Senate passes modified DATA Act, tosses it back to the House

Summary:If also passed by the House and signed by the Pres, this bill would give researchers, watchdogs, and data miners more standardized data on US spending to mine and analyze.

The US Senate today passed the DATA Act (S.994). Now, don't get all excited. Just because the Senate passed the DATA Act doesn't mean there is actually a DATA Act.

For that to happen, the United States House of Representatives also has to pass it, and there's no nuttier, selfish, short-sighted, back-stabbing group of 435 people outside a Game of Thrones book than those esteemed men and women elected by the People to specifically represent our interests.

Well, okay, with a nod to our British friends, the House of Commons does have 650 members of parliament and they certainly represent their own brand of wacky. But you have to admit, even with 200+ fewer representatives, the US House of Representatives certainly manages to hold its own in reprehensibility and self-interest.

All of that brings us back to the DATA Act, which is one of those bills that might actually be useful for America if not completely defanged by those we elect to do right by the American people.

The key idea of the DATA Act, as described by the Congressional Budget Office is, "to make information on federal expenditures more easily available, accessible, and transparent. The bill would require the U.S. Department of the Treasury to establish common standards for financial data provided by all government agencies and to expand the amount of data that agencies must provide to the government website, USASpending."

In other words, it would give researchers, watchdogs, and data miners more data on US spending to mine, analyze, and thereby, at least in theory, be able to more completely hold our leaders accountable for spending.

You might have heard of the DATA Act last year as H.R.2061, the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2013. Astute readers might note two interesting designations above: the "H.R." and the year 2013.

That's because the House of Representatives already passed their version of the DATA Act on November 18, 2013 with 210 Republican and 178 Democratic yeas, exactly 1 nay (New Jersey's Rush Holt), and 41 reps who just didn't bother to vote (divided almost exactly half-and-half between the GOP and the Dems).

One day later, the House approved bill was passed along to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

According to FCW, one of the big differences between the House and Senate version of the bill was the level of involvement of the Office of Management and Budget.

The OMB is a unit of the Executive Office of the President and its director holds a presidentially-nominated and Senate-approved cabinet position. The Treasury Secretary is also presidentially-nominated and Senate-approved, but it's a separate agency outside of the White House (like Defense or Justice).

The House bill wanted the DATA Act standards to be managed by OMB where the Senate's version removes the OMB provisions (effectively reducing White House involvement by a degree).

Oddly enough, the House DATA Act was originally proposed by our old buddy Darrell Issa, so the idea that the House bill would give Obama's White House more power over transparency doesn't make sense, given how often Issa acts as a pit bull nipping at the heels of the President.

Various watchdog groups also didn't like the changes proposed by OMB and as we've seen today, the Senate bill removes the OMB hacks.

Where does it go from here? Well, the House approved something, OMB fiddled with it, the Senate approved something else. Now it has to go back to the House, and then to President Obama's desk. Odds are, by the time all our various congresscritters and politicians get done, the DATA Act will be a sad reflection of its original vision.

Politics. Feh.

By the way, I'm doing more updates on Twitter and Facebook than ever before. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz and on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz.

Topics: Big Data, Government, Government : US

About

In addition to hosting the ZDNet Government and ZDNet DIY-IT blogs, CBS Interactive's Distinguished Lecturer David Gewirtz is an author, U.S. policy advisor and computer scientist. He is featured in The History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets, is one of America's foremost cyber-security experts, and is a top expert on savi... Full Bio

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