XBRL Update: U.S. XBRL Initiative Begins to Move Beyond SEC Reporting

October 21, 2011
by Nicholas Messing, Junior XBRL Accountant/Business Wire
Nicholas Messing

Nicholas Messing

A recent piece of legislation signed into law by President Obama has caused a flurry of excitement in the XBRL community. The Child and Family Services Innovation and Improvement Act (H.R. 2883) might at first glance appear to be unrelated to the financial data coding world of XBRL, since the bulk of the bill is devoted to extending child and family welfare programs from the Social Security Act through the year 2016.

The key section for XBRL, however, is Sec. 105, Data Standardization for Improved Data Matching. This section explains a new requirement for the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to designate common data elements and reporting standards for state-submitted reports on federal child welfare funds. Here, XBRL makes a surprise appearance: “The Secretary shall, to the extent practicable, incorporate existing non-proprietary standards, such as the eXtensible Business Reporting Language.”

Needless to say, this “shout-out”  to XBRL in federal legislation has not been taken lightly; and XBRL US, the nonprofit consortium for XBRL standards, has been vocal in their support. Campbell Pryde, President and CEO of XBRL US, issued the following statement: “Data and technology standards are critical to ensuring accurate, timely and consistent reporting of information. The application of XBRL as outlined in H.R. 2883 would significantly improve communication between the States and social services programs. We commend the President and the leaders in Congress responsible for this Act which help the Department of Health and Human Services administer its child welfare programs and better serve children who need help.”

On October 12, XBRL US held a Town Hall conference call to discuss the new and pending XBRL-related legislation. Since the passage of H.R. 2883, the next bill up to bat for XBRL in the House and Senate may be the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act. The DATA Act would further extend the reach of XBRL by requiring federal agencies to adopt financial data standards such as XBRL in order to better monitor federal spending.

Hudson Hollister, Counsel at House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, spoke in favor of the DATA Act by saying, “XBRL pretty much occupies the field when it comes to organizing financial data and disseminating it… The adoption of XBRL for federal spending information would have very beneficial long-term effects on the federal government’s ability to analyze and disseminate, in a transparent fashion, its own spending information.”  Amy Edwards, Performance Budgeting Specialist for the Senate Budget Committee, discussed her work toward building support for the DATA Act in the Senate, and Diana Deem of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants described the AICPA’s grassroots campaign, which includes letters of support for the DATA Act and meetings to educate members of Congress on XBRL.

Echoing this sentiment, Brad Monterio, on behalf of The Institute of Management Accountants voiced the IMA’s support for both pieces of legislation in a press release which recently crossed our wire: “We urge members of Congress to pass the DATA Act and use XBRL as a tool to create transparency and accountability for government, much in the same way it did for The Child and Family Services Act.”

It is clearly significant that US lawmakers have begun to recognize the value of XBRL as a universal data reporting standard. These legislative developments suggest that future applications of XBRL are very likely to extend beyond the realm of SEC filings as the functionality of XBRL continues to expand and advance.


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