The DATA Act: Important Dates for 2015 and Beyond

Posted by Rachel Werner on Jan 12, 2015 6:00:00 AM

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050912_blogIn November 2014, I attended a conference sponsored by the Maryland Governor’s Grants Office. The focus was primarily on the changes that are taking place within the federal government pertaining to grants management, and then filtering down to state and local governments and nonprofit organizations. These changes include the required use of the OMB Omni-Circular and the implementation of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA) Act. As grant professionals, we know that these changes are important and we can look through the voluminous acts to determine their significance in our daily work. But do you know why they are here, particularly the DATA Act?

Let’s take a step back and look at this from a strategic perspective. We all know that Congress has not been viewed favorably in recent years, as demonstrated by multiple voter and citizen polls. One can argue that these polls indicate that the public has lost some faith in the government and how decisions are being made to address critical public policy issues. The reasons for this vary, but one of the ways the federal government is trying to combat this perceived lack of faith is through information and data transparency.

Think of it this way: If you are not transparent, there is a view that decisions are made in the shadows and behind closed doors. This can make one feel detached and excluded. The more transparent the information, the more inclusive and collaborative the approach. Makes sense, right? This is the key component of the DATA Act. It attempts to provide transparency in funding decisions and provide an account of how federal grant funds are expended and used by its recipients.

This chart should explain this further:

Before DATA Act: Perceptions

After DATA Act: Projected Outcomes

§  Lack of awareness about how funds are spent

§  Full transparency in how funds are spent

§  Misuse and misappropriation of grant funds

§  Electronic review and tracking – searchable through public database

§  Wasteful use of tax dollars

§  Reduction in incidents of fraud

§  Lack of alignment between grant dollars and outcomes

§  Alignment between grant dollars and outcomes

§  No mapping between funding source and funding recipient

§  Clear mapping between funding source and recipient

§  Multiple grant reporting formats and information requested varies

§  Common reporting standards and processes

 

Hudson Hollister, executive director of the Data Transparency Coalition, gave a keynote address during the November conference and touched on multiple issues outlined above. He noted that when the culture of an agency changes, this is when there is the capacity to make real, systemic changes. He also included some important dates that you should know with regard to the DATA Act.

  1. The Department of Treasury and OMB will map out the different reporting requirements for recipients (May 2015)
  2. Two years after these standards are established, the agencies must conform to these standards (May 2017)
  3. A pilot program is required to determine if this approach works (starts May 2015). The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will be overseeing the pilot program and will try to determine if it is possible to automate grant reporting with common data formats.

While this may not seem relevant to your work, you should realize that data transparency is part of a larger institutional focus on collaboration and responsiveness. This may appear burdensome, but if you peel back the layers, you’ll realize that data transparency is the first step in holding government accountable for funding decisions. If you lose sight of this ultimate goal, you will get mired in the weeds and focus on the process rather than the strategy behind the Act. This Act has the potential to show how federal funds impact the greater community through its application in grant programs and services.

Grant Procedures

Topics: DATA Act, Grants Management Best Practices