DATA Act aims to institutionalize Recovery Board

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Bills in the House and Senate would make a Recovery Board-like entity a permanent fixture of the Washington, D.C. landscape.    

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) introduced June 16 companion legislation to Darrell Issa's (R-Calif.) Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (H.R. 2146) which was introduced June 13. Both proposals aim to create a Federal Accountability and Spending Transparency Board, which appears to mirror the current Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board.

A June 13 White House executive order echoes the proposed legislation by calling for a Government Accountability and Transparency Board that "[builds] on the lessons learned from the successful implementation of the Recovery Act, the Board shall work with the RATB to apply the approaches developed by the RATB across Government spending."

The RATB was formed up as a temporary, focused entity to oversee the distribution of funds mandated by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and is scheduled to go out of existence in September 2013.

According to a statement from the Recovery Board, Chairman Earl Devaney believes the board should not be dissolved, and instead "should be reconstituted to oversee the collection and display of all federal spending." The board's Recovery Operations Center could become a "universal one-stop shop" for spending data throughout the government, he said.

Institutionalization of the Recovery Board doesn't sit well with everyone, however. 

"There's still some concern, by many members that, 'Do we need to create a whole new agency just to focus on this reporting requirement?' And even if we do, is the structure that's proposed in the legislation the right structure?" said Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president of the Professional Services Council.

"Mr. Issa, in his background information on the legislation says the purpose is to focus on reporting, and consolidating and streamlining all the reporting. But the functions of the board go well beyond that. And that jump from narrow reporting to something else is also of concern," Chvotkin added.

The White House EO says the board shall be composed of 11 presidentially-appointed members "from among agency Inspectors General, agency Chief Financial Officers or Deputy Secretaries, a senior official of OMB, and such other members." The chair will also be presidentially designated from among those members.

The EO mandates that the board, within 6 months of the order, report to President Barack Obama with "implementation guidelines for integrating systems that support the collection and display of Government spending data." And, according to the EO, the director of the Office of Management and Budget will help agencies adhere to the board's implementation plan and, with the board chairman, provide monthly updates to Vice President Joe Biden.

The DATA Act also calls for a single, government-wide reporting system, with all financial reporting to be done in eXtensible Business Reporting Language, or XBRL. While both the DATA Act and the White House EO recognize that many of the government's financial reporting databases need improvement, the Obama administration does not specifically endorse a single database or an XBRL reporting requirement.

The XBRL component of the DATA Act should come as no surprise; according to Chvotkin, XBRL is Issa's "preferred reporting language," and he has endorsed the methodology in past legislative proposals, even when there wasn't a specific application for XBRL to be used in the legislation.

"There's going to be a lot of reporting requirements...you want to make that data submission as simple and straight forward as you can for businesses that aren't in the business of reporting to the federal government," said Chvotkin.

Members will have an opportunity to express their opinions on the DATA Act on June 22, when it is scheduled for markup by the House Oversight committee.

"Creating the transparent and accountable government the American people deserve will require bipartisan and bicameral teamwork. I look forward to working closely with Senator Warner to pass the DATA Act and establish - for the first time - a comprehensive federal spending transparency system," said Issa in a June 16 statement.

For more:
- see the executive order
- see Warner's proposed legislation (.pdf)
- go to the THOMAS page for Issa's proposed (H.R. 2146) 

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