Better data, Better decisions, Better government

A year ago, Congress passed the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014, or the DATA Act. Since then, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Department of the Treasury (Treasury) have engaged with the communities that create and use this data and taken important first steps towards creating a more data driven government, and making federal data more transparent and available to the American people. Today marks the beginning of the next phase of implementation of the DATA Act.

Rolling Out Data Standards

Currently, the Federal Government produces huge amounts of data about how it spends money, but in some cases the same words are used in different ways. These inconsistencies make it difficult to use this data in a comprehensive way. Over a two-year period, starting today, the DATA Act requires Federal agencies to streamline this fragmentation and report Federal funds, broken down into specific categories like how much funding an agency receives from Congress and how much they are spending on specific projects and awards. It also requires agencies to use common government-wide data standards when posting that information to USAspending.gov – standards that aren’t currently applied across all agencies for all uses.

Today we are beginning the rollout of 57 data standards. Some are final based on public input we have already received, and others will require additional input as we finalize them this summer. As a result of input from our partners in Congress, industry stakeholders, federal agencies, and taxpayers through feedback on our public GitHub collaboration space, 15 final data standardsavailable today will be used by all agencies for all federal spending data posted on USAspending.gov, the Federal Government’s one-stop shop for spending data.  We are also releasing 12 additional proposed data standards and 30 existing data elements that we are in the process of standardizing across the government. Conversation and collaboration with the public has been key to our progress thus far and we encourage you to visit our online collaboration space on GitHub for more information on these proposed standards.

In addition to data standards, we have been testing new formats for exchanging data across the Federal Government. In particular, Treasury’s pilots have demonstrated how we can digitally tag award data through the eXtensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL) format. This process is called the DATA Act Schema and it has been released online and will continue to be refined with public input.

Helping Agencies & the DATA Act Playbook

To ensure the government has the necessary tools to adopt these standards within the two-year timeline, OMB also issued guidance to agencies on Increasing Transparency of Federal Spending by Making Federal Spending Data Accessible, Searchable, and Reliable. And to assist agencies with implementation, Treasury created a DATA Act Playbook with eight key steps that, if followed together, will help agencies leverage existing capabilities to drive implementation of the DATA Act. Treasury will continue to refine the Playbook and will hold meetings and workshops with agencies to provide updates on DATA Act activities, encourage agency collaboration, and share important insights and information.

Finally, leveraging the leadership of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), we have begun a pilot program to test and explore ways to simplify the reporting process for recipients of federal grants. We are approaching this pilot in a non-traditional way, with the goal of using the next two years to identify and test multiple ways to improve.  To start, today, we have launched a repository for common data elements and a new section of Grants.gov  with information about the grants lifecycle, which will test how data standards can translate to actual time saved in reporting and how to put all information about Federal grants in one place.

While we are pleased with the progress that has been made so far on the DATA Act implementation within existing budgetary resources, this is a complex project with challenges ahead. The FY 2016 Budget proposes $84 million to allow agencies to make progress in implementing the DATA Act and increase Federal spending transparency. With better data, we will make better decisions and ensure that every dollar is well spent.

For more information about our efforts under the DATA Act and how the public can participate, please visit USAspending HERE.

David Mader is the Controller of the Office of Federal Financial Management at the White House Office of Management and Budget. David Lebryk is the Fiscal Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

 

Editors Note: Ideas referred from;


Mader, David, and David Lebryk. “Better Data, Better Decisions, Better Government.”
The White House. The White House, 08 May 2015. Web. 30 Oct. 2015.

Want Your Tax Refund? Better Take a Selfie First

In this technology-driven day and age, critics of smartphone consumers condemn users about their fondness for taking selfies (a photo taken of oneself with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media), which critics believe are causing people to become increasingly vain, narcissistic, and self-absorbed. But, could taking a selfie make you richer? According to www.nextgov.com, some state revenue agencies and motor vehicle departments are receiving federal tax returns to verify the smartphone selfies of taxpayers in order to distribute refunds.

That’s right, selfies are not just for posting to social media platforms anymore; they are for security too. Indeed, in late 2016, residents of North Carolina and Georgia will be permitted to download a ‘selfie matching’ facial recognition application meant to deter thieves from claiming state tax refunds in their name. MorphoTrust, the biometric technology provider of this innovative mobile application, remains cognizant of the fact that confidential biographical data alone is not enough protection against identity theft as more and more personal data is readily available online. More compelling evidence of identity theft comes from the federal government when in August 2015, it disclosed that identity thieves entered stolen private information of over 300,000 individuals, and filed for $39 million in fraudulent funds. In another case, TurboTax had to suspend its state return filing services earlier this year after numerous states reported thieves using false identities to collect refunds.

