may be coming too late.

Over the last five years, without quality enforcement by the SEC, investors and the companies that help them get their information have not wanted to rely on iffy XBRL financial statement data. As a result, some companies  have concluded that the additional expense of preparing the data version on top of the paper-based document version is not justified.

This cost is not large; the Financial Executives Research Foundation found a median preparation cost of $2,000 (page 18) for small companies’ annual financial statements. And companies that modernize their compliance processes with software like Wdesk or Active Disclosure don’t see any additional cost at all.

But with XBRL data not being used, it is unsurprising that Members of Congress might think it’s a good idea to try to deliver small compliance savings to some companies by passing a law exempting them from preparing the XBRL version of their financial statements. That has been Rep. Robert Hurt’s (R-VA) idea, and the Biotech Industry Organization’s, since 2013. Last spring Rep. Hurt proposed legislation that would force the SEC to stop requiring companies with annual revenues under $250 million—61percent of all public companies—to submit the open data version of their financial statements. The SEC would only collect the document version from these companies.

On September 16, 2014, the House of Representatives passed a bill that included Rep. Hurt’s proposal. H.R. 5405, a compilation bill introduced by Representative Mike Fitzpatrick and a number of other Republican members, was assembled and brought to passage on the House floor by the leadership of the Financial Services Committee (in order to give Members a piece of legislation to run on in the current election cycle). Buried among many minor changes to the securities laws is Rep. Hurt’s language.

If considered and passed by the Senate and signed into law by President Obama, this exemption would be a major setback for open data. Cutting off the flow of open data from the majority of public companies would reduce investors’ information options, impede the SEC’s enforcement efforts, and raise small companies’ capital formation costs.

Moreover, this law would raise a permanent statutory barrier to the much-needed broad modernization of U.S. financial regulatory reporting from documents into data. With most financial statements remaining exempt, the SEC would be unable to transform its whole disclosure system.


Open data—standardized and published—could transform financial regulation from disconnected, unsearchable, unstructured documents into structured information, easily distilled into actionable insights. The benefit to investors, regulators, markets, and filers would be immense. But not if the Senate passes and President Obama signs H.R. 5405.

October 3, 2014

Data Transparency 2014: Progress on Policy, Spotlight on Open Data Opportunities

Open data will transform our government and society. The publication of government information as standardized, machine-readable data ensures accountability, enables better management tools for government leaders, and allows companies to automate compliance tasks.

Yet the information that will be most valuable as open data is also the most difficult to standardize and publish. The transformation of substantively complex areas, like federal spending and financial regulation, requires both policy changes and the right subject matter expertise.

Nick Sinai's keynote address kicked off DT2014
At Data Transparency 2014, we brought together the policymakers and subject matter experts whose efforts, combined, are making these open data transformations a reality. Nearly 500 agency leaders, civil-society advocates, and tech-sector innovators gathered at the JW Marriott for the Coalition’s largest-ever event.

The Treasury and White House OMB executives in charge of the DATA Act, Fiscal Assistant Secretary David Lebryk and Controller Dave Mader, presented their shared vision for cohesive and collaborative implementation. Mader’s enthusiasm for data standards in federal spending, which he noted as central reason for his return to government, marks an important shift in tone for OMB. Lebryk, who first announced data transparency as a strategic goal for Treasury at Data Transparency 2013, reaffirmed that commitment.

On our “Oversight of the DATA Act” panel, congressional leaders and federal inspectors general promised they would be watching.

U.S. Comptroller General Gene Dodaro continued to express his “loud, vocal support” for the DATA Act. The federal spending data standards required by the DATA Act will help the GAO perform its vital investigations. Dodaro also assured the crowd that GAO would continue to be involved with implementation oversight. “My term goes until 2025. If we can’t get [the DATA Act] done by then, we have a big problem.”

The Comptroller General noted in closing that open data reforms need a legislative basis, echoing a sentiment expressed by the Sunlight Foundation’s Matt Rumsey in an earlier panel: “the DATA Act is law, but open data, more broadly, isn’t.”

