Almost one year after President Obama signed the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA Act), the Treasury Department and Office of Management and Budget released a set of standards to help agencies begin developing interoperable systems for financial reporting.

The DATA Act Schema, published on GitHub, is designed to give agencies a baseline for building useable databases that aggregate, collate and summarize financial data around contracting, loans and grants. By creating a set of standards, individual agencies and OMB will be able to compare up-to-date financial information like-for-like.

GitHub: The Data Exchange Standard

The framework uses data points such as appropriations accounts, obligated and unobligated allocations, outlays and other budget resources to produce real-time views of agency financials. When implemented, the systems will enable comparisons between agencies and stronger reporting to OMB, as well as more transparency for the public.

"The data standards include both data definition standards and data exchange standards," according to supporting documents. "While standard data definitions will help to ensure that information will be consistent and comparable, the data exchange standards will make financial management data accessible and reusable and provide the necessary linkages between financial events."

The schema is also intended to make accounting data more useful at the agency level, particularly in four areas:

  • Improved business intelligence capabilities across disparate sources of data;
  • More effective self-service of business intelligence;
  • Cross-agency analysis opportunities; and
  • Elimination of redundant reporting/report updates and maintenance.

"By implementing the DATA Act Schema, a user can enhance and enable real-time analysis of balances of budget authority by appropriations account, which can better enable agencies to manage their programs," the supporting documents state.

The schema is a working document that will be updated regularly. For example, the current iteration does not include standards for award level data, something that will be covered in future releases.

Stakeholders can comment on the draft document directly on GitHub.

Feedback: DATA Act Schema v0.1

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., a major proponent of the DATA Act, lauded the legislation as a first step in a technological revolution in government.

"The American people deserve to know if their taxpayer dollars are wasted or being spent wisely," he said after the act passed the House, adding the legislation is as much a tool for the government as it is for the public. "The DATA Act gives policymakers in Congress and in the executive branch better data to make better decisions."

Aaron Boyd is an awarding-winning journalist currently serving as editor of Federal Times — a Washington, D.C. institution covering federal workforce and contracting for more than 50 years — and Fifth Domain — a news and information hub focused on cybersecurity and cyberwar from a civilian, military and international perspective.

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