In 2006 legislation was signed that required that contract, grant, loan and other financial assistance awards to the Federal Government in amounts more than $25,000 be displayed on a public website. USAspending.gov gives taxpayers insight into how their tax dollars are being spent. The first website went live in 2007. In addition in 2014 the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 (DATA Act) was signed into law. The DATA Act codified the priority to make Federal Government spending information easier to understand, accessible, searchable and reliable. Our good friends at the Treasury Department have recently taken great strides to improve the site.
I thought it would be interesting to learn more about the contracts that my employer the US Patent and Trademark Office has using this open data. The beta tool is pretty straightforward as you can sort by Agency and have a big picture data visualization of the total amount spend and sorted by Vendor within minutes. The data comes from the USPTO Chief Financial Officer and is reported yearly.
The USPTO is the top awarding Bureau within the Department of Commerce with awards totaling over $908 million in 2014. To put this number into context, the total amount of contracts awarded to the Federal Government in 2014 was $445.55 Billion. So it’s interesting to note that the USPTO (a user-fee funded Agency) only accounts for 0.2% of all Federal Government contracts. The USPTO does not receive any grants or loans.
Let’s begin by searching the “Contracts Explorer” within the Open Beta website. (Note in this release you can’t use the Agency’s acronym “USPTO” in the search box but I found the Agency’s information when I typed in the word “patent”. By clicking on “1300: DEPT OF COMMERCE” link on the left side of the page, I can find the information I want in a visual or table format and in dollar or percentage amount. You can also see a broad description title of the products or services provided in each contract and how the totals have changed over time.
I think future improvements to the site might include a dictionary listing each Bureau and its parent Agency for the new user, including more years’ worth of data for historical tracking purposes, as well as improvements to the search and download capabilities.