Watchdog’s Recommendation Boosts DATA Act

Congress's watchdog office recommended that Congress pass legislation to advance federal spending transparency efforts across the government in a report released late last week. This is a major boon to advocates of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA Act) of 2013 – legislation being considered by the House and the Senate.

“Congress should consider legislating transparency requirements and establishing clear authority to implement these requirements to ensure that recommended approaches for improving transparency are carried out across the federal government,” the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recommended.

The GAO examined major federal spending transparency efforts over the last decade. Most of the early major initiatives came about as a result of legislation that became the law of the land, such as the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 (FFATA) – which mandated the creation of – and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, better known as the Recovery Act. More recent efforts have been based on presidential executive orders.

The government's progress has generally been more successful when there is legislation because there are deadlines mandated by law (along with the stronger prospect of congressional oversight), and legislation also often makes it more likely that there are clearer lines of authority and responsibility, as well as dedicated funding. Efforts like federal spending transparency generally require sustained attention over time to be successful. Presidential administrations change, so without legislation, attention to these or any other matters can be subject to the whim of politics or the priorities of ever-changing personnel.

The GAO underlined this point.

The White House's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) “generally agreed with our matter for congressional consideration on legislating transparency requirements, but noted that the Congress has provided a robust statutory framework through legislation, such as FFATA and the GPRA [Government Performance and Results Act] Modernization Act of 2010, and therefore additional legislation is unnecessary,” according to the GAO report. “However, as we have previously concluded, given the importance of clear requirements and consistent leadership for ensuring approaches are institutionalized and sustained over the long term, legislation will help ensure effective implementation of comprehensive transparency reform.”

Today, a GAO official testified before the Senate Budget Committee on enhancing accountability and increasing financial transparency, along with a Sunlight Foundation representative and an assistant vice president from the University of Virginia.

Sunlight's Thomas Lee said in his written statement that “the mandate for publishing all federal spending should be grounded in law, to demonstrate and formalize our government's lasting commitment to transparency about how tax dollars are spent.”

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