Keeping Up with DATA

The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2011 (DATA Act) took a step forward on Wednesday, November 30th. The House Oversight Committee passed the bill, which moves it forward on its path toward a vote on the House floor. Sponsored by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), the DATA Act includes a government-wide spending oversight panel – the Federal Accountability and Spending Transparency Board (FAST Board) – designed as a successor to the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board that was created to oversee spending of recovery act funds. The DATA Act will also mandate a uniform reporting system for recipients of federal funds modeled on, which was designed to report on spending of the stimulus bill’s $787 billion. Sen. Mark Warner (R-VA) has introduced companion legislation in the Senate that has not yet had a committee hearing.

On Wednesday, several amendments were offered to the bill including one by Rep. Issa that would expand sub-recipient reporting to all levels of sub-recipients rather than limiting such reporting to first-tier sub-recipients as has been the case with recovery act funds. While critics of the recovery act have noted that this would provide fuller oversight, clearly such a requirement will involve more work for universities and other recipients. As noted by Joseph Marks at NextGov,

“Transparency is wonderful, but it does come at a cost,” the panel’s ranking member, Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., said. “Agencies have more burdens associated with working with fund recipients and collecting data. The [inspectors general] and the [Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board] have the burden of spot-checking reporting compliance and aggregating data . . . Recipients of funds have costs associated with reporting requirements and tracking where funds specifically go.”

It remains to be seen what the final DATA Act will look like and if it will pass both houses of Congress, but that outcome seems likely.

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