The White House has published a plan to transform federal grant reporting from disconnected documents into open, standardized data.
The Data Coalition views this as a big step forward! Supported by StreamLink Software other leading data companies, we’ve been pushing for open data in grant reporting since 2013.
Last Tuesday, as part of the long-awaited release of the President’s Management Agenda, the White House announced fourteen new government-wide goals. Goal number 8 of these is “Results Oriented Accountability for Grants.”
The White House recognizes that the government’s current system of grant reporting creates challenges for grantor agencies, grantees, and the populations they serve. Grantees must fill out complicated document-based forms to report on their receipt and use of grant funds.
As a result, their managers report spending 40% of their time on compliance, according to a survey by REI Systems, the National Grants Management Association, and the George Washington University.
Meanwhile, because these forms are submitted to over 2,200 separate program offices across the government, transparency is difficult. There is no easy way for agencies, beneficiaries, or the public to see a grantee’s performance across multiple programs.
Last year, our sister organization, the Data Foundation, conducted an intensive program of research into the challenges of federal grant reporting, supported by StreamLink Software and Workiva. In December, the Foundation published its magnum opus: Transforming Grant Reporting, which recommended that the government should “replace document-based [grant reporting] forms with standardized, open data.”
To accomplish that, we need a government-wide taxonomy, or data dictionary, which standardizes the data fields that all grantor agencies use to collect information from their grantees.
Last month, Congress took note. Reps. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) and Jimmy Gomez (D-CA) introduced the GREAT Act (H.R. 4887), which will require the government to create the necessary taxonomy, and then require all the agencies to use electronic data, formatted consistently with that taxonomy, to collect information from their grantees. The House Oversight Committee unanimously passed the GREAT Act on February 6th, sending it to the full House of Representatives.
Now, thanks to this week’s announcement, it’s clear that the White House is keen to take on the challenge of standardizing grant data, even in advance of a mandate from Congress.
Here’s what the White House intends to do.
First, working with the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services, the White House will standardize the “Core Data Elements” that are used in reports that grantees submit to “a significant number of agencies.” This should be complete by the end of Fiscal Year 2018, or September 30, 2018. Details are on page 5 of the White House’s grants management Action Plan.
Second, the White House will figure out how to govern and maintain the new taxonomy. The White House intends to complete this step by the same deadline: September 30, 2018.
Third comes the hard part. The White House will “[D]evelop and execute [a] long-term plan for implementing data standards government-wide.” That means forcing all the grantor agencies to collect reports from their grantees in electronic data, formatted consistently with the taxonomy. The Action Plan announces no deadline for this crucial third step.
Alongside these steps, the White House intends to create a common solution for Single Audit Reporting and build a tool to help agencies manage grant risk (page 6 of the Action Plan).
Finally, once grant reports have been transformed into standardized data, and once new tools have been built to utilize that data, the White House will lead all grantor agencies to manage their grant programs based on risk (page 7 of the Action Plan).
We are excited that the White House has put itself on a pathway to transforming all federal grant reporting.
We won’t let our leaders off the hook, of course; we’ll still work to convince Congress to pass the GREAT Act right away, so that the transformation won’t just be a White House plan but a legal mandate.
We know the road will be long. If the federal grant system were one company, it would be, by far, the world’s largest, with over $600 billion in annual revenue.
But for the same reason, automating grantees’ compliance burden and bringing system-wide transparency for agencies and the public is too good an opportunity to miss.
**Note: Read our full summary of the President’s Management Agenda here.**