In the final weeks of 2019, Congress passed a significant piece of legislation, and the president signed the bipartisan bill into law Dec. 30, 2019: the Grant Reporting Efficiency and Agreements Transparency Act of 2019, or the GREAT Act, which will modernize federal grant reporting.
If your organization is one of the recipients or grantees of the more than $700 billion in annual financial assistance from the federal government, this will impact you. Chances are the GREAT Act will affect you and how your agency, institution, or research lab reports information back to the federal government.
We’ve been following the GREAT Act closely and are here to help answer your questions surrounding the legislation. Check out the Q&A of what you need to know now—and also what’s next for the GREAT Act, when the president signs it into law as expected.
What is the GREAT Act?
Federal grants touch nearly every American through grant programs that provide free or reduced school lunches, equip our police and fire departments, build and maintain our highways and transportation infrastructure, support small businesses, and much, much more.
The GREAT Act is intended to:
- Modernize grant reporting by developing government-wide data standards for information reported by grant recipients.
- Reduce federal grant recipients’ reporting burden and compliance costs by increasing automation and applying new technologies.
- Increase transparency and strengthen federal agencies’ oversight and management of federal grants by requiring the publication of recipient-reported data collected from all agencies on a single public website.
“We named it the GREAT Act for a reason,” Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) said when she introduced the bill in 2017. “The results of the passage will be great for stakeholders, government agencies, job creators, grantees, and grantors.”
It is designed to standardize a data structure for the information that recipients must report to federal agencies and to streamline the federal grant reporting process.
“Without updating the way we process grant reports, in many ways we might as well be still operating with a typewriter and a fax machine and Wite-Out,” Foxx said.
What do I need to do to prepare for the GREAT Act?
Based on my experience in implementing the DATA Act—the GREAT Act’s predecessor that requires financial data to be standardized, machine-readable, and transparent—here are three initial steps you can take to be proactive:
- Establish a core team responsible for implementation: Identifying the people at your organization who will closely track and be held accountable for implementing the act is your first step. While the key stakeholders in your organization will likely change over time, you need to identify those who will be most operationally affected by the act—this includes everyone from grant administrators to systems/IT owners to program staff.
- Engage in developing the data standards: The GREAT Act requires the standard setters to consult with key stakeholders, including states, local governments, and federal agencies. It is important that you and your team stay up-to-date with the latest proposals and provide feedback to prevent burdensome or less than ideal standards. Put simply, now is your chance to shape the future of federal grant reporting.
- Conduct an audit of your data and processes: As I mentioned earlier, it is highly unlikely that what you are required to report and/or collect will change substantially. Right now is a good time to identify process inefficiencies, data quality issues, and duplicative efforts. You can start by conducting a simple inventory of the data you submit and/or collect for federal award reporting.
When taking these first steps, be sure to take an incremental approach. Let’s face it: change is hard. Do the easiest and smallest things first to make meaningful progress. Also, truly look at this as an opportunity to modernize and leverage the GREAT Act as a catalyst to push forward data and efficiency initiatives that may have stalled out in the past.
How will the GREAT Act impact my current reporting process?
You probably won’t experience a great deal of change right away, as the act requires the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the designated “standard-setting agency”—likely the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)—to develop data standards over the course of the next two years. Once the standards are set, federal grant-making agencies have one year to adopt the standards and issue guidance to recipients for all future information collection requests.
As mentioned above, you can take this time to implement new best practices that improve processes across the board, so you can not only be fully prepared for when the effective date arrives, but also take advantage of the new efficiencies in advance.
The law’s provisions require the new data standards be nonproprietary, machine-readable, and be in line with existing machine-readable data standards, including standards set under the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 used for USAspending.gov reporting.
If you are a grant recipient, what you report will likely not change substantially, but how you report will change in ways you might not have expected. More on those in the next section.
What are the benefits to the GREAT Act?
Some of the benefits to reporting organizations include a reduction in redundant reporting, potential for automated validation of a report’s completeness, automated delivery, and if you’re a high-performing organization, faster recognition of your excellent performance.
First benefit: Grant recipients may need to report less data. Recipients will be required to submit data in a machine-readable format, meaning that just sending PDFs will no longer be acceptable. Federal agencies will leverage technology to automate and streamline reporting processes, so recipients would report data only once, and federal agencies would use it multiple times.
Second benefit: Federal agencies can make more informed decisions when awarding grants. That’s a huge advantage if you are a recipient that consistently receives a clean audit opinion—chances are you will have greater access to federal grant dollars. The GREAT Act simplifies the current single audit reporting by requiring the gold mine of single audit data to be reported in an electronic format consistent with the data standards established under the act.
But if your single audit reports identify material weaknesses and repeat findings year after year, right now is a good time to get your house in order if you want to keep receiving federal funds.
What are the important dates I need to know for the GREAT Act?
Keep in mind this general timeline:
- Within two years: The federal government must set data standards.
- Within three years: Once the standards are established, federal agencies will have one year to adhere to the standards, publish guidance to recipients, and explore modern technologies in reporting related to federal awards. In addition, OMB must issue guidance requiring single audit information to be reported in an electronic form consistent with the data standards.
- Within five years: Once the standards are set and adopted, the federal government must publish the federal award information on a public website.
Where can I go for more information?
Our team at Workiva is committed to keeping you informed on the significant news related to the GREAT Act, whether you are a recipient, auditor, or federal grant-making agency. The Data Coalition, America’s premier voice on data policy, is another great resource for staying up-to-date. Check out the Data Coalition website, and subscribe to their newsletter.
Editor’s note: This blog has been updated and was originally published on December 20, 2019, at workiva.com.