On 25 July 2018, a hearing was held by the House Oversight Subcommittee on Intergovernmental Affairs in order to examine ways by which the federal grant-making process could be improved.
Why was the hearing held?
The hearing invited a number of speakers from bodies such as the Government Accountability Office, the Project on Government Oversight, and the Congressional Research Service, among others, to discuss how effectively the federal grants process is being managed.
Although the federal government usually awards over $700 billion in grant money annually, there remains some difficulty in the management and reporting process.
Often, reporting requirements result in duplication of documents, although steps are being taken to try and reduce the volume of post-grant reporting required. The Department of Health and Human Services, for instance, is undertaking a pilot project aimed at reducing the number of forms required for reporting compliance, while also providing structured data solutions that can be used across the department.
Additionally, a lot of time is still spent monitoring compliance with grant reporting, when this time could be utilized properly elsewhere – analyzing the outcomes of awarded grants, for example.
The potential of the GREAT Act
One of the ways that grant management could be improved is through the proposed Grant Reporting Efficiency and Agreements Transparency (GREAT) Act. The GREAT Act aims to standardize and create machine-readable data in federal grant reporting.
Such automation should help reduce the costs of compliance and should also prove more efficient due to the proposed creation of a single data framework that pools together the information related to federal grant receipts.
The GREAT Act was introduced in January 2018, and was ordered reported in February 2018. Further action is pending to see whether the bill will pass through the house and senate.
Another initiative currently underway to improve the state of grant reporting is the recent release of the President’s Management Agenda, which contains a goal for “Results-Oriented Accountability for Grants.” The measure also calls for a data-focused strategy that works towards standardized grant reporting.
Although the hearing is undoubtedly a positive step towards improving the state of federal grant reporting, there are still a few barriers that need to be overcome with data reporting.
Notably, the hearing saw some discussion around the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 (DATA Act), and more specifically the federal spending information available on USAspending.gov.
There were concerns that certain grant programs, such as one led by the Department of Agriculture, were not displayed on the website, as they should be under the DATA Act. While such omissions were acknowledged, it was also stated that progress was being made. As such, these setbacks should not pose a long-term risk to the goal of standardizing and simplifying grant reporting and transparency.
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