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DATA Act: Implications for Grantees

by Cherrise Wilks on January 6, 2014
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U.S. Capitol building, DATA Act and grants managementThe Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA Act) aims to make federal spending more accessible, increase the availability of the data to the public, and improve oversight of federal funding. Passed by the House in November (H.R. 2061), the bill will be taken up by the Senate (S. 994) early this year. As referenced in my previous blog article, the legislation expands the provisions within the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act (FFATA), extends the Recovery Act reporting deadlines, and sets a new expiration date for the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board (RATB) until 2017.

Under the DATA Act, the RATB must strengthen the requirements of the Federal Funding Accountability Transparency Act (FFATA) and enhance all efforts to automate and consolidate sources of information on federal spending. This data will be tracked via USASpending.gov. I predict that the RATB will replicate what worked well with monitoring Recovery Act funds.

The Recovery Act, and its spending website Recovery.gov, may be the most recent attempt to increase transparency and accountability for recipients of federal contracts, grants, and loans. Recovery.gov is now the official website for the RATB, and the site was recently rebranded to reflect the work that the board accomplished. The subtle changes to the website serve as a digital résumé of the work that the RATB has accomplished thus far, and it is a predictive indicator of the work that must be accomplished with the DATA Act.

Implications and Trends

Here are a few implications of the DATA Act and trends that stewards of federal funds could expect to see if the Senate passes its bill and the DATA Act becomes law. For example:

1. Finding grant funding opportunities will get easier

All grants will soon be advertised and submitted on the enhanced Grants.gov website. In the past, grants were advertised on various federal sites, and the new website creates a transparent process for applying for all grant opportunities.

2. All public, nonprofit, and for-profit entities will be tracked via assigned federal numbers

Entities receiving federal funds will need an Employer Identification Number (EIN), D-U-N-S (Duns and Bradstreet) number, and registration in the System for Award Management (SAM), and will report all federal awards (grants, loans, and contracts) in FSRS (Federal Subaward Reporting System).

3. Grant recipients may see an increase in administrative burden

All awarded entities should develop a grants management system or purchase software that allows them to customize and track data elements required for federal grants. Contract compliance will be of utmost importance, and complying with the requirements of the DATA Act will bring about a small increase in compliance monitoring for grant managers. While it is unknown which data elements will be required to be tracked, we do know that certain elements will remain:

  • Compensation of top five highly compensated officers
  • D-U-N-S number
  • Registration expiration for SAM
  • Congressional district
  • Sub-awards and contracts with other entities including vendors
  • Photographs of work
  • Jobs created
  • Unduplicated number of people served with grant funds

4. For-profit companies will be required to disclose corporate information

Any entity receiving federal funds will be required to disclose information to the public. Many public institutions and nonprofit agencies are accustomed to disclosing information to the federal government. However, for-profit entities may want to reconsider providing goods and services if they are to receive federal funding by grant, contract, loan, or through a vendor relationship.

During the Recovery Act, sub-awardees and vendors receiving a contract less than $25,000 did not have to report any information such as officer salaries. In theory, for-profit entities may be required to provide the same data as a public entity to enhance transparency and accountability under the DATA Act. Some companies may deem that as a threat.

5. Public accountability will be enhanced

The current political climate and social media environment increases the public appetite for  immediate responsiveness to community needs, a desire to understand how tax dollars are being spent, and a desire to know the impact of those dollars on the community. At the end of the day, agencies receiving resources are responsible to the communities they serve by being good stewards of federal funding. Compliance with the DATA Act ensures that information will be made readily available for public consumption; this may foster increased accountability if more people are educated about how funding is being spent.

Agencies and award recipients may want to create unique centralized governance structures to improve agency administration, performance monitoring, and compliance oversight of federal funding. It will be imperative that organizations hire competent professionals who understand the changes being made and that new policy, procedures, and internal controls may be warranted. This is great news for grants industry professionals who have several years of experience or certifications in grants management.

About the Author

Cherrise L. Wilks, grants managerCherrise L. Wilks is a seasoned grant administrator with over 11 years of experience working with nonprofits and state and local government, including the Florida Department of Children and Families, Florida House of Representatives, and the City of Jacksonville. Ms. Wilks serves as the Grants Specialist for the City of Tampa, as CEO of Logistics Business Consulting Group, and as President of Affinity Consulting Group. Her expertise includes securing over $24 million in federal, state, and private grants. She has a bachelor of science degree in Family, Child & Consumer Sciences from the Florida State University and a Master’s of Public Administration from the University of North Florida.


Grants Management Software for Greater Accountability

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Grants management software allows for complete grant award management that spreadsheets like Excel cannot provide

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