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Transparent data: Making government waste disappear

We’ve talked about the DATA Act and the importance of government transparency before.

What’s happened since then?

Count ‘em down with me: A fiscal cliff, a sequester, a debt-ceiling debate, a federal government shutdown, an Obamacare fiasco, two delayed tax seasons, and more uncertainty than one CPA can take.

Anyone ready for some government transparency now?

Tom Hood and I attended a breakfast meeting of the Data Transparency Coalition in D.C. recently, and most of the talking points we heard there were pretty much what you’d expect: Data is the new black. Transparency helps us make better decisions. It brings better analysis — since so many red flags boil down to data errors, the efficiencies alone would be huge. Yada, yada, yada.

A couple of the panelists made some mind-bending observations, though. To wit:

  • “Being in a space of uncertainty is where growth occurs. That’s exciting,” said Christina Ho, director of data transparency at the Treasury Department’s Bureau of the Fiscal Service. I couldn’t agree more. It’s like social media. Everyone wants to see the blueprint, but there is none. We’re building the blueprint on the fly. How fun — how powerful — is that?
  • “Open data might be the most powerful lever of 21st century government,” said Marcel Jemio, chief data architect at the Fiscal Service. Think about what we can do when our government’s data is standardized and transparent — create jobs, prevent fraud and waste, reduce spending, strengthen governmental accountability. Those things are real, and open data can make them happen.
  • The benefits don’t stop there. Jemio said data transparency will bring better decision-making, drive economic growth, improve government services, and promote trust in government. Added the Recovery Board’s Ross Besark: “The public deserves to have access to accurate and timely information about government spending.”

It’ll be years before we get there, but we’re taking baby steps in that direction. The DATA Act is slowly making its way through Congress, and folks at the Treasury Department and the Recovery Board are already building a blueprint for putting the dream into action.

CPAs have a role to play as well.

"CPAs — especially those who serve the government — have a vital role here,” said Hudson Hollister, founder and director of the Data Transparency Coalition. “CPAs understand how government finance works. CPAs understand how those data standards should be created and applied, and CPAs will use the financial management tools that will be developed based on the standards. The government needs input from people who are going to use the data. CPAs are going to use the data. We hope CPAs will provide us with their input.”

I spoke with Hudson following the coalition’s meeting in D.C. Here’s what he had to say:


Bill Sheridan