In spite of rising rates of cyber-criminal activity, thousands of North Carolina and Georgia residents will be able to prevent anyone from filing and collecting their refund if they do not possess the same facial features, personal information, and driver’s license credentials beginning in late 2016, according to officials. To explain how this facial recognition application will have a positive effect for taxpayers, the designers describe how the MorphoTrust mechanism will work (www.nextgov.com):

  • An individual will download a MorphoTrust application that will be available on several smartphone models
  • The user will scan the barcode on their driver’s license with the phone
  • The individual uses the phone to take a photo of the front of the license so that DMV can verify it is a valid license
  • Users then take a selfie by opening their phone cameras and taking a self-portrait
  • The taxpayer consequently consents to having the barcode scan and photo cross-matched with data in the DMV’s records

Furthermore, the images that are transmitted will not be stored nor shared by MorphoTrust, the DMV, or the taxpayer to ensure absolute protection for the application user. This kind of identity security is important especially with the increasing incidences of hacking, data breaches, and phishing scams that are targeting individuals and government agencies, like the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which is now facing a class action lawsuit over a breach of 4.2 million federal employees’ personal data.

To heighten awareness of internet users, President Obama has recognized the importance of cybersecurity to our nation by designating October as National Cyber Security Awareness Month. According to the Department of Homeland Security, National Cyber Security Awareness Month is designed to engage and educate public and private sector partners through events and initiatives with the goal of raising awareness about cybersecurity and increasing the resiliency of the nation in the event of a cyber incident (www.dhs.gov).

Unfortunately, selfies are not yet the norm for identity verification nor identity protection. However, the Department of Homeland Security has provided Americans with the following internet user advice to practice in order to keep themselves, their personal information, and their assets safe online (www.dhs.gov):

  • Set strong passwords and don’t share them with anyone.
  • Keep your operating system, browser, and other critical software optimized by installing updates.
  • Maintain an open dialogue with your employees, co-workers, and colleagues about Internet safety.
  • Limit the amount of personal information you post online and use privacy settings to avoid sharing information widely.
  • Be cautious about what you receive or read online—if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Ultimately, internet users who are active in the online community must be as protective about their information as they are about family and finances. Since online security is far from “theft-proof”, my advice is to create and frequently change passwords, secure your wireless networks, and be a good online citizen.

The infographic shown below is useful for both small businesses and individuals as cybersecurity is a major component of safety in today’s digital age.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Government Information Sharing Is Now A Resolved Challenge.

When it comes to information sharing, several security aspects are questioned, whether information sharing is occurring within an organization across units or external to an organization the sharing of information can be fraught with challenges. Over the years, keeping government data a secret and sharing it over the dynamic and prolific internet is just as easy as a click. But is it safe? With the emergence of online crime through cyber criminals and competitors continually attempting to acquire secure data the answer has become a resounding “no”.

The Center for Technology in Government, (CTG) University at Albany, New York has released a toolkit; Government Information Sharing: A Planning Toolkit, designed for government professionals to help guide the process of sharing information. In this digital world it sounds like a relatively easy and seamless concept; but it’s as complex as predicting the future which could go either ways. Therein every government organization allots a percentage of capital and time in order to secure the data over shared network.
info5
Government enterprises face many performance challenges that can be addressed more successfully through better information-sharing initiatives. Regardless of the size and complexity of these initiatives, they are all made less challenging when participating organizations have a joint action plan that outlines what information sharing is necessary to be successful and what investments in capabilities must be made to close the gaps between capability required and capabilities available. Decisions to invest in information-sharing initiatives must be grounded in such an action plan. This toolkit is designed for government professionals tasked with planning and implementing initiatives that rely on effective information-sharing. It provides a process for assessing where capabilities for information-sharing exist and where they must be developed to achieve targeted goals. Assessment results provide a basis for action planning to fill capability gaps.

The CTG also developed Government Information Sharing: Dimension Worksheets, which deals with the degree of modeling and architecture development that is already in place to support the information-sharing objectives. Planning and design of effective information sharing and interoperability depend to a significant degree on a clear and detailed analysis of the entire enterprise involved. Such a description identifies the service and operational components of the enterprise and describes how they are connected to each other and what technologies are used to implement them. These models may also include detailed analyses of business processes within which the information sharing takes place.

Sabre88, LLC is secure. Are you?

The Trans-Pacific Partnership and what it means for EVERYTHING

Free-Trade is a staple of American democracy. Free-trade and globalization has allowed America and countries around the globe to open up their markets by removing trade barriers such as tariffs; allowing goods and services from around the world to compete with domestic products and services. According to The House Small Business Committee,International trade is a critical component for the long-term growth and viability of small businesses and the U.S. economy overall. In 2012, total U.S. exports reached $2.2 trillion, which is nearly 14 percent of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product. Those exports helped support nearly 10 million jobs, including about 4 million small business jobs(SmallBusiness.House.Gov). Ultimately, the exportation of goods and services provide small businesses with greater opportunities to reach new markets, increase revenue, and create jobs.

