Why data is important for policymakers

May 15, 2024

Ten years after the passage of the landmark Digital Accountability and Transparency (DATA) Act, experts, policymakers, and federal leaders reflect on how data helps inform decisions

Key Takeaways

Advances in artificial intelligence have made it easier and faster to disseminate misinformation. One way to counter this flood of false claims? Easy access to government data tracking everything from COVID-19 cases to grant funding. Hard numbers can provide a compelling alternative to AI-generated narratives, experts say.

The Bloomberg Center for Government Excellence at Johns Hopkins University (GovEx) recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of the passage of the Digital Accountability and Transparency (DATA) Act at an event held at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg Center, “Reflections on the 10th Anniversary of the DATA Act: Examining the Impact and the Future of Open Data.”

The landmark legislation required—for the first time ever—that all federal spending data be displayed publicly in one place so Americans could see how their tax dollars were being spent. Before that, there was no single way to track government spending across agencies, such as for contracts, grants, and loans, which made it difficult to share data and make informed policy decisions.

“Taxpayers had no reliable or consistent [way] to track how the monies were being spent,” U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said. “Passage of the DATA Act pushed us in a real way toward a more open and data-driven government.”

Because of the DATA Act, now anyone can visit USAspending.gov and view the up-to-date total amount of COVID-19 relief spending and where the money went. It helps build greater public trust and accountability in government spending when taxpayers know where their money is going, Warner said.

The DATA Act has also allowed local leaders and policymakers to better collaborate, to use data to understand the needs of their communities, and to solve challenges using data-driven decision-making, panelists noted.

“We really did have an important mission and obligation to give better transparency to the American public and to decision makers,” said Dave Lebryk, fiscal assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of the Treasury and one of the speakers at the event. “With better data, we make better decisions, and we have a better government.”

As technology continues to change and advance, new tools, like AI, are only as good as the data they rely on, the experts said. They added that data can be used not to replace policymakers, but to help them better solve problems and connect data to solutions.

“If I have my crystal ball about where I hope we are in this field [in the next 10 years] as a public sector or as a city or federal leader, [I hope] we can better predict the needs of our community and position ourselves to be ready in a time of crisis,” said Amy Holmes, executive director of the Bloomberg Center for Government Excellence. “[I hope] we can piece together data to intervene more quickly to prevent harm from happening before it happens, and have the government be proactive and make data-driven decisions that will change the way our residents trust and appreciate the important, critical services that the government provides every day.”