In February 2018, legislation was introduced that could significantly assist nonprofit grant recipients. The proposed legislation? The Grant Reporting Efficiency and Agreements Transparency (GREAT) Act of 2017 (H.R. 4887).
As many nonprofits are well aware, recipients of federal funds are obligated to submit numerous, complicated, and complex financial reports to various government databases with different levels of operability. Moreover, the hoped-for transparency of these efforts has never truly come to fruition. The remedy for addressing these burdensome obligations is the GREAT Act of 2017.
The GREAT Act tasks the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the largest federal grant-making agency, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), with the responsibility of leading an effort to streamline federal award reporting, thereby improving the transparency of these dollars. In particular, the Act seeks to require the creation of a comprehensive and standardized data structure covering all relevant data elements reported by recipients of grants and cooperative agreements.
Under the GREAT Act, the aim is for grant-making agencies to obtain certain financial information within three years. During the first year, OMB and HHS would establish government-wide information data standards for recipients of federal awards. Then, within two years, OMB/HHS would issue guidance to grant-making agencies on how to leverage new technologies and implement the new data standards in existing reporting practices with minimum disruption.
In terms of improving transparency, the GREAT Act would require OMB/HHS to publish grant reporting information on a government-wide website (e.g., USAspending.gov, grants.gov). Of course, certain information would be excluded from disclosure, such as personally identifiable information.
Benefits of the Act
Far and away the most touted benefit of the GREAT Act is the prospect of reducing recipient compliance costs by automating the compilation and submission of reports to federal agencies. This would appear to be more than just hopeful thinking (as has been the case under pervious statutes), because the GREAT Act is intended to create a single, consolidated data set of federal grant receipts information. Of course, the proof will be in any implementing regulations and whether agencies seek agency-specific deviations and departures (as has been the case with the Uniform Guidance), under the assumption that their agency is unique and requires additional or different information.
A secondary benefit is transparency, but again, this will be based largely on the success of the first benefit—that the sought-after data is standardized and efficiently and accurately collected in a relatively timely manner.
Finally, the Act also seeks to foster ongoing innovation in data reporting, which could lead to even further efficiencies.
Given the foregoing, while the GREAT Act does indeed sound great, it must first become reality in terms of becoming law and then live up to its name in terms of its implementation. Since there is much to like about this bill, we will keep watch over its development and update our readers accordingly.