DATA Act Summit 2017

At Final DATA Act Summit, Government and Tech Leaders Discuss Open Data

Just before the Independence Day weekend, a gathering of hundreds–including federal executives, lawmakers, tech advocates, data scientists, and more–met at the fourth (and final) DATA Act Summit at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. 

The event was different from previous events, as it marked “the first time in history the U.S. government has published a single open data set covering all its spending,” with the official rollout of USASpending.gov.

In May, under a deadline established in the DATA Act of 2014, the Treasury Department published the beta version of USASpending.gov, consolidating all agency spending data into a first-ever exhaustive look at where federal dollars are going. Many speakers at the DATA Act Summit lauded the website, not only for its contributions to transparency and good governance, but as an example of a large-scale government project done right – the site was finished ahead of schedule and came in under budget, despite being first of its kind. Moreover, the project’s progress was continuously available for public review and comment, as a result of its being hosted on GitHub.

DATA Coalition Executive Director Hudson Hollister has written that the project aimed to fulfill a vision outlined by Thomas Jefferson, noting an 1804 letter from Jefferson to his Treasury Secretary, in which he expressed a hope “that the scattered ‘scraps & fragments’ of Treasury accounts could be brought into ‘one consolidated mass,’ easier to understand, so that Congress and the people could ‘comprehend them … investigate abuses, and consequently … control them.’”

The DATA Act Summit was positioned as a celebration of realizing Jefferson’s goal, and of the dataset that Hollister claims took “six years of legislating, lobbying, courage, coding, and cajoling.”

Speakers at the summit included the DATA Act’s original sponsors -- Rep. Darrell Issa and Sen. Mark Warner – as well as others who had been instrumental in pushing the legislation through and subsequently ensuring its implementation, such as Sen. Rob Portman, Treasury Department Deputy Assistant Secretary Christina Ho, and Small Business Administration CFO Tim Gribben.

With the data now largely in place, the next chapter will involve both government and private industry working to find the best ways to utilize the data to maximize efficiency and reduce waste. One panel at the summit featured presentations by data scientists who had participated in a hackathon aimed at creative applications of the spending data, a process that will need to be regularly repeated, now that the preliminary steps are complete.

According to Booz Allen Vice President Bryce Pippert, “There’s still a lot of work to be done beyond just the federal spending information being exposed.”

Ann Aberts, CEO of the Association of Government Accountants, agreed, pointing out that the accomplishment was a huge one, but that work remains to be done to truly maximize the value of the dataset, “For the most part, I would say to the 98 percent of the folks beyond the Beltway, this is still data. It is not yet information to them…there’s more efforts to go to really speak to the everyday citizen.”

 

 

 

 

Posted in General News

Tags: DATA Act

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