The average American citizen expects that the Federal government is efficient with its resources and that financial information is accurate, so leveraging data is key to evolving to the needs of the 21st century financial community.

Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of the Fiscal Assistant Secretary at the U.S. Department of Treasury Amy B. Edwards highlighted today how her department went about simplifying the process for which customers can see how funds are spent. Speaking at the Data Drive Government Summit today, Edwards demonstrated Data Lab, which uses visualization – including images and graphs – to understand how the Federal government uses its finances.

She noted that it started with understanding the user, whether that’s the public or helping Federal agency leadership in informing their decision-making.

“Can the general public find out how much Federal spending is coming into a community? Those kinds of questions are at the very front and center for those of us in Treasury,” Edwards said.

Next, she said that the department tried to focus its scope on specific use cases to get an idea of what questions they wanted to solve and to learn and build from those answers. Some examples of specific use cases were to answer how much does the Federal government spend in a day? How much Federal funding does one’s alma mater receive? And how many people are homeless in D.C. on a single night?

Lastly, Treasury wanted to be able to provide simple access to data and the visualizations. Edwards said that once it was determined who the audience might be and what questions they might want answered, the department wondered: “how do you provide that information in a simple, clear way with open data and easy visualization?” Edwards posited. In answering this question, Treasury determined that with Data Labs the customer should be able to gain context and an understanding of what the question is they’re asking.

Instead of a standard PDF report, Edwards said that Treasury was determined to adopt a Human-Centered Design and wanted to “give information to the public in a different way.”

“I do think from the founding of our country, when the core mission and principles of Treasury is to make sure that the finances are clear to the public, and that everyone can comprehend that and that is really the driving force behind a lot of the work that we’re doing,” Edwards said.

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Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.