Halfway home to reform: Time for Senate to move on DATA Act

Among the several important lessons learned by the Recovery Board, three stand out. First, the Recovery Board identified a wholesale lack of federal government data standards and antiquated methods for collecting and displaying spending information. Said another way, the government desperately needs a uniform alphanumeric numbering system for all government awards and a single electronic system that can collect and display spending data in ways that will foster increased accessibility and availability of data for American taxpayers.
 

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Second, the methodologies and processes to identify risk and to help prevent fraud used by the Recovery Board were both unique and highly effective. For example, the Board created a state-of-the art command center that combined analysis with sophisticated software tools, government databases, and open source information to track the flow of stimulus money. This allowed us to prevent fraud rather than simply detect it after funds were stolen or wasted. By leveraging the existing Center and personnel at the Recovery Board, the Executive Branch could quickly and inexpensively establish a single centralized accountability platform to monitor all government spending. Moreover, this extraordinary analysis operation could be made equally accessible to both the government agencies making the monetary awards and the enforcement entities charged with oversight.
 
Of note, the president’s new Government Accountability and Transparency Board submitted recommendations to him last December that also advocated for the creation of government wide data standards, the consolidation of existing data collection and display systems and the creation of a centralized accountability framework. However, while these recommendations seemingly mirror the goals of the DATA Act, there are pockets of resistance to this legislation within the administration, particularly with the DATA Act’s creation of a separate independent commission to oversee the implementation of the Act.
 
This brings me to my third and most important lesson learned. Simply stated, nothing makes government bureaucrats effect change faster than an Act of Congress. While I deeply respect the hard working and dedicated federal employees who deal with these issues, forty-one years of government service leads me to believe that, without legislation, the government’s response will be a never-ending round of unobtainable consensus building and an onslaught of new pilot projects, all designed to show some action but really only masking their bureaucratic fears of losing control to a truly independent commission.
 
Recently, a group of leading companies and nonprofits formed the Data Transparency Coalition to pursue these reforms and to support the DATA Act. I have joined its Board of Advisors to lend my support to the unfinished business of achieving meaningful government transparency and accountability. In short, the Recovery Board’s work provides the “proof of concept.” Now it is up to the Senate to finish the job.
 
Earl Devaney was the chairman of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board until his retirement in December 2011.