Proposed Data Act Proves Cause for Concern

When word spread last summer that the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act (FFATA) might be going the way of the dodo, there was much rejoicing.  Few regulations have incited as much stress as FFATA when it comes to reporting obligations, and the thought that its onerous requirements would cease to exist brightened the day of more than a few people.

However, any positive energies were quickly doused when FFATA’s “replacement” was revealed.  Under the proposed DATA Act (H.R. 2146), while FFATA would, in fact, be repealed, similar reporting requirements would now be mandatory under virtually every federal award.  Recipients of federal funding would, at least quarterly, be required to report on the total funds received by agency, and the amount of any such funds that were obligated or expended during the selected time period, including any done so by subrecipients.  The resultant information will be then uploaded to a public website to allow for full transparency in all government-subsidized projects.

In addition to the reporting obligations, the Act will create an independent board to provide further oversight to federally-funded awards.  Christened the Federal Accountability and Spending Transparency (FAST) Board, the board will track spending on all grants and contracts, manage the new website, and generally provide guidance to institutions as to how to meet the requirements of the Act.

While the idea of transparency in government spending is a popular one, the actual implications of the Act on research facilities may prove to be incredibly burdensome, and not just because of the manpower that would be required to complete and manage all necessary paperwork.  A study by the Federal Demonstration Partnership (FDP) had calculated that the heightened reporting requirements arising under ARRA had added approximately eight thousand dollars to the cost of each grant, and now these same requirements would be imposed on almost each and every award, not just those receiving stimulus funds.  When applied to each federal award received by an entity, this could amount to hundreds of millions of dollars worth of expenditures each year.

Not surprisingly, the reaction of most institutions wasn’t favorable.  The Council on Governmental Relations (COGR) joined with the Association of American Universities (AAU) and the Association of Public Land-Grant Universities (APLU) in releasing a statement opposing the Act and drawing attention to the issues it would cause within the research community.  In spite of these efforts, the bill is still pending before Congress (tandem legislation was introduced in the Senate), and could be brought to a vote at any time.