Obama administration officials oppose DATA Act
Obama administration officials spoke out against House-approved legislation that would require federal contractors and grant recipients to report quarterly their receipt and use of federal dollars and institutionalize a new board to oversee that reporting.
Proponents say the bill, the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, or DATA Act (H.R. 2146), would be a boon for federal transparency efforts, but during a July 17 hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee administration officials said the bill could backfire.
"We should not be asking recipients to do our work for us," said Richard Gregg, head of the office of fiscal service within the Treasury Department.
Transparency regarding federal spending breaks down because accounting isn't linked back well enough to contracts and grants--a situation that must be resolved by Treasury and the Office of Management and Budget, Gregg said.
"Not only do I think the DATA Act is unnecessary, i think it would set us back a long ways," he added.
Danny Werfel, OMB controller, also told the committee that the Obama administration has "significant concerns" about the bill, particularly because it could interfere with incremental transparency gains already made as a result of other legislation.
The board mandated by the bill, Werfel also said, would operate outside the authority of OMB and Treasury, leading to the possibility that it could adopt conflicting data standards. He also suggested that the board may not be accountable to the public, since it's unclear whether the Administrative Procedures Act would apply to it. Were it not to apply, the board might need not have public meetings or follow the standard rulemaking process that allows for periods of public comment and federal response.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), sponsor of the Senate DATA Act House counterpart (S. 1222), told the committee he will reintroduce a revised version of the bill. Although short on specifics, Warner said the revised proposal will back off on the board requirement and emphasize "existing technology to collect the data."
He also said his bill would be less expensive to implement than the House DATA Act, which the Congressional Budget Office estimated in September would cost $575 million over 5 years.
During the hearing, Comptroller General Gene Dodaro said he didn't have an opinion on whether a transparency board is needed, but said some sort of legislative framework is. Without a law that specifies what information must be reported, "my belief is that everyone will be disappointed," Dodaro said.
- go to the hearing webpage (prepared testimonies and webcast available)