Guest column: DATA Act promotes transparency, pinpoints fund misuse

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Written by

Adam Roth Adam Roth, president and CEO of StreamLink Software.

Adam Roth, president and CEO of StreamLink Software, is a FedScoop contributor.

Federal IT reform hit peak momentum in 2013. Among notable legislation lies the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, which passed in the House and awaits Senate consideration. The act pushes for spending transparency, and waste and fraud reduction through the standardization, automation and publishing of federal data.

Climbing out of the spending black hole

Today, spending data is segmented by government agency with each having its own standards and formats. As a result, it is difficult to report fund distribution, evaluate program effectiveness and provide taxpayer visibility.

The spending black hole was made readily apparent during the 2008 economic crash. In the words of Jesse Buggs, director, Office of Grant Development and Administration, City of Bowie, “[When resources disappeared,] everyone started asking more difficult questions, [placing] a bigger spotlight on several serious deficiencies in our systems.”

In response to the crash, the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, a bipartisan group, was created to oversee the distribution, management and reporting of $840 billion in federal stimulus funds. The result was a model for the future of open data that drew on standardized, machine-readable data, and advanced analytics, to collect spending information direct from recipients and subrecipients almost in real time.

Expanding on Recovery Board successes, the Grants Reporting Information Project was launched in 2012 by the Government Accountability and Transparency Board. This pilot set out to test the feasibility of a centralized financial reporting system, which would allow grant recipients to submit reports via a single point of entry—instead of individually to multiple government agencies.

Both projects proved that with the right software, systems and technology, improved data collection and aggregated reporting is indeed possible.

Cross-government implementation

The DATA Act would apply similar reporting practices universally across government agencies. If passed, federal reporting would change in three primary ways:

• Standardization of data elements, formats and processes

• Transparency through aggregation and reporting of standardized data

• Management through automation, analytics and return on investment

For funders and taxpayers, these changes would provide a granular look at where funds are going, allowing for fraud and waste detection, better allocation of resources and ROI analysis of programs—welcome improvements in light of current federal debt and budget debates.

For grant recipients, it would eliminate duplicative and arduous reporting requirements, as data would be submitted in a similar manner regardless of the awarding government agency. With a reduction in the amount of time, effort and money currently spent aggregating information, recipients could shift resources elsewhere.

Once processes and technology are in place, automation will result in net savings across the board.

It’s not too early to prepare

These changes would have sweeping implications for all that receive federal funds, including private sector contractors; state, county and municipality government agencies; and nonprofits. All of which will have to adhere to stricter reporting and auditing requirements.

For those affected, Michael Wood, former director of the Recovery Board, advises that you familiarize yourself with the reporting standards, and build financial and record-keeping systems around them. Sound bookkeeping, documentation and internal controls are the secret to maintaining compliance and winning future funds.

Improved grant reporting opens the door for ROI-based fund distribution. Buggs notes that “outputs, outcomes and certain metrics are already being requested” in the grant application process. The passage of the DATA Act would only expedite this trend.

Prepare now by tracking against clear, measurable objectives, so that infrastructure is in place to comply later.

How are you preparing for the passage of the DATA Act?

-In this Story-

Adam Roth, Commentary, DATA Act, data analytics, Guest Columns, In their own words, open data, StreamLink Software, Tech
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