The Federal Government's DATA Act – what does it mean for you?

By now you may have heard of the DATA Act, a rather large piece of legislation that is expected to be enacted into law early this year. The basic intent of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act is to increase oversight of government spending, give the public better access to this information, and streamline how the information is gathered and presented. This includes all federal grants.

So how does this impact you? If you received federal grant funds under the 2006 Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, which provided a vastly larger number of grant opportunities than were typically available in an attempt to stimulate the economy, you are aware of the website, which lists every federally-funded project in great detail. Grantees have always been required to fully account for their expenditure of grant funds, but this added the element of disclosing these details on a website. The program was implemented to track these funds (the accountability aspect) and make that information available to the public (the transparency part). That particular website wasn’t without problems, and the reporting requirements weren’t met fully by many funders by the time their individual grants ended, but the thought behind it was seen as positive.

This newer version continues that idea and expands upon it. It’s directed at all government spending, but it has specific requirements for grant funds, so it’s important to fully understand what you will be asked to do. For anyone awarded a federal grant, it means you need to track and report on every dollar spent, whether your agency spends it directly or funnels it through a subawardee or subcontractor. Of course, you should have been doing this all along since accurately accounting for all grant expenditures is fundamental to grants management.

The promise for the DATA Act is that the process will be streamlined and the formats will be standardized, making it easier to fulfill the requirements for reporting all financial activities in a complete and timely manner. All payments made out of grant funds will be part of the website reporting, barring any security or privacy issues. This includes payments to contractors and subgrantees.

The fact is you will have to follow all of the reporting requirements for your grant, the details of which will most likely be included in your award documentation. Be sure to set up the system with your financial people in advance so that you aren’t scrambling to find the information you need close to the deadline.

Once the legislation is enacted, more detailed information will be made available. 

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