Small oversight bill could mean influx of big money for data-tracking companies

A little-noticed bill aiming to boost oversight of the $700 billion financial bailout could mean big money for the database industry.

This week, without much fanfare, the House is expected to approve a bill mandating that the Treasury Department create a real-time electronic database of information related to the bailout. 

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And for data warehousing and analysis firms, the bill could lead to a hefty contract. At a September hearing, Stephen Horne, vice president at Dow Jones, testified that it could cost $50 million to create and run a database for the first year.

Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Pete King (R-N.Y.) co-sponsored the bill earlier this year as outrage mounted over the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), as the bailout is known officially. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and five co-sponsors have a companion bill in the Senate.

“We are working with the folks at Treasury and are hopeful that there is a way to get most of this done administratively,” said Kevin Hall, spokesman for Warner.
While the bailout is more than a year old and some of Wall Street’s glitziest names have already begun repaying the money, data firms and lawmakers are still strongly pushing for the bill.

“We can track where any UPS package is at any time of day,” Maloney told The Hill this week. “Why in the world can’t we track this information?”

The bill would require the Treasury secretary to create the database and provide it to the special inspector general over the bailout, the Congressional Oversight Panel and the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Civil liberties groups and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have testified in support of the bill this year.

Dow Jones & Co., IBM and SAS Institute have all lobbied on the bill, according to congressional records. Teradata, an Ohio-based data analytics and warehousing firm, has been a prominent supporter of the bill.

Firm executives have written newspaper opinion pieces, testified at a congressional hearing, lobbied extensively and had a PR firm reach out to reporters this summer.

The firm has spent $510,000 lobbying this year and lists the House and Senate bills as one of the firm’s main issues on lobbying records.

Mike O’Sullivan of Teradata declined to discuss whether the firm would be vying for contracts to provide the data-warehousing services to the government.

“That would be presumptuous of us,” O’Sullivan told The Hill. “We’ll see what happens if it’s passed.”

Since meeting at a TARP oversight hearing several months ago, Teradata vice president of government affairs Tim Day has been advising Maloney on the technical aspects of creating such a database. Government work makes up roughly 5 percent of Teradata’s revenue, which totaled $1.76 billion in 2008.

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Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) earlier this year introduced a related but separate bill. Unlike the bill headed for a vote this week, their bill intends that the government use eXtensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL), a system for tracking information, such as TARP funds.

“When we’re talking transparency and disclosure, we need to be using the highest standard possible, not something that may be better than the status quo,” Issa said.
Issa and Towns aim to require the XBRL standard instead of leaving it up to the discretion of government regulators as to what type of database to create.

Mark Bolgiano, president and CEO of XBRL US, compared the database under to a Web search engine and XBRL to the standard code that is embedded in Web pages.

“The database side of this is very important, and if they built that database without any standards it’s not going to be as good of a database with standards. But it’s hard to deny the importance of what they’re trying to do. This is an emergency,” Bolgiano said.