U.S. Mayor: Revised DATA Act Bill Still Needs Work to Minimize Unnecessary Burdens, Costs on Local Government

October 01, 2012
By Larry Jones

Mayor Salvatore “Sal” Panto of Easton, PA speaks at the January 2010 U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in Washington DC.

(USMayors.org) Senators Mark Warner (VA) and RobPortman (OH) on September 21 introduced a revised version of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA) of 2012. The purpose of the legislation is to improve transparency in federal spending, and streamline federal reporting requirements. The original version of the bill (S. 1222) was introducedin June 2011. The new version differs in a number of ways from the House companion bill, H.R. 2147, which was approved by the House last April.

One of the key differences is the House bill would require all federal grantees, contractors, and loan recipients to report to a central database on their receipt and expenditure of federal funds.The new Senate version would eliminate the recipient reporting requirement and require the Office of Management and Budget (OBM) to review agency-specific reporting requirements and propose a way to streamline them. The Conference of Mayors in a September 11 letter to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee expressed concerns that these new reporting requirements would impose costly burdens on local governments.

To enhance transparency, the new Senate version takes a different approach from the House bill. Instead of combining the four existing federal spending transparency websites (Recovery.gov, USASpending.gov, the catalogue of Federal Domestic Assistance, and the Consolidated Federal Funds Report) into a new single portal, the new Senate version would use one of the existing portals, USASpending.gov. This portal would be modified by adding data to meet the new reporting requirements. Furthermore, it would dramatically expand the data offering available on the website. USASpending.gov would be required to file reports for each agency, each agency component, each program, and each object class. Reports would bemade on the dollar amounts available, obligated, spent, and transferred.

Like the House version, the revised Senate bill calls for government-wide data standards for reporting. But unlike the House version, the new Senate version requires the Treasury Department to establish these standards after consulting with OMB, the General Services Administration and the heads of federal agencies. The House bill would require a new (Federal Accountability and SpendingTransparency) Commission to designate common data elements for federal spending information.

The Conference of Mayors made a number of recommendations to improve the Senate version of the DATA Act including: adding a funding provision to help grant recipients implement the new requirements; providing a reasonable phase-in period or a 12-month timeframe for recipients to fully comply with the new requirements; minimizing and not placing new burdens on recipients; consolidate and standardize reporting requirements and set realistic deadlines for meeting these requirements; and conduct a cost benefit analysis to ensure that the reporting requirements promote openness and transparency. Some ofthe recommendations were embraced in the new Senate version and Conference staff will continue to work to get the othersadopted.

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