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Rep. Issa Pushes for Open Government with 'DATA Act' Version 2.0

by Jane Susskind, published

Representative Darrell Issa made headlines this week after spearheading the investigations into the Benghazi attack on September 11, 2012, and "slamming" IRS Inspector General J. Russell George. A lesser known project the chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is working on, however, is the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA Act), which the committee quietly released a discussion draft earlier this month.

The bill aims to expand the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 to require federal agencies to post expenditures and spending data online in a standardized and downloadable format.

"In essence, the DATA Act lays the blueprints for a truly open and digital government by organizing federal spending information and making it machine-readable," Issa wrote in an essay published earlier this year.

As a long time proponent of open government and increased transparency, Issa was vocal in his opposition of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and applauded the Internet community for the Wikipedia blackouts that disrupted the Internet last January (and ultimately led to SOPA's defeat). This year, Issa is calling on Washington to ride the "tech wave" and use the technology available to create a truly open government.

"By developing a common 'language' for data and making it available to download in bulk, journalists, academics, and citizen watchdogs will be able to build tools that ferret out fraudulent and wasteful spending and analyze the value taxpayers get for their dollar," he added.

The DATA Act passed the House in 2012, but stalled in the Senate. While still maintaining much of the language of the original bill, the new version of the DATA Act contains some key differences, as outlined in a summary by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

One of the key differences is the removal of the Federal Accountability Spending and Transparency (FAST) Commission, which would have been created under the 2012 version of the bill. Instead, the new version does not create any new entities and relies solely on the U.S. Treasury to lead the data standardization efforts.

Another change made this year is the deletion of additional provisions to eliminate paper waste, including the Paperwork Reduction Act, GAO Improvement Act, amendments to the Inspector General Act of 1978 and the IG Reform Act of 2008, and conference spending reform.

While the government has made significant strides in the digital direction, it far trails the private sector which has not only adapted to the technological changes in society, but initiated them. Darrell Issa, however, expressed confidence that the 113th Congress would make the DATA Act law this year.

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