In the absence of a more proactive approach on the part of regulators, a self-appointed committee of XBRL advocates has developed guidance and rules that it hopes preparers will embrace and follow to produce better quality XBRL filings.

The XBRL US Data Quality Committee is made up of the XBRL US consortium and five software-and-services firms -- Merrill Corp., RDG Filings, RR Donnelley, Vintage, and Workiva -- all with a vested interest in the requirement for all public companies to provide their financial statement information to the SEC via the interactive data system. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants also is a member of the Data Quality Center, which formed the committee.

The committee’s goal is to develop guidance for uniform, consistent tagging of financial data, and for clarifying specific circumstances where custom tagging is appropriate. The committee also seeks to develop automated validation rules to prevent or detect tagging errors and verify compliance with the Committee’s guidance.

The Securities and Exchange Commission requires companies to provide data in XBRL, but has done little beyond occasional public remarks to compel companies to improve the quality of their XBRL filings. The filings are not subject to any audit requirement. “There have been issues with XBRL in terms of the usability of the data,” says Ami Beers, senior technical manager at the AICPA. “There’s been a slow pick-up in investors using the data in their day-to-day activities.”

The committee has issued for public comment seven rules covering 2,400 separate data elements that are intended to address common trouble spots in XBRL filings. Those include the proper presentation of negative values and getting reporting dates stated correctly, for example. The committee is opening the rules to a 60-day comment period, inviting investors, analysts, preparers, data aggregators, and service providers to weigh in.

“The first set of rules is really focusing on the common input errors,” says Beers. “These are things that companies should be getting right.” The committee’s plan is dig deeper in subsequent guidance to establish guidelines for when it is appropriate for companies to create extensions, or custom tags, in their filings. “We would like to make the data more comparable so users are able to extract data more automatically.”

When finalized, the rules proposed by the committee will automatically validate files, says Beers. The committee is hopeful the SEC will elect to add the rules to its validator so that filings that do not comply with the rules will not be accepted until corrected. “The SEC’s validations do not include some of the rules we’ve developed,” she says. The committee will make its rules available on open source so they will be accessible to anyone.