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

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

Topics: Big Data, Government, Government US


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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  • Looks like the bill was improved

    But who's going to be managing the data, if not the OMB?
    John L. Ries
  • If government has access to all data

    Then isn't a perfect totalitarian government much easier to install? The good thing is that we can take down that useless statue in NY harbor for recycling, it's not like it's needed any more...
    Tony Burzio
    • That's not what he was talking about

      We're talking here about the US Government's own data, which should be freely available, unless there's a good reason for them to not be (like confidential tax records, or legitimate military, intelligence, and diplomatic secrets).
      John L. Ries
  • Sausage

    Dear Mr. Gewirtz:

    Do you eat it? (My apologies if you are Jewish-- can't tell.) Have you ever seen it made? If you do eat it, I assume you like it. Well then... complaining about how it's made would seem a little ... [the word starts with "h"].

    (insert the old saying about politics being like making sausage)

    Of course, we agree with you on how bad democracy is-- it's the worst form of government in the world... except for all the others. If you like the benefits of democracy, however, perhaps you could go a little lighter on the snide, dismissive remarks about Congress in a publication which I believe is focused on matters of IT.

    I enjoy many of your articles, BTW, so this isn't meant to be negative.
    • Unfortunately...

      ...given the dysfunctional turn our political culture has taken during the last 30 years or so, I think David's characterization is apt. This doesn't mean I favor curtailing Congress' authority, but it does mean that we voters need to do our part to fix that culture and elect politicians that are more focused on the long term public interest than on short term political gain and "civil war by other means".
      John L. Ries
  • I found the remarks about THIS Congress

    quite humorous, but it is, admittedly, gallows humor. There have always been crooked politicians, but in my lifetime, this is the first time that politicians have not only cheated the public, they have claimed it is morally RIGHT to do so. They have turned the economy into a football league with no referees and no sense that there need to be any rules ... except penalties for being a loser.

    Economic policies that history has shown to lead to stagnation and poverty (as in the 1920s and early 1930s), combined with pseudo-moral teaching that it is WRONG for the people, through their elected representatives, to try to relieve the suffering CAUSED by those policies (outsourcing, wage reduction by union-busting, even THEFT of part of the insufficient wages they are supposedly offering, by time card altering and off the clock work requirements) is somehow immoral? It's like saying it's OK to mug someone, but not to give him treatment after he is mugged.

    And now that millions of previously uninsured people can finally go to a doctor, they want to take that AWAY from those millions, while also taking away their right to VOTE against those politicians? They are after pure power, and will say or do ANYTHING to get and keep the power to protect their "Christian" values from anyone who want to actually ACT like Jesus.