The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, or DATA Act, seems to be popular. It passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 388-1 on November 18, 2013, and the Senate counterpart was forwarded to the full U.S. Senate by the Senate’s Committee on Homeland Security. Advocates of the legislation claim three outcomes from the Act: better transparency, more effective federal management, and automated compliance.
I’m not convinced the DATA Act will result in improvements, as back-side issues (government regulatory oversight) have hampered previous government reform and accountability measures—such as the Government Management Reform Act of 1994, the Federal Financial Management Improvement Act of 1996, and the Reports Consolidation Act of 2000.
Grant recipients, contractors, and municipalities/county governments (front-end users) will feel the impact of the legislation in these three areas:
- Transparency: This may allow for increased visibility as to how funds are spent, but what then? Political organizations, both liberal and conservative, will clamor for change when a program appears to go awry. What action will the government take? How long will it be trapped in the courts? Will there be system-wide changes to address an isolated incident?
- Federal Management: Could management processes that have been in place for years and working be prematurely eliminated in favor of a “streamlined” process that is ineffective or nonresponsive? Will the new processes account for the varieties of programs?
- Compliance: Standardization of reporting requirements will force businesses, governments, and nonprofits to make investments to re-create internal processes to meet the new reporting requirements. Will local governments and organizations invest millions in technology and operational processes to ensure data collection meets the DATA Act’s requirements?
A problem that has plagued efforts to improve government management and accountability has been the back-side outcomes. While front-end processes may identify fraud and abuse, the back-side has presented a challenge: Congress either does not act or overreacts, the administration does the same, or the issue becomes trapped in the court system. The DATA Act may change the front-end, but it won’t resolve issues on the back-side.
I have no objection to improved government efficiencies and accountability. However, I fear another administrative burden is being placed on those struggling to provide needed services.
Do you agree?
About the Author
Mark Whitacre, GPC, owner of Goldstone Grants (www.goldstonegrants.com), is a grants consultant with more than 20 years in the grant industry. He has developed proposals that have secured more than $27 million in funding from federal, state, local, and private organizations. He posts regular blog articles on grant development topics.
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