DATA Act advances, bringing opportunities and challenges

DATA Act advances, bringing opportunities and challenges

Data management and transparency have long represented a serious problem for any organization of significant size, and the federal government is no exception. If anything, the challenge is particularly pronounced here, as agencies are not only tasked with managing massive amounts of self-created and collected information, but they must also abide by rigorous security and other compliance regulations. This issue affects data of all kinds, but budgetary and spending information attracts an especially great deal of attention.

"The DATA Act mandated the creation of a holistic system for government spending data."

In an effort to simplify matters in this area while improving accuracy, the government passed the 2014 DATA Act, which mandated the creation of a holistic system for making government spending data readily accessible. Now, as CIO reported, the Treasury Department has rolled out an update on this law that marks a significant step forward toward full implementation. While this presents major opportunities for data management improvements throughout the federal government, serious hurdles remain. 

From standards to implementation
Christina Ho, deputy assistant secretary for accounting policy and financial transparency at the Treasury Department, delivered the news of the DATA Act update during an online presentation, the source reported. During this presentation, Ho explained that her department and the Office of Management and Budget have worked together to develop common data standards, and that this process is nearly complete. She asserted that this alone represented a major accomplishment, but that significant work remains. 

"Now that the work on data standard is done, all eyes are on implementation," said Ho, according to CIO.

Implementation presents a number of obstacles. Ho explained that the DATA Act is intended to overcome data management hurdles between federal agencies. However, the introduction of new standards can only go so far in this regard. To actually reach a point where data is being readily shared and remains transparent, agencies will need to transform their cultures. After all, data creation, collection and storage affect virtually every aspect of day-to-day operations at most departments. For data management as a whole to improve, so must the way that personnel go about their job responsibilities. 

"Improved data management will allow multiple communities to utilize the same information."

Benefits abound
If the federal government is able to reach its goals in this area, though, the benefits will be tremendous. In addition to increasing transparency, improved data management will allow multiple communities to utilize the same information resources. This can lead to innovation, as well as efficiency gains. With more streamlined, collaborative approaches, the cost of data management will likely decrease for each agency.

The benefits of superior data management were further highlighted during a conference of federal officials held earlier this year in Washington. As Nextgov reported, participants emphasized that without effective data management, it is difficult or even impossible to ensure that specific information is made available to those people who need it most. What's more, Donna Roy, head of the Information Sharing Environment Office at the Department of Homeland Security, noted that successful data management is a hallmark of those private sector corporations that are generating significant revenue. 

Obstacles to overcome
At the same time, though, the federal officials also highlighted a number of the reasons why it is so difficult for agencies to make progress in this capacity. They agreed with Ho's assessment that this is largely an issue of cultural transformation – put simply, many federal personnel do not appreciate the importance of these efforts.

"[A]s soon as you say 'data management,' people zone right back out," said Roy, according to Nextgov.

To change this status quo, agencies will need to embrace initiatives that will address not only the DATA Act, but also which can convince personnel of why such efforts are so critical.