Finally, Some Forward Progress on the GREAT Act

Jerry Ashworth
September 28, 2018 at 07:54:44 ET
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Despite the rancor and partisanship bickering that occurred during yesterday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing featuring testimony from Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, it’s heartening to know that there is at least some bipartisan agreement within Congress on some issues. On Wednesday, the House passed the Grant Reporting Efficiency and Agreements Transparency (GREAT) Act (H.R. 4887). Meanwhile, Sens. James Lankford (R-OK) and Mike Enzi (R-WY) on Monday introduced a Senate version (S. 3484) of the GREAT Act that mirrors the House bill, and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Wednesday unanimously reported the legislative proposal by voice vote to the full Senate.

H.R. 4887 had been awaiting full House action for some time now after it was approved by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in February. So what is the GREAT Act? The legislation, introduced by Reps. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), and Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.), is designed to transform federal grant reporting from disconnected documents into open data by directing the executive branch to adopt a standardized data structure for the information that award recipients must report to federal awarding agencies. By replacing outdated documents with open data, the GREAT Act could offer transparency for grantmaking agencies and the public, and allow awardees to automate their reporting processes, thereby reducing burden and compliance costs, according to its sponsors.

The Senate bill would require the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to create a comprehensive and standardized data structure to cover all data elements reported by recipients of federal awards, including grants and cooperative agreements. According to Sen. Lankford: “Congress should have usable and auditable data from grant recipients in an easy and straightforward format. When an agency spends the money of hardworking taxpayers, everyone should know how and where their money was spent. Increased demand for federal oversight does not have to mean burdensome requirements on grant recipients. The GREAT Act requires federal data transparency to make the grant process more efficient and effective. The GREAT Act streamlines data transparency requirements for grant recipients, which will ultimately make data collection and dissemination to Congress easier and faster.”

Added Sen. Enzi: “This legislation would build on previous progress in government spending oversight and better track hundreds of billions of dollars in federal grants each year, reduce compliance costs and allow for more modern technologies in the federal grant process.”

The Data Coalition, a huge proponent of transparent government data, applauded the forward progress of the GREAT Act bills. “The GREAT Act will modernize the way nearly $700 billion in federal grant funds are tracked and reported each year using open data,” said Data Coalition Executive Director Hudson Hollister. “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. We now urge the Senate to act and make the GREAT Act law.”

We also agree that it’s time for the GREAT Act to become law and to follow the work toward transparency started under the Digital Accountability and Transparency (DATA) Act (Pub. L. 113-110). This goes to show that Congress is not always at loggerheads, despite recent appearances.