World Map of Every Country’s Highest-Valued Export. Image Source: Business Insider

 

Lately, in the world of free-trade policy, there has been an increase in news coverage of the United States as it enters the final stages of negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The Office of the United States Trade Representative officially defines the TPP as the author of the rules for global trade—rules that will help increase Made-in-America exports, grow the American economy, support well-paying American jobs, and strengthen the American middle class (www.ustr.gov/tpp/). In spite of such great expectations, many members of the general public are not exactly aware of this agreement or what it entails. So, what exactly is the TPP and what does it mean for everything?

According to the New York Times, the TPP is the largest regional trade accord in history, and if implemented, would set new terms for trade and business investment among 12 countries whose combined annual gross domestic product (GDP) of nearly $28 trillion represents 40 percent of global GDP and one-third of world trade. The agreement has yet to be ratified by Pacific Rim Nation lawmakers in The United States, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Chile, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, and Japan—the parties included in the agreement. Michael Froman, the United States Trade Representative has stated that the trade would be worth $295 billion over the next ten years and will support job expansion, drive sustainable growth, foster inclusive development, and promote innovation across the Asia-Pacific region and benefit United States citizens.

However, critics of the trade agreement contend that the TPP is anything but free-trade, arguing instead that it is nothing but controlled trade that protects multinational corporations and corporate interests against economic regulations—regulations that are designed to protect the public interest. Opponents also criticize the deal based on issues that will imply consolidation of power, reduction of government transparency, lessening of environmental and health protection standards, pharmaceutical monopolies, manipulation of currency, offshoring of jobs, a reduction of internet privacy, decreases in food safety standards, and the undermining of local control.

In like manner, US Senator Bernie Sanders, a US Democratic presidential candidate, has said that “Wall Street and other big corporations have won a big victory to advance a disastrous trade deal” (www.bbc.com/news/business). The “win” to which Sanders refers is about the geopolitical maneuvering and further corporate domination over participating nations’ trade and investment affairs that opponents say the TPP will impose. For example, if the TPP is signed into law, large foreign corporate firms will be able to sue the United States government for actions that undermine their investment expectations in order to obtain taxpayer compensation for loss of said firms expected future profits (www.huffingtonpost.com).

In the event that the TPP is ratified by lawmakers, the Electronic Frontier Foundation states that the agreement would raise significant concerns about citizens’ freedom of expression, due process, innovation, the future of the internet’s global infrastructure, and the right of sovereign nations to develop policies and laws that best meet their domestic priorities. In essence, the TPP puts at risk some of the most fundamental rights that enable access to knowledge for the world’s population (www.eff.ord/issues/tpp).

Given these points, the overall lack of knowledge held by the general public about this trade agreement is the most dangerous aspect of the TPP’s potential implementation.

Big Data Terminology Incongruities in the Federal World

New data analysis technologies are advancing day by day that help federally-funded researchers crunch more information and direct them to successful development and progress. Unfortunately, this has an underlying negative effect: the potential exposure of a company or individual’s private & personal information particularly with the federal government failing to remain current with modern research practices.  Several federal groups – including the departments of Homeland Security, Energy, Agriculture, Health and Human Services and Education – are proposing that, regulations surrounding human test subjects be revised to reflect new research methods. For example, appropriate researchers would be required to hand out consent forms to potential subjects, informing them that their leftover biological samples and data culled from them could be used in future projects.

Research shows has shown that, investigators might use powerful computers to churn through information, be it the records from medical, educational, criminal justice or administrative claims. The proposal claims that information that was “treated as non-identified can now be re-identified”. In an effort to update the consent process, the agencies have proposed several adjustments to the “Common Rule,” a more than decades-old process that oversees federal research on human subjects.

Relatively recent developments in scientific research – including the use of analytics services on human specimens and the increasing use of large volumes of electronic health data – have changed patients’ expectation of privacy, the proposal said. “Yet, these developments have not been accompanied by major change in the human subjects research oversight system, which has remained largely unchanged over the last two decades,” the new proposal stated.

Despite the risks, more people want to participate in research. This “participatory model” has evolved alongside the “widespread use of social media, in which Americans are increasingly sharing identifiable personal information and expect to be involved in decisions about how to further share the personal information, including health-related information that they have voluntarily chosen to provide.”

This is where the definition of big data falls short with regards to federal research and “another set of rule-sets which takes Privacy very seriously should be incorporated within the current federal research system”.

 

Editors Note: Ideas referred from;


Ravindranath, Mohana. “What Big Data Means for Human Subjects in Federal Research.”
Nextgov. N.p., 25 Sept. 2015. Web. 2 Oct. 2015.