Is the DATA Act Considering the Numbers?

May 3, 2012 | By Jerry Ashworth | Post a Comment

Call me stubborn but I’m still not convinced that the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (H.R. 2146), more famously known as the DATA Act, is exactly a good thing — or at least in its current form. Like most others out there, I support the concept behind it — encouraging greater transparency and streamlining the reporting of federal funds. However, I just don’t think the transition to the provisions in this act will be a smooth one, and the oversight could prove costly.

Let’s take a trip back a few years. I remember back in February 2009 when the Office of Management and Budget released the initial implementation guidance for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Poring over that guidance, I constantly found myself saying “They want these grantees to do what?!? Quarterly reporting?!? Report jobs created and retained?!? I’d like to see them pull this one off!”

Looking back on it, I have to admit that I’ve been amazed at how well grantees and federal agencies responded to the Recovery Act requirements. However, it took a few guidance amendments to get it to the point where the reporting process could proceed at its relatively successful pace, with very few Recovery Act grantees now failing to comply with the reporting requirements.

Most Recovery Act grantees have become accustomed to their reporting duties as we enter the final months of the Recovery Act, and systems have been established to collect the information.  However, I think the critical issue we need to consider when requiring Recovery Act-type reporting for ALL grantees is the massive number of grantees, and subgrantees, involved. According to Recovery.gov, there have been more than 216,000 grant awards issued under the Recovery Act since 2009. That’s a drop in the bucket compared to the total number of traditional grants and cooperative agreements federal agencies award, not to mention the subgrants that are passed down by prime recipients.

While the Recovery Act requires reporting by the first-tier subrecipient, the DATA Act would require reporting from all subrecipients down to a certain dollar threshold. This could become an administrative nightmare for prime grantees that have to ensure that their subrecipients are complying with the reporting provisions.

Several organizations representing state and local governments have issued a letter to Congress seeking consideration of specific changes to the DATA Act, which was passed by the House last week. It will be interesting to see if the Senate version differs from the House version and incorporates any of their requests. The organizations are also seeking a phased in approach to the DATA Act requirements, which I fully support. It will take some time before all grantees can get up to speed on these requirements.

The Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board this summer plans to conduct a pilot project to determine if the FederalReporting.gov reporting system used for Recovery contracts, grants and loans can be used as a centralized data collection point for all grants. Frankly, I’d like to see the results of this pilot before Congress passes the DATA Act so that we aren’t putting the cart before the horse.

As I said in blog post earlier this week, the DATA Act provisions combined with potential grants management and single audit changes stemming from the Office of Management and Budget’s recent notice of proposed guidance could do more harm than good without an appropriate phase in period to allow federal agencies to issue effective implementation guidance for all the grantees and subgrantees out there. Change is coming, but will we be ready for it? We’ll see.

Let me know if I’m off base on the DATA Act. What is your reaction to the legislation?

 

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