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Standardizing Data to Improve Efficiency and Save Taxpayer Dollars


Location: Washington, DC

Twenty-first century companies rely heavily on the use of data and technology to save time, money, and resources, all while delivering a better product to customers. With federal improper payments in fiscal year 2010 topping $125 billion, why should the federal government not do the same?

The use of standardized data will form the building blocks to move government programs towards this important goal, which will maximize taxpayer funds and ensure that safety net programs provide benefits accurately and efficiently.

The Ways and Means Human Resources Subcommittee, which I chair, has taken up the charge over the last year. In November, Subcommittee Ranking Member Lloyd Doggett [TX-25] and I introduced the Standard Data and Technology Advancement Act (H.R. 3339), or Standard DATA Act, to establish consistent requirements for the electronic content and format of data used in key human services programs under the Subcommittee's jurisdiction.

Today, many government programs operate on out-of-date technology platforms and have either an inability or a failure to coordinate information despite serving similar groups of people. These technological and communications shortcomings can cause serious errors and waste in the delivery of benefits and duplication of efforts.

Measures like the Standard DATA Act cut down on these problems in two ways. First, the bill establishes standard elements for individual items of information. Second, it defines, in predictable ways, how those elements relate to one another. Combined, these measures put human services programs on the same page in terms of communicating and using information to effectively serve beneficiaries. It also allows for better and quicker analysis of data to catch fraud and root out waste in government programs.

This commonsense and bipartisan goal has gained traction, allowing the Standard DATA Act's approach to be incorporated into recent law. The provision was applied to two child welfare programs in the Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act (P.L. 122-34), which was enacted in September 2011. Then in February 2012, the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 (P.L. 122-96), commonly known as the payroll tax cut extension bill, applied the Standard DATA Act to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program and the Unemployment Insurance program.

The progress made over the last year is only the first step in a much longer process of bringing the federal government into the twenty-first century. Standardizing data will form the foundation of promoting more transparency and accountability. Ensuring that data can be shared across various information technology platforms used by federal and State agencies will promote the timely flow of data. The data can then be easily searched and analyzed to better target benefits to those in need and identify waste, fraud and abuse.

The Standard DATA Act will make government work smarter, faster and more efficiently for both beneficiaries in need and taxpayers. At a time when Congress is continually trying to find ways to tighten the federal spending belt, we must standardize government data to improve effective stewardship of limited taxpayer funds.

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