Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., introduced the bill.

Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., introduced the bill. Molly Riley / AP

House Passes Bill to Standardize, Centralize Grant Data

Without machine-readable reports, waste will continue, lawmaker says.

The House on Wednesday approved by voice vote a bill to require 26 agencies to work with the Office of Management and Budget to establish governmentwide standards for information reported by grant recipients so that the data can be centralized on a public website.

The Grant Reporting Efficiency and Agreements Transparency (GREAT) Act (H.R. 4887), introduced last January by Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., cleared the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee earlier this year. It comes at a time when reform of the government’s $662.7 billion in annual grants spending has been on the national agenda. The Trump administration has set a goal of compiling and standardizing data elements to help establish an overarching taxonomy for core grant information.

After passage of the 2014 Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, OMB worked on a pilot project for standardizing grants data with the Health and Human Services Department. The House-passed bill would require the data collected to be made publicly available within four years, with the exception of personally identifying information, sensitive data, and data otherwise exempt from public disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

Agencies “continue to rely on outdated, burdensome document-based forms (PDFs) to collect and track grant dollars,” Foxx said on the eve of the vote. “Society has moved into a new age of information and technology, and it’s time that our government follow suit.”

She said the current system does “a poor job of delivering transparency to agencies, Congress and taxpayers. Secondly, grant recipients bear unacceptable costs of compliance,” she said.

Co-sponsored by Rep. Jimmy Gomez, D-Calif., the GREAT Act is supported by the DATA Coalition, the National Grants Management Association and the Association of Government Accountants, Rep. Steve Russell, R-Okla., noted during floor debate.

Gomez added, “I know it might come as a surprise to see a working-class progressive member of Congress from Los Angeles working with a conservative member from North Carolina. But with some common sense on both sides of the aisle, we can come together to solve problems facing working families across the country.”

On Wednesday, a companion bill was introduce in the Senate by Sens. James Lankford, R-Okla., and Mike Enzi, R-Wyo.

The nonprofit Data Coalition welcomed passage of a bill it has long advocated. “This legislative proposal will deliver transparency for grantmaking agencies and the public and allow grantees to ultimately automate their reporting processes, thus reducing compliance costs,” Executive Director Hudson Hollister said. “We now urge the Senate to act and make the GREAT Act law.”