Moderator Theo Francis of WSJ and Rep. McHenry
Congress has yet to mandate the open data transformation in financial regulation. Rep. Patrick McHenry conveyed concern for the dearth of high-quality open data on many public companies and the need to modernize the financial regulatory disclosure system, especially at the Securities and Exchange Commission. “When the NFL provides more data on their players than the SEC does on companies, that’s troublesome.” McHenry said he argued against including an open data exemption in H.R. 5405, which the House passed last month.

Remarks by the SEC’s new chief economist, Mark Flannery, suggested his agency may be ready to take long-delayed steps to move its disclosure system toward open data. Flannery said the SEC will soon move away from the current dual reporting system, in which companies simultaneously report document-based and open data financial statements, and toward a single submission in the inline XBRL format. Over the longer term, the agency will move toward structured data for other types of information it collects, beyond the financial statements. “Making useable data available to the public is a key function of many of the Commission’s disclosure rules,” Flannery explained, going on to say that open data is also crucial for internal use because “the Commission staff are huge consumers of structured data.”

Other newsmaking sessions throughout the day included a keynote by White House Deputy CTO Nick Sinai, an appearance by former OMB Controller Danny Werfel, and a panel featuring state and local open data leaders. Interactive breakout sessions in federal financial reporting, grant and contract reporting, and financial regulatory reporting, were led by the federal executives actually responsible for those areas. Panels and Q and A sessions were kept on track by prominent moderators, including Jason Miller of Federal News Radio and Theo Francis of The Wall Street Journal.


Govini's display was a hit in exhibition hall
The exhibition hall at DT2014 was a testament to the value of open data to create new business opportunities. Coalition member companies showed they can create new platforms for democratic accountability; deploy analytics to stop waste and fraud; automate currently-manual compliance tasks; and use government data to innovate in ways we haven’t even thought of yet.

We are grateful to our presenting sponsor, Workiva, our four partner sponsors – Teradata, PwC, StreamLink Software, Booz Allen Hamilton – and other generous sponsors who made it possible for us to bring together the leaders of the open data transformation. We’re already planning for next year!

September 10, 2014

New Proposal Includes XBRL Exemption - and Major Setback for Open Data

UPDATE: On September 16, 2014, H.R. 5405 passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 320 to 102.


A major setback for open government data may be on the agenda for the U.S. House of Representatives.

Despite the opposition of the tech industry, Rep Robert Hurt's proposal to direct the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to stop collecting financial data from most public companies has been included as part of a new legislative package--a new bill introduced on Monday, Sept. 8, by Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick and a number of other Republican members.
SEC reporting could remain as outdated as this photo of the Capitol.

The new bill, H.R. 5405, brings together ten previous bills into a single one. One of those ten is Rep. Hurt's previous proposal, included in the new bill verbatim. Judging from the urgency of the current House schedule, H.R. 5405 could see action by the House of Representatives as early as next week.

Nine out of the ten bills included in H.R. 5405 have already been approved, as stand-alone bills, by bipartisan majorities in either the Financial Services Committee or the full House. (The Financial Services Committee passed Rep. Hurt's original bill in March 2014.) So it seems clear that the backers of H.R. 5405 want to craft a bill that will pass the House easily, without serious opposition.

H.R. 5405's introduction conveys that the bill is non-controversial by stating three innocuous purposes:
To make technical corrections to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, to enhance the ability of small and emerging growth companies to access capital through public and private markets, to reduce regulatory burdens ...

But H.R. 5405, if approved by the House, introduced and passed in the Senate, and signed into law by President Obama, will dramatically restrict the availability of searchable corporate financial data to investors--and to the tech companies building investment tools.

