DATA Act Pilot Program: A Look at Standardized Grant Recipient Reporting


As of May 9, 2017, data collection for the Section 5 grantee pilot program of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA Act) is complete.

During the two-year program, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) introduced six test models to evaluate the effects of data standardization on grantees and sub-recipients. HHS wanted to uncover if standardizing the data fields and formats across all federal grant recipient reporting can simplify the reporting process for federal award recipients.

Key findings from the pilot will be submitted by HHS to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) by July 2017.

The Value of Standardized Reporting

Historically, agencies have collected grant-reporting data from recipients using varying formats and processes, and recipients are often required to submit multiple reports on the same award to several agencies. This has led to duplicative and unnecessary reporting across the grant ecosystem.

Under the DATA Act, agencies are required to adopt a standardized data structure for their own financial reports to the Treasury Department, allowing federal spending information to be consolidated and reconciled across the whole government. This requirement kicked in on May 9, 2017, when every agency began reporting standardized spending data to Treasury. Using these submissions, Treasury has just published the first-ever unified data set of the entire executive branch’s spending.

Under the Section 5 grantee pilot program, HHS has been testing whether this same modernization is possible for grant recipient reporting.

A standardized, reporting method that leverages machine readable data could further improve data quality and completeness, automate data collection processes, and reduce the reporting burden on grant recipients.

The Common Data Element Repository (CDER) Library

As part of the pilot program, HHS launched the Common Data Element Reporting (CDER) Library, which serves as an “authorized source for data elements and data definitions used by the federal government in agency interactions with the public.”

The library consolidates more than 11,000 federal grant data elements from authorized sources to facilitate the grants lifecycle process. Elements are incorporated from HHS forms, HHS’ payment management system, DATA Act Information Model Schema v1.01 (DAIMS), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) forms, and standardized definitions from the Uniform Grant Guidance (UGG). Consistent naming conventions, definitions and forms, as outlined by the CDER, can improve funder and recipient communication, and remove unnecessary confusion.

The library has proved to be a success. According to a recent Data Foundation and Deloitte report, the library will be a critical asset in achieving government-wide standardization and should be adopted across federal agencies.

Other Section 5 Test Models

Other pilot program test models in addition to the CDER include:

Reporting Automation a Possibility

Beyond simply standardizing forms, technology, like grant management software, could help automate the grant-data collection process. Though not part of the official Section 5 pilot program, StreamLink Software has been working closely with HHS on a 7th informal test model that looks at how data can be pulled faster and more accurately via automated collection. The pilot is being run in coordination with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

A full write-up of findings from this initiative will be provided to HHS in consideration with other findings from the Section 5 pilot.

With grant management technology, agencies can better meet federal reporting regulations through centralized grant materials for programmatic performance, standardized report elements, direct integrations with financial management systems, and automated business processes and reporting. 

How could standardized reporting methods improve grant management at your organization? Share your comments below.

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Interested in learning more on grant recipient reporting?

Check out the DATA Act Summit on June 29 in Washington where this is the topic of a whole program track.

HHS deputy assistant secretary, Amy Haseltine, who initiated the CDER Library, will kick off the track, followed by three panels of grant recipient reporting experts (including our own Adam Roth). We’d love to see you there!


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