On February 6, 2018, the United States House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is marking up the Grant Efficiency and Agreements Transparency Act (GREAT) Act (H.R. 4887). The bill would move federal grant reporting from a document-based system to an open data-centric model, modernizing an important component of public business.
If enacted, this bill would establish a comprehensive taxonomy of standard definitions for the data elements that are necessary to manage federal awards and mandate the use of unique, non-proprietary identifiers for those awards and the entities that receive them.
As we told staff on the committee in a letter to Congress on GREAT Act and non-proprietary identifiers from a coalition of transparency and accountability advocates this morning, more open grant data will serve the public interest, helping the United States to regain leadership in democratic disclosures.
Our endorsement of the GREAT Act follows years of advocacy for an open identifier for legal entities.
We and the organizations signed on to this letter strongly encourage Congress to make an open, license-free identifier for the recipients of grants the default in the United States.
February 05, 2018
The Honorable Trey Gowdy, Chairman
The Honorable Elijah Cummings, Ranking Member
Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
United States House of Representatives
2157 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Chairman Gowdy and Ranking Member Cummings:
We, the undersigned organizations, believe that federal spending data should be open and accessible to taxpayers and the public, free of charge or licensing restrictions. We are pleased to see that the Grant Efficiency and Agreements Transparency Act (GREAT) Act (H.R. 4887), as introduced, requires the federal government to adopt a non-proprietary identification code for all recipients of federal grants and other awards.
The government currently uses a proprietary identification code for grantees and contractors. As a result, the one vendor which owns this proprietary identifier holds a monopoly over federal grant spending data. This hampers public access to public information: taxpayers cannot download a complete copy of all federal grant spending data without paying royalties. The GREAT Act, as introduced, would open up such data and make it freely-available to taxpayers and the public. This would be a long-overdue change that will serve the public interest and help the United States to regain leadership in democratic disclosures.
For years, members of the open government transparency community and tech industry groups, such as ACT-IAC, have highlighted how adopting nonproprietary identifiers removes “the barriers of entry for data consumers, regardless of their type (e.g., government, commercial, non-profit, citizen, etc.) to access, analyze, collaborate, reuse, or redistribute data as needed.”
For instance, with a truly open and license-free identifier, the public will be able to download federal spending datasets from USAspending.gov in bulk to conduct analysis with other publicly available datasets. Through such analysis, members of the public, press, Congress, and watchdogs will be able to better address persistent issues.
More transparency will lead to many stakeholders being able stop improper payments and more readily identify fraud and abuse in federal programs. Ultimately, an open identifier for these entities will enable our government to measure program performance better and make smarter decisions about funding allocations and improved oversight using taxpayer dollars.
We urge the members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to oppose any amendment to the GREAT Act which would remove or weaken the bill’s mandate for the government to adopt a new, non-proprietary method of identifying grantees. Such an amendment would work against the interests of transparency, fair competition, and enhanced public access to public information.
American Library Association (ALA)
Campaign for Liberty
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW)
Coalition to Reduce Spending
Demand Progress Action
Government Information Watch
Open the Government
Project on Government Oversight
R Street Institute
Senior Executives Association (SEA)