The Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 (FFATA) was signed into law on September 26, 2006. The legislation required that federal contract, grant, loan, and other financial assistance awards of more than $25,000 be displayed on a publicly accessible and searchable website to give the American public access to information on how their tax dollars are being spent. In 2008, FFATA was amended by the Government Funding Transparency Act, which required prime recipients to report details on their first-tier sub-recipients for awards made as of October 1, 2010.
The transparency efforts of FFATA were expanded with the enactment of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA Act) Pub. L. 113-101 on May 9, 2014. The purpose of the DATA Act, as directed by Congress, is to:
The expanded, linked data submitted by the agencies will be displayed on the future USAspending.gov, which is to go live in May 2017.
To assist agencies with implementation, OMB and Treasury have created a playbook of eight recommendations that, if followed together, will help agencies fulfill the requirements of the DATA Act by leveraging existing capabilities and streamlining implementation efforts. As federal agencies begin implementation, Treasury and OMB will continue to refine the playbook.
Instead of building the future USAspending.gov and getting reaction from users after the launch, Treasury has taken the innovative approach of releasing OpenBeta.USAspending.gov, a public beta site to show (rather than just tell about) progress as we build. Open Beta exists to gather users’ recommendations and suggestions in real time on real functionality, and then utilize that feedback to evolve the site.
Everything you see on this Federal Spending Transparency website is contributing directly or indirectly toward something on Open Beta. As more infrastructure is built out (data model, agency data submission, and data storage) more data and functions appear on Open Beta.
The DATA Act team is using an Agile development/scrum methodology to build, assess, and iterate the project throughout the development lifecycle. Agile is a software development methodology characterized by short build-cycles, an emphasis on working software, and responsiveness to evolving requirements and solutions.
We work in two-week sprints with each sprint focused on completing discrete, time-boxed tasks with clear acceptance criteria. At the end of the sprint, the team participates in an evaluation and review of the work accomplished and then plans for the tasks (“user stories” or “issues”) for the next sprint.
This two-week cadence will continue throughout the development lifecycle.
In addition, the team participates in a stand-up call every morning to review the previous day’s work and to report any challenges, questions, or blockers so they can be addressed and resolved quickly.
The Agile/scrum process is open and transparent: stakeholders can follow the progress of the tasks in the development and publication work streams on our JIRA site.
Operating in the spirit of transparency, we are using GitHub repositories for all our code. This external communication platform allows both internal and external stakeholders to monitor the progress of the DATA Act implementation processes. To provide feedback on the code, please file an issue on the relevant GitHub repository. You can find a list of all repositories here.
The DATA Act team strives to have a deep understanding of who will be using the new USAspending.gov site and its related data upload features. This understanding is built on town-hall meetings, workshops, and user interviews reaching the public, industry, and federal agencies. Our aim is to understand the users’ context when using these products, their motivations, requirements, and goals. This understanding constantly evolves and informs the development process.
To help make our user research digestible and actionable, we have developed a preliminary set of “Personas”: snapshots of user types that capture and organize information that can inform design decisions. Examples of our latest personas can be found on the User-Centered Design page. As more research is conducted and designs are tested, they will evolve and become more accurate.
Finally, we test. We have developed a comprehensive plan for conducting recurring usability testing to help us identify potential design concerns. Initially, usability testing is focusing on agecy users. Later, the focus will expand to “data consumers,” including grant recipients, researchers/reporters, and interested citizens.
Usability testing will continue in a regular cadence in sync with the development cycles of our Agile development environment. More information on our user-centered design process can be found here.
For more information about the DATA Act and the implementation process, visit the FAQs.