By Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), from The Hill

Transparency is critical to our democracy, especially for a federal government that spent about $3.5 trillion last year.  Policymakers and taxpayers should be able to quickly answer some basic questions about federal spending, like how much did we spend, and who received our money?  Determining this very basic information can take countless hours of work, if it is able to be determined at all.

No wonder public trust in government is at an all-time low—we spend taxpayer dollars, but we fail to take sufficient steps to report back how it was spent.

But hopefully, those days are almost over.  The four of us have teamed up on an important bipartisan bill that modernizes the way the federal government collects and presents spending information.  The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, or DATA Act, will shed additional light on the federal government’s finances and leverage modern technology to give the taxpayers the transparency over federal spending they deserve.

The DATA Act will ensure that the information collected by the budget analysts, accountants, and grant and contract officers is combined, reconciled, and presented in an easy-to-use way.  Here is how it will work.

First, our legislation will expand the site to include spending data for all federal funds—by appropriation, federal agency, program, and function. Currently, it covers only grants, contracts and other federal awards.  This feature is important because there is currently no place to find and compare all government spending.  The information also will be made available in downloadable, easily-accessible format.

Second, the DATA Act will set government-wide financial data standards.  Currently, there are no consistent standards, which makes much of the data on confusing and unreliable.  Without consistent data standards, taxpayers and policymakers can’t compare apples to apples.

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