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GREAT(er) Transformation for Federal Grant Process Focus of House Bill

Federal grant reporting has long been criticized for being opaque, burdensome, and incomplete. More than 40,000 grantees received $750 billion in grants from the federal government in fiscal year 2018, so even if some of the critique is merited, the consequences of poor grant management are potentially significant. The Grant Reporting Efficiency and Agreements Transparency (GREAT) Act (H.R. 150) passed under suspension in the House of Representatives calls for transforming the grant reporting process to increase transparency for taxpayers, reduce the burden on grantees for filing reports, and increase the likelihood that grant reporting can meaningfully support evaluation of government programs.

What is the GREAT Act?

The GREAT Act is a bipartisan effort to improve federal grant reporting. Co-sponsored by Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-CA), Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL), Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC), Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-TN), and Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL), the proposed legislation would take steps to develop data standards for grant reporting, so when grantees provide information to the federal government it can be compared across grants, geographies, and recipients. These standards would likely help reduce the number of unique forms grantees submit to comply with federal grant agreements. One pilot, for example, from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, identified that federal grants contain 34,000 unique data fields for grants across government, many of which are duplicative.

What are the potential benefits of the GREAT Act?

The legislation creates data standards that, once in place, would direct grantees to provide digital, searchable documents along with required data about their grants. In turn, this information will support oversight activities of grantees as well as enable research and evaluation related to grant programs. The legislation will likely also reduce compliance costs for grant reporting, while also allowing new technologies like blockchain to be applied in the future to encourage further burden reductions in grantee reporting.

How does the GREAT Act relate to evidence-based policymaking?

In 2017, the U.S. Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking issued unanimous recommendations that aimed to improve the use of government information to inform decisions. The GREAT Act would take steps to implement aspects of four commission recommendations for government grants. First, the commission recommended that administrative data about state-implemented federal programs be available for evidence-building activities, to the extent possible (Recommendation 2-7). Second, the commission advocated the use of data standards in a wide range of policy areas as a mechanism to improve data quality (Recommendation 4-5). Third, the commission recommended that agencies establish policies for enabling evaluation of federal programs and activities (Recommendation 5-1). Finally, the commission recommended administrative processes in agencies align to support the generation and use of evidence, which includes grants management (Recommendation 5-4).

The bipartisan GREAT Act would address each of these recommendations in the context of federal grant reporting, while also maintaining appropriate privacy protections for sensitive, confidential data.

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