Passed in December 2019, the Grant Reporting Efficiency and Agreements Transparency (GREAT) Act is an exciting step toward modernizing federal grant reporting. Learn how the GREAT Act will impact government grantmakers and what your team can do to prepare for the changes ahead.
Virginia Foxx, the Congresswoman who introduced the GREAT Act, put it best when she said, “Without updating the way we process grant reports, in many ways we might as well be still operating with a typewriter and a fax machine and white out.”
While electronic submissions are certainly an improvement from typewriters, grant reports are still static, which means grantees have to enter the same information each time - and none of it is aggregated or searchable.
The GREAT Act was designed to address this problem.
What is the GREAT Act?
The GREAT Act aims to leverage existing technology to streamline the federal grant reporting process and gather insights from the data. Here’s how it will do that:
Establishing Data Standards - By using consistent data formats that are machine-readable and align with accepted accounting principles, agencies can use modern business intelligence practices to measure effectiveness and plan for the next grant cycle.
Offering Automation - By collaborating with grant management software providers in the private sector, agencies can offer simplified reporting solutions to grantees, reducing their administrative burden and compliance costs.
Promoting Transparency - By publishing all grantee data on a single public website, federal agencies will be more accountable to taxpayers and can spot fraud more easily.
When Will the GREAT Act Take Effect?
The GREAT Act has four major milestones. However, given the fact that this law passed just before the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s a good chance the government will extend these dates.
By December 30, 2021
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) must establish government-wide data standards for federal grant reporting.
By December 30, 2022
Once the data standards are ready, OMB must issue guidance to grantmaking agencies on how to leverage new technologies and implement the new data standards into existing reporting practices with a minimum of disruption. This will also include guidance on auditing standards.
By December 30, 2023
Within one year of the OMB issuing their guidance, federal agencies will have one year to:
adhere to the new data standards
communicate guidance to grant recipients
explore modern technologies in reporting related to federal awards
By December 30, 2024
The federal government must publish all federal award information on a public website.
What Can Federal Grantmakers Do to Prepare?
Learn about Data Standards
It’s helpful to understand that the foundation of the GREAT Act is the DATA Act. The purpose of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 is to “make federal spending data more accessible, searchable, and reliable…(and serve as) a tool for better oversight, data-centric decision-making, and innovation both inside and outside of government.”
The GREAT Act is essentially a focused expansion of this law in the area of federal grants. To get a sneak peek into what’s in store, check out the DATA Act Collaboration website. You’ll find a playbook of recommendations for implementation and the data model (a library of data elements that includes definitions, sources, and submission format). This will undoubtedly serve as the starting point for grant reporting data standards.
Communicate with Grantees
Whether your grant recipients are nonprofits, educational institutions, or state and local agencies, they often struggle with reporting, which takes time away from programming. The GREAT Act doesn’t intend to make this more difficult. The law is explicit in its goal to protect their time: “To the extent reasonable and practicable, (new standards should) minimize the disruption of existing reporting practices of, and not increase the reporting burden on, agencies or recipients of federal awards.”
While change is always scary, you can ease the transition by communicating early and often about the impact of the GREAT Act. Focus on the positives from their perspective, which are numerous:
Reduced data entry
Automated delivery and validation of reports
Consistent requirements across agencies
Faster recognition of high performance
Meaningful comparisons to other programs
Invest in Grant Management Software
Most agencies have some form of grant management software to manage their grants, but the question now is - will it help you comply with the GREAT Act? Here are features to look for:
Flexibility - To streamline your process, you’ll want data fields, workflows, and reports to match the guidelines that arise out of the GREAT Act. Make sure your software can do this easily without expensive customization or add-ons.
Integration - Since the Office of Management and Budget has just started the process of developing data standards and audit requirements, it remains to be seen how they’ll recommend agencies request data from grantees. To be in a better position for potential integrations, choose a platform with an open API. Put simply, an API allows one piece of software to interact with another.
Reporting - To stay on top of compliance, you’ll need a robust set of reporting tools in your chosen grant management software. Can you identify key performance indicators and track them in a real-time dashboard? Are you able to send post-award follow-up questions to collect the required data? Can you create custom reports designed to comply with GREAT Act data points? Think about what would make your job easier.
The Future of Federal Grant Reporting
The GREAT Act will ultimately be of great benefit to both grantees and grantmakers. Grant recipients will have more time to focus on what matters. Grantmakers can make informed decisions about how to continuously improve programming. Plus, taxpayers will have a clear view into how the federal government spends roughly $600 billion in grants each year.