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house Bill H.R. 150

Should Federal Grants Be Captured in a Searchable Online Database?

Argument in favor

There’s currently no good mechanism for capturing federal grant data. The process remains manual, document-based, and non-searchable across the federal government. This bill modernizes the recordkeeping process around federal grants, creating transparency and auditability.

Mary's Opinion
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last Thursday
We have a right to know where our money is being spent.
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Wancouvor's Opinion
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last Thursday
Lobbying should also be public, we need to know who is getting sponsored to vote on a bill!
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Christopher's Opinion
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last Thursday
The same should be available for gun ownership in this country and it should be available to the ATF and other Federal Law Enforcement today.
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Argument opposed

Progress on this issue is already happening organically — there’s no need to burden the OMB Director and HHS Secretary with creating standards that are already being developed by federal agencies and employees of their own accord that will increase access to information about grants.

Eric's Opinion
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last Thursday
Who cares about this?! RE-OPEN THE GOVERNMENT! Stop the trump shutdown! There are WAY more important things to do than deciding whether grant recipients should be publicized.
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1958FRO's Opinion
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last Thursday
There are other areas of government that need transparency.
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Gayle's Opinion
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last Thursday
I don't believe this would be nan okay idea! I think Trump should focus on reopening the government and stop focusing on the unnecessary border wall which is really useless in my view!
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bill Progress


  • Not enacted
    The President has not signed this bill
  • The senate has not voted
      senate Committees
      Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
  • The house Passed January 17th, 2019
    Roll Call Vote 422 Yea / 0 Nay
      house Committees
      Committee on Oversight and Reform
    IntroducedJanuary 3rd, 2019

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What is House Bill H.R. 150?

This bill — known as the GREAT Act — would mandate that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) develop a modern, standardized reporting system for federal grant recipients that easily translates into open data in order to help fill the gaps of government financial reporting mandated by the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act. All recipients of federal awards, including both grant and cooperative agreements, would need to be recorded in this database. This would serve the purpose of bringing increased transparency to how taxpayer dollars are spent, and improve congressional oversight of grants awarded by the executive branch.

This bill would also mandate a standardized electronic data structure for the information that federal grant recipients must report to federal agencies. The executive branch would be responsible for establishing these standards. Additionally, the bill would also create goals for the new standards, including: searchability, consistency with accounting principles, and a non-proprietary product.

Each grantmaking agency would be required to begin collecting grant reports using the new data standards established by this bill within three years.

The OMB Director and Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary would be responsible for implementing this bill.

The bill’s full title is the Grant Reporting Efficiency and Agreements Transparency (GREAT) Act.

Impact

Federal grant recipients; federal cooperative agreement recipients; federal grantmaking agencies; OMB; OMB Director; and the HHS Secretary.

Cost of House Bill H.R. 150

$50.00 Million
When this bill was introduced in the 115th Congress, the CBO estimated that implementing it would cost $50 million over the 2019-2023, assuming appropriation of the necessary funds.

More Information

In-DepthRep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) reintroduced this bill from the 115th Congress to ensure that federal government technology keeps pace with federal grantmaking:

“To get the most out of each taxpayer dollar, the federal government has to keep pace with the technological advances that make our digital society ever-more efficient. That means implementing new, uniform data standards for federal grant reporting and leaving behind antiquated document-based methods. The GREAT Act requires the Executive branch to take these necessary steps, which will lead to decreased compliance costs for grant recipients and increased public scrutiny of grant spending.”

In an op-ed in The Hill, Rep. Foxx added that this bill would have multiple benefits:

“The GREAT Act will enable our grantmaking agency to receive accurate reporting submissions and data analytics to assess the effectiveness of the grants. This would have a twofold effect: First, it would allow greater scrutiny of how the money is being spent. Second, the legislation allows grantees to maximize every dollar they receive from the government to ensure it goes back into communities, supporting local businesses, organizations and education.”

Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-CA), who was an original cosponsor of this bill in the 115th Congress, added that the sheer amount of money given out in federal grants makes this bill critical:

“Every year, the U.S. government issues over $600 billion in federal grants to state and local governments, agencies, small-businesses, and non-profit organizations. It’s important that every grant dollar issued is tracked and held to account, but the grant reporting process is riddled with complexities and redundant paperwork. The GREAT Act will modernize the way the government does business by standardizing and simplifying grant reporting information into searchable open data. This will make the grant reporting process more transparent, efficient, and accessible to everyday Americans.”

The Trump administration has set a goal of compiling and standardizing data elements to help establish an overarching taxonomy for core grant information. It has not, however, taken a position on this legislation as a means of achieving that goal.

The Data Coalition supports this bill. Its Executive Director, Hudson Hollister, says:

“In its current form, grant reporting is overly complex and riddled with flaws. The GREAT Act will solve this problem. The proposed legislation will require the adoption of a government-wide open data structure for all the information grantees report. Ultimately, replacing documents with data will alleviate compliance burdens for the grantee community, provide instant insights for grantor agencies and Congress, and enable easy access to data for oversight, analytics, and program evaluation.”

Alex Howard, deputy director of the Sunlight Foundation, says that there’s no doubt grantmaking needs to be reformed in the U.S. government, but he isn’t sure if this bill is the right solution:

“It’s very difficult if you’re trying to do watchdog work, if you’re trying to do business intelligence work, if you’re trying to do anything to figure out which entity is which in terms of their receipt of funds… [Any bill on this topic needs to] address that root issue, [and] I’m not sure how much this will address it or or not.”

In the 116th Congress, this bill has the support of seven bipartisan cosponsors, including four Democrats and three Republicans. In the previous Congress, it passed the House with the support of seven bipartisan cosponsors, including four Democrats and three Republicans. It had the support of the Data Coalition, National Grants Management Association (NGMA), Federal Demonstration Partnership (FDP), and the Association of Government Accountants (AGA).


Of Note26 federal agencies award federal grants. All of these agencies rely on outdated, burdensome document-based forms (PDFs) to collect and track grant dollars.

Today, congressional offices have a limited number of staffers assigned to help federal grantees with applications — and this can’t rival the private sector’s ability to hire a team of specialists for the same job. According to Rep. Fox, “[t]hat means often the small business who can’t afford to hire a team of specialists or afford the burdensome hours of filling out duplicative paperwork are not able to compete [for federal grant money].

Currently, two issues have consistently risen to the top among problems facing grant reporting processes: 1) they do a poor job of delivering transparency to agencies, Congress and taxpayers, and 2) grant recipients bear unacceptable costs of compliance.

In its 2018 State of the Union of Open Data report co-published with Grant Thornton, the Data Foundation found that there are already data publication and standardization improvements happening within the federal government. In interviews with over 20 members of government and industry, the Data Coalition found that over three-fifths of respondents said the publication and standardization of data had improved in the last year; the same respondents expressed optimism that those improvements would continue into 2019.


Media:

Summary by Lorelei Yang

(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / Olivier Le Moal)

AKA

GREAT Act

Official Title

To modernize Federal grant reporting, and for other purposes.