The Benefits of Open Data: Transparency, Management and Automation

Open GovernmentInformation is power. With the DATA Act recently passing in the Senate, there has been much talk lately about the need for open government spending data that would shed light on where taxpayers’ dollars go, strengthen accountability, and allow for more efficient reporting processes and informed budgeting decisions.

In this post, we take a look at the three main benefits of open data: transparency, management and automation, as they were explained by Hudson Hollister, executive director of the Data Transparency Coalition in an interview with StreamLink Software.

Note: The Coalition is the only private sector organization that lobbies for data standardization and publication, and is a strong advocate of the DATA Act.  

Data Transparency

As a taxpayer, the DATA Act is appealing because it gives the public better access to information on how money is being spent. Right now, the USASpending.gov website provides a summary of each branch and each contract. However, according to the Sunlight Foundation, that’s accurate only 33% of the time, making it largely unreliable data. The DATA Act will allow different compilations of information to be checked for quality and accuracy.

The DATA Act will also expand that reporting portal more broadly and with more granular management. Instead of a summary of each branch’s contracts, it will detail all associated transactions. It will also add internal spending on items like salary, supplies and facilities. 

Improved Management

In addition to transparency, the DATA Act will improve the efficiency of government and make it easier to identify waste, fraud and abuse. We’ve all seen the stories about contracts that go way over budget. To stop this from happening, the government must deploy the same data analytics as the private sector.

Right now, it’s nearly impossible for the government to deploy vendor management software or predictive analytics for fraud because the information to seed those systems isn’t available. The DATA Act will make that information accessible by establishing consistent government-wide standards to be applied to all existing reporting requirements.

In addition, once standardized spending information is in place, congressional appropriators will have more access to what is actually being spent.

Everybody—grant managers, inspectors general and congressional appropriators—will have access to the information they need to do their jobs better.

Automated Compliance

Finally, if there are consistent data formats for all of the different submissions that grantees and contractors must make to the federal agency, it becomes possible to automate those submissions.

While the DATA Act requires grantees, contractors and agencies to report the same information, today’s processes are manual and inefficient. Typically, staff members pull reports from their financial systems, copy and paste data into spreadsheets, prepare a document and then email that document to someone. The administrative time and associated expenses are high, whereas an automated process would cut costs.

Standardized, open data makes automation possible.

Join Us at the Data Transparency Summit

Interested in learning more about open data, its benefits and implementation? Join StreamLink Software at the Data Transparency Summit on April 29 in Washington, D.C.

Hosted by the Data Transparency Coalition, the event will gather leaders from Congress and the executive branch to explore the DATA Act and federal spending transformation. It features three tracks to coincide with open data’s primary benefits: transparency, management and compliance.

As the sponsor of the compliance track, StreamLink Software’s panel will feature state-level innovators who will share grant reporting automation best practices and how they are preparing for the DATA Act. Register today!

Note that the next challenge after DATA Act passage and signature by the President will be implementation. It will take years for the Treasury Department and the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the two entities that the DATA Act puts in charge, to take the actions that the bill requires. The Data Transparency Coalition will keep up its advocacy at each step to ensure the work gets done.

To learn about the background of the DATA Act and its potential implications, download our whitepaper.

 Grant Reporting Whitepaper

Image Source: OpenSource.com via Flickr