Open Data

Congress looks to make grant info DATA Act friendly

abstract image of money

A bipartisan set of lawmakers is looking to better track the more than $600 billion in federal grants every year awarded to state and local governments.

The Grant Reporting Efficiency and Agreements Transparency (GREAT) Act — sponsored by Reps. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.), Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Mike Quigley (R-Ill.) and Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) — would legislate a governmentwide open data structure for all federal grant reporting information.

The bill tasks the heads of the Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Health and Human Services — the largest grant-making agency — with oversight responsibilities.

By better tracking grant reporting data, the bill would help to fill the gaps of government financial reporting mandated by the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, an open data law aimed at tracking the $4 trillion in annual government spending.

In a statement, Foxx called the current grant reporting system "cumbersome, laborious, and laden with inefficiency."

The bill "will simplify the grant reporting process for grantors and grantees by transforming standard information – used in reporting and compliance – into searchable open data," she said. "Ultimately, this will result in greater transparency and reduce compliance costs for non-profits, universities and many other stakeholders."

Gomez added that "by leveraging technology, we can make the federal grant reporting process more transparent and efficient while breaking down barriers for new federal grant applicants that seek funding opportunities."

The GREAT Act is backed by the Data Coalition and the Association of Government Accountants.

Data Coalition Executive Director Hudson Hollister, who helped write the DATA Act as an aide to Issa, said of the new bill, "ultimately, replacing documents with data will alleviate compliance burdens for the grantee community, provide instant insights for grantor agencies and Congress, and enable easy access to data for oversight, analytics, and program evaluation."

Relatedly, the Data Foundation, the sibling organization to the Data Coalition, jointly published with Grant Thornton its 2018 State of the Union of Open Data report Feb. 1.

Based on interviews with more than 20 members of government and industry, more than three-fourths of respondents said the publication and standardization of data have improved in the last year, and expressed optimism publication and standardization would improve next year. Respondents also said that open data allows for better management within the organization.

Overall, the conclusion the report reaches is that "the state of the union of open data is strong, but the road to fulfilling its promise is long."

Another open government bill that awaits congressional action is the Open, Public, Electronic and Necessary (OPEN) Government Data Act, which would codify President Barack Obama's 2013 executive order to require federal agencies to publish their information to Data.gov in a non-proprietary, machine-readable format

The Senate version of the bill, introduced by Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), passed the chamber late in 2016, but has yet to receive a vote in the current Congress.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a former FCW staff writer.

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