In the era of austerity, and seemingly endless conversations about budget deficits, finding solutions that both cut costs and make sure payments make it to the right place are critical. Last week, at the federal level, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform got a lesson from state and local governments on how to do this. The Oversight Committee held “DATA Demonstration Day,” an educational demonstration for Members of Congress, Congressional staff, and the public. Many of the demonstrations brought forward use cases from state and local governments which are constitutionally mandated to balance their budgets and often, to offer significantly more disclosure of payment and budget information than the federal government does.
Presenters included both big and small IT vendors, such as Google, Microsoft and open data platform provider Socrata. The goal of the demonstration day was not only to present use cases but also raise support for the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA Act). The DATA Act was introduced last year, but ultimately failed to move through Congress.
CivSource spoke with Christopher Rossie, executive vice president of corporate development and public sector for Oversight Systems, one of the handful of companies invited to demonstrate their services before the committee. Oversight Systems works with larger state and local governments to help them automate payments processing and ensure that improper payments are not made.
During the event, Oversight Systems demonstrated its operational analysis software platform which helps businesses and government agencies evolve from exploring big data to quickly generating and delivering operational insights. Across industry and government, Oversight analyzes over $1.75 Trillion of transactions to recover revenue and deliver stronger compliance for customers worldwide. The Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS), the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Bureau of the Census all use Oversight’s platform to prevent over $2 billion in annual improper payments and ensure the accurate reconciliation of expenditures.
“Congress is going to have to bring stakeholders together to look at the data models, and how of this will work together, and that’s going to be a non-trivial task,” Rossie said when asked about the variety of information types the US government works with and how to create a unified data standard.
“The greatest challenge to monitoring government data today revolves around access to high quality data, in a format that can drive action,” he said. In the demonstration, Oversight Systems was able to show that with a unified reporting standard, benchmark data can be created to ensure consistency and keep improper payments from going out.
The company also has plans to release a cloud-based on demand version that offers greater scalability for government agencies and offices that have a lower transaction volume or do not wish to support an on-site solution.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform committee, has also reintroduced the bill, with bipartisan support. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) introduced a similar bill in the Senate in September of last year. The reintroduction of the bill, which is backed by the Data Transparency Coalition, happened at the event and has the support of House majority leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) The Data Transparency Coalition is headed up by Hudson Hollister, who used to serve as counsel to Issa’s committee.
The focus of the DATA Act is to improve the type and quality of reporting government agencies give to USASpending.gov, a federal website used to report budget and payment information of various federal agencies and offices. The bill essentially seeks to establish a government-wide standard for reporting this data. As CivSource has reported, the Obama administration is making its own moves on open data, but they don’t touch on the issues outlined in the DATA Act. The DATA Act wasn’t supported by the administration the last time around, and at the time of this writing administration officials had not commentted on the bill.