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:

  • Expand FFATA by disclosing direct agency expenditures and linking federal contract, loan, and grant spending information to federal agency programs;
  • Establish government-wide data standards for financial data and provide consistent, reliable, and searchable data that is displayed accurately;
  • Simplify reporting, streamline reporting requirements, and reduce compliance costs, while improving transparency;
  • Improve the quality of data submitted to USAspending.gov by holding agencies accountable.

DATA Act Implementation

Agency Implementation

To assist agencies with implementation, OMB and Treasury created a playbook of eight recommendations that, if followed together, help agencies fulfill the requirements of the DATA Act by leveraging existing capabilities and streamlining implementation efforts.

Agile Development Methodology

The Data Transparency team uses 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 continues throughout the lifecycle.

In addition, the team participates in a stand-up meetings to review the previous 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 use GitHub repositories for all our code. This external communication platform allows both internal and external stakeholders to monitor the progress of the Data Transparency efforts. To provide feedback on the code, please file an issue on the relevant GitHub repository. You can find a list of all repositories here.

User-Centered Design Process

The Data Transparency Team strives to have a deep understanding of who will be using the 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 developed a 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 focused on agency users. Later, the focus expanded 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.