Over the last couple of weeks, something remarkable happened in Washington. Congress passed a bill, and the President signed it. That we were able to see the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA Act) break through partisan gridlock and become law speaks to what this legislation can accomplish for the American people.
The DATA Act was the result of a bipartisan, bicameral effort to significantly upgrade the fiscal transparency provided by USASpending.gov. Even in today’s information age, finding out how the government spends our taxpayer dollars is not as easy as it should be. The DATA Act will shine a light on our government’s finances and will help us to weed out wasteful and abusive spending, a necessity at a time of record debts and deficits.
The DATA Act builds on what we have learned since Congress passed the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act in 2006, a piece of legislation I was tasked with implementing as Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The DATA Act makes it easier to compare federal spending across federal agencies by requiring the establishment of government-wide financial data standards. It also strengthens transparency by requiring agencies to supply monthly updates to USASpending.gov and increases the quality of that data by adhering to uniform standards that promote consistency and reliability. Critically, the DATA Act empowers agency Inspectors General and the Government Accountability Office to hold agencies accountable for the completeness, timeliness, quality, and accuracy of the data they submit to USASpending.gov.
Of course, now that we have passed the DATA Act, we must remain vigilant in ensuring that it is fully implemented. The DATA Act gives the Treasury Department and OMB 12 months to craft new data standards that are uniform, flexible, and adaptable – the necessary inputs to allow the system to function. I am sure there will be setbacks. But that is why we have to start thinking about these issues now. If we fail at this first step, a great many of the DATA Act’s potential benefits will be delayed or perhaps lost all together.
The DATA Act is not the solution to all that ails us and it won’t, on its own, solve all of our fiscal problems, but it is a good step in the right direction. The debates we have about spending are some of the most contentious we see in Washington, but they are also some of the most important. The debt we are building today is a legacy and a burden that we will leave to our children and our grandchildren. The debate about how to pay down that debt and restore fiscal sanity to our government is one that will continue into the future.
But those fights are for another day. The DATA Act proves that we can find agreement on at least one issue: the last thing we want to see is more money wasted that could be applied to our debt or that could pay for programs that we do need. This bipartisan legislation will help us get there.
Rob Portman is a United States Senator from the state of Ohio.Viewpoints expressed in these opinion pieces are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.