At just over two years old, the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA Act) has progressed towards implementation of its key provisions in May 2017, but progress has faced some key obstacles. Since its signing in May 2014, the DATA Act has challenged government agencies to improve their financial data management quality and transparency. This vision of transparency is still within sight if the momentum of implementation can be sustained.
"There is still a lot of ground to cover to comply with the DATA Act."
Victories Over the Past 2 Years
The legislation aimed to improve and standardize financial data across the federal government, and has been successful in the initial definition of these standards. So far:
- The Treasury Department's Program Management Office has established a comprehensive government-wide collaborative effort based on principles of effective change management and Agile development. The legislation has leveraged working groups with departments and employees across a range of functions collaborating toward a unified goal.
- Treasury and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) have developed a schema and associated Reporting Submission Specifications (RSS) for financial data elements.
- Across the government and within agencies, DATA Act stakeholders have identified and capitalized on opportunities to leverage existing systems and processes (e.g., current FFATA based submissions to USASpending).
- The act stimulated an increase of interactions between industry consultants and government leaders (through forum's like the Data Coalition's conferences), injecting the private sector's innovation into the public sector.
- The law has shifted the culture of government toward one that values transparency and the analytic capacity it provides.
- Agencies have partnered with Treasury and OMB to develop comprehensive plans on how the act will be implemented in each organization.
These are only initial wins, though, and there is still a lot of ground to cover to meet the demands and the timeline in the law (e.g., agencies submitting data according to the new standard by May 2017).
Obstacles and hindrances
For the DATA Act to play out as expected for the government and citizens, agencies will need to address some of the following challenges and complexities:
- Agencies must bridge the gap between implementation plans and actual action. Planning is great, but the follow through is more important and will require exceptional, coordinated change management efforts at all levels.
- Final guidance (v1.0) was released behind the original schedule, forcing agencies to play catch-up.
- The final version of USASpending 2.0 is still a specter. Agencies need to continue to partner with Treasury to learn more about how the site will change and how to capitalize on the utility of the new data.
- Because it is a mostly unfunded mandate, agencies have had to re-allocate resources from other priorities to comply with the law. Over time, new priorities and old ones will continue to compete for resources and attention.
- Iterative guidance from Treasury and OMB initially led to hesitation among agencies to take action, given fears that major requirements would change before the deadline (and they did change a few times!). This has led to many agencies struggling to re-align with the law's timeline.
It is worth noting that the most recent guidance released in April 2016 actually did a lot to ease these concerns and reduce the risk of delaying agency progress. The DATA Act is inarguably an important step in the right direction for government transparency, and it will demand plenty more effort to see through. After two years, the government is still on the path to greater transparency, but even without further hiccups, it may get there a little slower than originally planned.
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