September 17, 2012
By Larry Jones
(USMayors.org) A broad bipartisan group of 113 mayors recommended in a September 11 letter a number of changes to improve the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA) of 2012, H.R. 2147/S. 1222, legislation aimed at improving reporting requirements on federal grants, loans and contracts. The letter, signed by Conference President Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter, Conference Vice President Mesa Mayor Scott Smith, Conference Second Vice President Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, Conference Immediate Past President Antonio Villaraigosa and mayors from across the nation, expressed support for reforms that would improve reporting and transparency on grants, but offered recommendations to minimize unnecessary burdens and costs on local governments.
The purpose of the DATA Act is to codify lessons learned from implementing the stimulus bill, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (AARA). Under AARA, state and local governments received federal funds from numerous federal agencies with different reporting requirements. Instead of requiring them to file separate reports, AARA developed standardized reporting requirements for all stimulus funds, which helped the federal government achieve an unprecedented level of transparency and accountability on spending stimulus funds.
The DATA Act is intended to codify more standardization, transparency and accountability in federal grants reporting. But the legislation would impose significantly more reporting requirements on state and local governments. And it would do so without providing any additional federal support to help them implement, administer and maintain the new reporting requirements. The legislation enjoys wide bipartisan support in both houses of Congress.
The House approved its version of the bill last April and the Senate bill is pending before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
In the mayors’ letter, Senator Joseph I. Lieberman (CT) and Senator Susan Collins (ME), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, were urged to adopt several changes in S. 1222. First, they were urged to include a funding provision to help grant recipients implement the new reporting requirements. Second, they were asked to allow a reasonable phase-in period or a twelve-month timeframe for grant recipients to fully comply with the new requirements. Third, they said the DATA Act must avoid imposing new burdens on grant recipients, and one way of doing this would ensure that each recipient only has to report the data once and not multiple times to different federal agencies. Fourth, they urged that reporting not be required more than quarterly, that recipients be required to file those reports only once, and that reporting requirements not extend beyond the first-tier subrecipients and vendors.
Mayors also recommended a costbenefit analyses be conducted to ensure that the new reporting requirements promote openness, transparency, and accountability of federally funded grants.