Author: By Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA)
Congress doesn’t often agree these days, but one problem that both sides of the aisle recognize is the need to reform how our federal government reports spending. In this era of nonstop fiscal debate, Republicans and Democrats have found common ground in making our government more efficient and accountable. In April, Congress unanimously passed the DATA Act, and President Obama signed the bill into law on May 9.
The DATA Act is a major bipartisan accomplishment, a technological leap for government, and one of the most significant government transparency bills to pass Congress. It gives lawmakers and watchdog groups powerful tools to identify, and root out, fraud, waste and abuse.
Today, congressional leaders and the president cannot easily tell you exactly how taxpayer funds were used for grants, contracts or employees across federal agencies, because each agency calculates its costs differently. A recent U.S. Government Accountability Office report said many agencies were not even able to tell the GAO’s investigators how much taxpayer money is being spent on any specific program.
The DATA Act will eliminate this confusion. It requires federal agencies to track every dollar program-by-program, and it extends the same kind of structured data reporting formats to all government spending. The legislation directs agencies to streamline and simplify recipient reporting requirements for states, localities, universities and other recipients of federal taxpayer funds. It authorizes the Secretary of the Treasury to establish a data analytics center that would provide resources to law enforcement officials and inspectors general. Most important, the spending information will be made available to the public on a single website, USASpending.gov, saving time and money.
As the nation’s hotbed for technological innovation and progress, Silicon Valley and California in general stand to benefit from the availability of the government’s spending data. The Golden State is bursting with tech companies renowned for working to provide creative solutions to complex problems. The DATA Act will provide the high-tech sector with opportunities to build platforms that will allow them to republish and analyze government data. Much like technology companies build off of the National Weather Service data, so too could they use DATA Act information to provide value for taxpayers and the private sector.
We both came to Congress in 2001 from California, representing different districts, parties and visions. We’ve voted together only 23% of the time. Yet we’re both in the top 15, out of 435 members of Congress, in supporting government transparency legislation, according to OpenCongress.org and GovTrack.us.
The principle of self-government depends on the people’s right to know how their government spends tax dollars. The bipartisan DATA Act can help us open up government — and the data — that belong to the American people.