April 27, 2012

Coalition applauds House passage of DATA Act

On Wednesday, April 25, the House of Representatives unanimously passed the DATA Act under suspension of the rules. You'll find speeches by the DATA Act's sponsors - and video of the vote - on C-SPAN here.

In a statement, the Data Transparency Coalition applauded the bill's passage and pointed to the benefits of federal data reform.

The DATA Act is a critical step toward getting America's fiscal house in order ... By transforming the way the government reports its spending, the DATA Act will bring more transparency and better accountability, while presenting new opportunities for tech start-ups to analyze federal data and help prevent waste, fraud, and abuse.

Separately, our Board of Advisors sent a letter to the bill's main sponsors, Reps. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Elijah Cummings (D-MD), declaring our willingness to lead the campaign for federal data reform:

We joined the Board of Advisors of the Data Transparency Coalition because we know that the DATA Act and future reforms like it will be hard to pass and harder to implement. Congress is slow to embrace technological innovation. Agencies' business processes do not change easily. The technology industry must lead the campaign for federal data reform. The Data Transparency Coalition stands ready to promote the standardization of federal identifiers and markup languages to the public and Congress; advise the executive branch as it tries to uproot decades' worth of paper forms; and create demonstration projects that show immediate uses of standardized data.

To coincide with the passage of the DATA Act, the Coalition unveiled a new video produced by our member Level One Technologies. The video demonstrates, in compelling visual fashion, how our government's current methods of reporting its spending don't deliver complete, accurate, searchable data - and how the DATA Act would change that.

April 19, 2012

DATA Act is on the way!

Majority Leader Cantor has announced that the House of Representatives will take up the DATA Act next week.

The current version of the bill has been posted for comment by the chief House sponsor, Rep. Darrell Issa. Rep. Issa is hoping you'll view the bill, comment on its provisions, and make your voice heard.

Federal spending information is reported by the agencies to at least six different compilations, of which each is specialized and none comprehensive. By establishing consistent data identifers and markup languages, and by putting all the data on a single public platform, the DATA Act will enable - for the first time - comprehensive searches and analyses.

The DATA Act is only the start of the Data Transparency Coalition's agenda; we are hoping to see similar standardization for program performance reports, regulatory filings, corporate disclosures, legislative actions, judicial documents, and more. But it's a great start.

April 16, 2012

Data Transparency Coalition launches with fourteen members and one goal

Yesterday, thirteen tech companies and one nonprofit organization launched the Data Transparency Coalition. Our ambition is to be the main private-sector voice for federal data reform. We want the government to publish its information online and use consistent data identifiers and markup languages to make the information useful.

The U.S. government's public data - spending records, program performance, regulatory filings, corporate disclosures, legislative actions, judicial documents, and much more - is poorly managed. Too often, each separate federal agency organizes like data in unlike ways. Every agency has a separate system of electronic identifiers for grants and contracts. There is no government-wide list of federal programs. Financial regulators all collect similar, even overlapping information from a single industry, and yet they identify the companies in disparate ways and collect filings in incompatible electronic formats. Congress and the judicial branch are no better.

Our government's failure to deploy data standards has real costs. Because federal spending information isn't standardized, waste and fraud go undetected. Taxpayers cannot watch their money being spent and inspectors general can't use analytics to find corruption. And there is no way to tie performance information to spending levels.

Because financial regulatory reporting isn't standardized, companies must submit the same information many times - for example, more than two-thirds of the data reported to the Bureau of Economic Analysis is also filed, separately, with the SEC. And nobody - neither financial regulators nor market analysts - can easily digest all of a company's filings or search them together to find hidden leverage or systemic risk.

Other countries' governments have already started to use data standards to deliver better transparency, better efficiency, better enforcement, and lower compliance costs. Brazil's government reports all its spending - grants, contracts, salaries, government credit card expenditures, everything - on a single public platform. Australia and the Netherlands are standardizing their regulatory reporting. In the United Kingdom, companies fulfill their business reporting and tax reporting obligations by submitting a single report.

Why has the government of the United States - which boasts the world's largest, most innovative tech sector - failed to manage its data? Perhaps it's because U.S. federal agencies are bigger, and spend more on IT, than their counterparts in almost any other nation. Each agency has had the resources to design its own unique infrastructure. Perhaps it's because our Founders separated powers among the branches and gave us a system in which Congress and the executive branch often oppose one another - which makes executive reorganization hard. Perhaps it's because our technology entrepreneurs and our bureaucrats speak different languages.

The reasons for our government's technological backwardness are unclear, but the solution isn't. No campaign for federal data reform exists. We will create one.

Our opportunity is ripe:
  • Tech companies are already creating big-data tools that would be far more powerful if the U.S. government deployed consistent identifiers and markup languages for its own data. Silicon Valley is eager to show (and sell) its work.
  • Americans are already frustrated by a government that spends wastefully, doesn't track the spending accurately, and requires duplicative paperwork. If we educate them on data transparency, they'll demand it from their representatives.
  • The executive branch has shown interest in revealing its data to the public in a structured fashion, deploying Big Data tools, and using its regulatory powers to require consistent electronic structures for disclosure. We can find ways to expand these initiatives from pilot to policy.
  • Practical proposals for federal data reform already exist. For the first time, for instance, Congress is showing willingness to require agencies to standardize their spending data, and the White House seems to agree.

Our coalition is off to a running start.

It already boasts a fascinating cross-section of the industry: market leaders, brand-new start-ups, and leading financial reporting providers from the United States, France, and India. And we're pleased to welcome former Recovery Board chairman Earl Devaney, former U.S. deputy CTO Beth Noveck, XBRL US president Campbell Pryde, Jim Harper of the Cato Institute and Eric Gillespie of Viano Capital to our board of advisors.

Our mission is comprehensive federal data reform. We'll identify and support proposals in each federal data sector, starting with the DATA Act for federal spending, the Financial Industry Transparency Act for financial regulation, the Public Online Information Act to establish a presumption of transparency for all federal data, the Legal Entity Identifier to connect separate financial reporting regimes, and, soon, legislation to study the possibility of standard business reporting in the United States. For each of these proposals, we'll bring our campaign to the halls of Congress, the start-up incubators of Silicon Valley, and the Facebook pages and Twitter feeds of connected, concerned Americans.

We'll also work to connect innovators in the private sector with government data problems. Our members' products and services can automatically standardize messy data compilations, instantly find indicators of wasteful spending and fraudulent behavior, and use open data to help people make better decisions. We'll host some amazing demonstrations on our website.

If you care about data transparency, we need your help.

  • Please help us spread the word about our launch. You'll find our press release here and our introductory video here. Blog about 'em! Tweet 'em!
  • Help us build our audience for the campaign for federal data reform. Every Facebook Like and every Twitter follow counts.
  • We continue to seek members and funding! If you find yourself in the sudden possession of a tech company or a nonprofit that cares about government transparency - well, you know whom to call.
And watch this space for more.
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