DATA Transparency Bill Needs More Work

Proposed legislation aims to improve data accountability and transparency in government. Revisions have improved the bill, but some elements still need attention.
If we get it right and the DATA Act becomes law, it can very well become a major milestone in the effort to modernize transparency into federal procurement. But that's the catch; we must get it right.

The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA Act) of 2013 (S.994) (H.R.2061) is a much improved bill from its predecessors, and is regaining support from leading lawmakers. I am pleased to see that the new versions of the bill have done away with many of the dual reporting requirements that would have burdened federal suppliers by requiring them to provide the government with data it already had as well as eliminating the duplicative Federal Accountability and Spending Transparency Board.

But even with these encouraging changes, there are some elements of the bill that we believe need further attention and are necessary for our support, on behalf of the information and communications technology industry, of the final bill.

Those areas are:

Added Reporting Requirements

The current version of the bill is unclear as to who is ultimately responsible for the collection and compilation of data. The government owns this data at the solicitation, award and post award stages and should not seek redundant data from the vendor community.

The Mosaic Effect

We endorse transparency but believe that aggregating all purchasing data into one, easy to download format on a public portal will provide the necessary information for our adversaries to piece together critical information regarding national and economic security. Even if all classified purchases are excluded from the inventory, a user can identify trends and themes in the data to determine the U.S. government's plans -- in fact, technologies exist today that can help identify those trends. We believe this would create real security concerns and threats.

Data Protection

The bill lacks specific citations to existing legal and case law restrictions on the use of protected data and how that data will be used once provided under this Act.

The Pilot Program

While we have no objections to the pilot program in the bill that tests and identifies best practices regarding how data collection activities could be implemented, we believe there is a misalignment between the timing of the pilot program and the implementation dates for the government-wide data collection activities.

Each of the concerns listed can and should be addressed as the legislative process continues, and TechAmerica believes that without proper assessment and adjustments, these concerns will lead to numerous unintended consequences.

Already in this process the sponsors of the bill have shown their willingness to work with stakeholders to try to limit unintended consequences and improve the bill. We ask them to continue to work with us to ensure a solid foundation for the future of procurement and data management.

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Mary E. Shacklett, President of Transworld Data
James M. Connolly, Contributing Editor and Writer