Treasury Notes

 Making Progress on the DATA Act Implementation the First Government-wide Agile Project

By: David Lebryk and Christina Ho
11/16/2016

Treasury has been working on the implementation of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014, better known as the DATA Act, for more than two years. Recently we held a meeting with leaders from across the Federal government to look back at the good work that’s been done, the process ahead and best practices from leading agencies.
 
The DATA Act seeks to connect more than 400 interconnected data elements from hundreds of financial and management systems across the federal government to provide a more transparent accounting of federal funds. So we knew we needed a collaborative approach for implementation.
 
We posted draft implementation information online for public view and comment beginning in spring 2015. Agencies and external stakeholders commented extensively on the draft data definition standards, the DATA Act Information Model Schema (DAIMS), and are now providing input to help us design the future USAspending.gov. We have avoided top-down assumptions about the best way to collect and display data and we are testing our ideas with federal agencies and the public along the way.
 
We also explored new ways of collecting input. We hosted town halls, webinars, workshops, monthly calls, weekly office hours and testing sessions. We even created new online forums through the Federal Spending Transparency Collaboration Space and the OpenBeta.USAspending.gov site to engage our communities in new ways. All this feedback has resulted in stronger final products that will make the DATA Act implementation more successful in the long run. By using an open, iterative, and collaborative methodology, known as the Agile approach, we have established a solid foundation for substantial improvements in the way government reports on federal spending.     
                                                                                                                                  
 
DATA Act Developed Foundation for Federal Data Management
 
Treasury, in partnership with OMB, developed three key resources that have formed a foundation to organize data across the entire federal enterprise.  First, we started by setting government-wide standards to align the definitions used by the budget, finance, procurement and grants communities. Our challenge was that we had too many individual standards across management functions and federal agencies. Aligning these through common definitions was our first critical step.
 
Next, in developing the DAIMS, we set technical requirements for reporting more than 400 interconnected data elements.  These elements were previously segmented in databases and systems across government. Our Schema links this data with a common framework so it can be used internally and understood by the public. Our Schema can also be used to link to other management data — like performance, information technology and human resources to be used to improve the way we work. We have heard from academic communities and state governments that are interested in using our Schema to link other data that can document outcomes and support evidence-based analysis.
 
And lastly, we developed the DATA Act Broker. The Broker is an online tool through which agencies will submit and validate their data to Treasury. It includes about 100 complex validations and more than 170 data element level validations. We have adopted open source technology in the DATA Act Broker and the code, which is published online, is also open for public input. By using open source code for the Broker, the government invests in the development of the code once and then agencies can reuse the same code or extend it within their own environments to improve the quality of the data before they submit it to Treasury. Financial management system vendors can also leverage the same code to enhance the agency systems.
 
The Agile development approach and the user-centered design principles that were used to develop the DATA Act Broker allowed us to complete the development of this more complex system in five months — a significantly shorter time period than past projects.
 
 
Implications for the Future of a Data-Driven Goverment
 
 
Two recent international forums focused on the increasing demand for a more data-driven government — highlighting the most cutting-edge approaches for open data efforts from across the globe — have us even more convinced that the work we are doing on the DATA Act is truly innovative. The Agile and user-centered approaches for developing standards and running a large, enterprise-wide effort have the potential to serve as a standard, not just here in the United States, but for our partners abroad. Taking risks, being open and trying new approaches like the agile development methodology can pay off for government and we will build off the lessons learned from our DATA Act implementation for years to come.
 
David Lebryk is the Fiscal Assistant Secretary and Christina Ho is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Accounting Policy and Financial Transparency at the U.S. Treasury Department.
Posted in:  DATA Act
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