Supporters of open data in financial regulatory reporting will remember that the SEC collects an open data version of each financial statement in the eXtensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL) structured data format, alongside the old-fashioned plain-text version, from every public company registered in the United States. Investors, markets, and the public can use the XBRL version of each financial statement to create a fully searchable data set of all U.S. public company databases. XBRL data supports free tools for investors like RankandFiled.com. It is also used by infomediaries like Morningstar and Thomson Reuters to enrich the information they deliver to paying clients.

Rep. Hurt's proposal, now incorporated into H.R. 5405, would direct the SEC to exempt all public companies with revenues below $250 million--a majority of public companies--from the obligation to file an open data version. Supporters of the exemption claim that XBRL-formatted financial statements cost "tens of thousands of dollars" to create, but Financial Executive International found a median annual cost of $2,000 for small companies (page 19), and some providers offer XBRL preparation services at even lower prices.

Supporters of the exemption had one valid point last spring: at that time, the SEC had not taken any steps to ensure the quality of the XBRL filings. Without assurance that the open data versions of financial statements were reliable, investors were reluctant to use them, and relied on the plain-text versions instead. But last summer, after a year of advocacy from open data allies in Congress, the SEC took its first public steps toward enforcing better data quality. As quality improves, investors and the tech companies serving them will make more use of the open data financial statements.

The companies themselves will benefit, too. Open, structured data delivers information more efficiently to the markets, which makes it easier for smaller companies to find eager investors and brings down their capital costs.

H.R. 5405 would cut off such progress by forcing the SEC to use documents, not open data, to collect corporate financial information.

Fans of open data should make their opposition to this portion of H.R. 5405 known.

One way to do that is to contact your representative and contact House leadership.

Another way is to join our Coalition at Data Transparency 2014 later this month. Our open data policy conference will demonstrate broad public and industry support for the open data transformation--and prevent that transformation from being halted by measures like this one.




August 20, 2014

Guest post from Ari Hoffnung: Don't Lose Sleep Over $619 Billion


We're much obliged to Ari Hoffnung, Senior Adviser at Coalition member Socrata, Inc., for this blog post. Socrata helps public sector organizations improve transparency, citizen service, and data-driven decision-making. Ari is a national leader in promoting financial transparency and previously served as the New York City Deputy Comptroller for Budget & Public Affairs. He was also the driving force behind the award-winning Checkbook NYC website.

 
GAO: Approximate current condition of USASpending.gov.

Earlier this month a report (http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-476) from the Government Accountability Office found that the USASpending.gov website was missing more money than the combined net worth of the Top 10 people featured on this year’s Forbes Billionaires list (http://www.forbes.com/billionaires/).

In the words of the GAO:

"Although agencies generally reported required contract information, they did not properly report information on assistance awards (e.g., grants or loans), totaling approximately $619 billion in fiscal year 2012."

On one hand, $619 billion is a lot of money to be missing by anyone’s standards, including Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and the Koch brothers. On the other hand, there are several reasons why I would not loose sleep over the GAO’s findings.

First and foremost, this report is a good reminder that we live in a democracy strong enough to have an independent watchdog like the GAO (http://www.gao.gov/about/), with the freedom to investigate how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars. I'm not saying our democracy is perfect, but I feel fortunate to live in a country where the government's overall lack of financial transparency can be criticized by a government-funded entity. 

Second, the report reinforces the shortcomings of the current USASpending.gov website in the areas of data consistency and completeness that have been identified by advocates like those from the Sunlight Foundation’s clearspending.org project.
 
Finally, the biggest silver lining in this report is that many of the problems cited by the GAO will be addressed by the implementation of the recently passed DATA Act (http://www.datacoalition.com/issues/data-act.html), which requires the standardization of spending data throughout the federal government. 

As someone who has been working on financial transparency for the lion share of the past five years, I think the federal government ought to consider following in the footsteps of the Big Apple and make payments data the first priority of a revamped USASpending.gov website.

In New York City, when we first launched our Checkbook NYC financial transparency website (http://www.checkbooknyc.com/spending_landing/yeartype/B/year/116) that tracks our $70 billion+ annual budget; we decided to do so with payment data because while most taxpayers may not understand the ins and outs of government budgets, virtually all taxpayers understand what it means to make payments.

