Warner Pushes for DATA Act Follow-Through
Former governor and tech executive says he’s pleased with agency progress on implementation.
A year after enactment of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., on Wednesday pronounced himself pleased with joint-agency progress on implementation, a less-than-glamorous task made “extremely difficult under the stupidity of sequestration,” he said.
“Memo to future Congresses, don’t put the stupid option as the default option,” the former governor and tech industry entrepreneur told a crowd of 600 at the DATA Act Summit hosted by the Data Transparency Coalition. The difference between a legislator and a governor is that “a legislator feels the job is done once a bill is signed,“ he said at the Washington Convention Center, “but a governor knows that this is just the beginning, that implementation is as, or more, important than what the law said.”
Warner told the crowd of tech industry enthusiasts and agency staff that he will “keep on the appropriations people” to preserve President Obama’s proposed $85 million for the governmentwide adoption of practices intended to standardize agency spending and performance data and to release it to the public in formats businesses and individuals can use.
“Having hundreds of financial systems in government doesn’t make much sense, but we have to be cautious and vigilant,” he added, mentioning his plans to cooperate with Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. “The DATA Act is a great first step, but it doesn’t do all the transparency and common standards we need.” That, he said, will require a DATA Act II, something that would continue long after Obama’s tenure ends.
Expressing frustration with the current polarization in Congress, Warner offered himself as an “ally and advocate” to agency employees seeking a destination for reporting problems or progress on the implementation. “There are few people who actually care about data and facts at the place where I work these days,” he said referring to Congress.
Every president talks up the need to manage results using data, Warner said, but then the priority slips. Given the government’s $18.5 trillion debt, stretched entitlement programs and inefficient tax code, Warner said, “The challenges on the fiscal side will be with us for the foreseeable future, no matter who’s in charge. We need data on how we govern to create efficiencies. We no longer have the ability to throw money without measuring results.”
Warner touted a long-standing bill he introduced with Rep. Robert Whitman, R-Va., to use the Chesapeake Bay Watershed as a pilot project for measuring spending effectiveness across 30 federal, state and local programs affecting the area.
Asked about the recent security breaches at the Office of Personnel Management and the Internal Revenue Service, Warner said efforts to counter the privacy and national security threats from identify theft “are going to get worse before they gets better, and in the land of sequestration,” IT improvements are “what ends up getting squeezed.” The IRS, he added, has IT equipment too old to help it check whether a taxpayer who is 120 years old is really still living. “It’s a sign that all is not well there,” he said, but the current reluctance to invest funds now to save money later “is the opposite of what happens in the private sector.”
Warner also defended the “noble calling” of public service, while warning that the Millennial generation may lose respect for government. “Nothing makes me angrier than seeing people I work with trash the federal workforce, “he said. “It’s a stupid management technique to say, I will cut your budget and then blame you.”