The federal government is about to transform the way it tracks and manages grants. This summer, MorganFranklin Consulting will host a roundtable of federal grant management leaders to discuss this change. Read our earlier blog post for an overview of the GREAT Act.
On January 29, 2018, Reps. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) and Jimmy Gomez (D-CA), with several cosponsors, introduced the Grant Reporting Efficiency and Agreements Transparency (GREAT) Act of 2018, which will require the government to adopt a single data format for all grant reporting. The House Oversight Committee unanimously approved the GREAT Act on February 6, 2018.
If passed by Congress and signed by the President, the GREAT Act, will give the White House and HHS one year to come up with the format, another year to issue guidance to all of the grantmaking program offices, across all agencies, to start using that format for the reports they collect, and one more year for the program offices to follow the guidance.
Who is affected by the GREAT Act, and what will it require of them?
If the GREAT Act is enacted into law, or if the White House proceeds with the project announced on March 20, grantmaking agencies will have to collect information from grantees using a common data structure, defined by the White House and enforced by OMB guidance. This means grantmaking agencies must adjust existing grant management systems to be consistent with that data structure. For their part, grantees will be required to file or submit information as data, rather than as documents. Grantees might adjust their grant reporting solutions to match the data structure. For smaller organizations without grant reporting solutions, agencies might offer web-based forms that automatically conform information to the data structure.
Will this create more work or costs to implement?
There will be transition costs for both grantmaking agencies and grantees, but the pilot program conducted by the White House shows that adopting a common data structure will reduce complexity and enable automation for grantees while allowing agencies to better understand and analyze grant reporting information. In addition, a similar program in Australia, in which multiple regulatory agencies adopted a common data structure for financial reports from companies, know as Standard Business Reporting (SBR), saves over AUD$1 billion annually in compliance costs for companies and over $100 million annually for the government, according to a study the government commissioned.
What is the benefit of having all grant data publicly accessible, and what are the dangers?
The GREAT Act does not make any information public that is not already public. But it does make information reported by grantees more readily-accessible. Currently, the only way for the public to receive access to such information is to file a Freedom of Information Act request. Under the GREAT Act, the White House would establish a government-wide repository for such information, newly standardized in a common data structure (or use the existing one at Grants.gov).
The benefit of bringing all this information into a single data set is instant visibility into all of the awards a particular grantee receives, even if from multiple agencies or programs, both across programs and across time. The Recovery Act demonstrated this benefit: Inspectors general using the government-wide repository at Recovery.gov (which contained a single data set of information reported by grantees and contractors receiving stimulus funds) were able to recover (or prevent from being paid out) more than $100 million from questionable recipients. This would not have been possible without bringing the information together into a single repository.
Are there any security risks with having that data available?
Information that carries security risks will remain protected from disclosure.
Having searchable data will help the public see how funds are being used and help agencies more easily see the impact their dollars have had. But can’t agencies already research this information?
In order to assemble comprehensive, searchable information on grantees’ performance, agencies must manually assemble information from hundreds of different grant programs, then standardize it into the same format. This is prohibitively expensive, and no large agency has fully accomplished it. By having the information reported in the same format to begin with, assembling it into a single data set will become much easier. In addition, currently every project to bring grant performance information together for analysis is a one-off, and their results cannot be compared to other such projects because a different platform and format are used each time. But with a common, government-wide data structure, agencies will be able to share insights and build on one another’s projects.
How will the GREAT Act affect MorganFranklin clients?
Our federal agency clients will need to comply with the mandate to adopt a common data structure for the information they collect from grantees. Once the standardization has been accomplished, MorganFranklin’s federal agency clients will have an opportunity to deploy analytical solutions to derive much better insights into their grantees’ performance.
How will the GREAT Act increase access to grants and open new opportunities for recipients?
Grantees will have easy access to information showing how their peers and competitors performed on other grant awards and on their own performance across programs and across time. Such information is currently public, and would be disclosed in response to FOIA requests, but is trapped within unstructured documents and formatted in incompatible ways.