Think about it. Anyone with a checkbook, debit card, or even just a few bucks in their pocket understands what it means when cash leaves their account (or pocket) – whether it's paying the rent by check, using a debit card to buy groceries, or spending a few dollars to buy a cup of coffee. 

That’s why the federal government ought to begin the herculean task of standardizing spending data throughout the entire federal government and publishing it on a new and improved version of the USASpending.gov website with the sliver of data best understood by Americans – payments.

July 14, 2014

The SEC took a small - but significant! - step toward better corporate financial data. Here's why, and what it means.

In 2009, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) began requiring U.S. public companies to submit an open data version, encoded in the eXtensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL) format, of each quarterly financial statement. 

The SEC collects the same information twice: once as an old-fashioned document and again as open data. Making matters worse, the agency systematically reviews the document version for potential errors and issues but doesn't apply the same quality control to the XBRL version.

Open data could bring transformation to our capital markets. The use of XBRL could help investors make better decisions faster; allow the agency to use analytics to find and stop fraud; and permit companies to automate disclosure processes that used to be manual. Because open data is easier and cheaper to analyze than plain-text documents, analysts should be able to use XBRL financial statements expand their coverage, which means smaller companies should get more notice.
The SEC's atrium is transparent. Why isn't its data?

Unfortunately, because the SEC has not treated the open data version of each financial statement with the same care as the document version, all these benefits have remained theoretical.

As Calcbench and TagniFi have reported, the quality of the XBRL data set is so bad that investors and analysts have been reluctant to use it, which means there's not much of a market for the software tools needed for the transformation.

But last week, a change began. 

On Monday, the SEC's Division of Corporation Finance announced it had sent letters to certain companies whose XBRL financial statements had failed to include necessary data. The agency’s requirement for public companies to submit a structured data version of each financial statement, alongside the old-fashioned document version, for each financial quarter has been in place since 2009.

Coinciding with the SEC's action, four public companies announced corrections to previously-filed open data versions of their financial statements. In the previous five years since the start of open data reporting, only one company had ever amended an XBRL financial statement.

Why did the SEC take this step toward better data quality? 

Because, one year ago, Congress started questioning why the agency had been so slow to embrace open data. Members of both parties have kept up the scrutiny ever since.
  • On July 17, 2013, at the urging of Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL), the House Appropriations Committee asked the SEC to explain its plan to improve investors' access to corporate disclosures through accessible formats.
  • On September 10, 2013, at our Data Transparency 2013 policy conference, Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) of the House Oversight Committee announced his committee had sent the SEC a letter asking the agency to re-start its stalled transformation from disconnected documents into open data.
  • On April 1, 2014, in an Appropriations Committee hearing, Rep. Quigley asked SEC chair Mary Jo White to explain the agency's failure to enforce open data quality.
  • After an April 29, 2014, hearing of the House Financial Services Committee, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) submitted questions for the record seeking similar answers.
Our Coalition has been working with these Congressional open data supporters, and others, to keep the questions coming.

Our campaign isn't just about the financial statements currently being filed in XBRL. The agency collects hundreds of forms from public companies, financial firms, mutual funds, and other regulated entities. Most of these forms are still filed as documents, not as open data. The documents are hard for investors to understand, difficult for analysts to translate, and expensive for the agency's staff to use. They create compliance challenges for the regulated entities.

As the SEC's investor advisory committee recommended last year, the securities disclosure system needs total transformation.

Last week's action is a positive step, but it is only a first step. The agency must treat the open data version of each financial statement with the same care that it applies to the old-fashioned document version. Ultimately, we hope the SEC will eliminate the current duplication and collect a single submission from public companies - one that is both human-readable and machine-readable.

The SEC should also re-start its stalled transformation from documents to open data by adopting data standards for all the information it collects under the securities laws.
 
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