I neglected to follow up my post about S.2590 so I’m going to fix that now. The big question about this and H.R.5060, which both propose the establishment of an online database of federal funding awards, is how such a database can be implemented.
The first challenge is the data. Agencies all report their awards data in different ways right now. Some notify Congress, some don’t. Some roll up their awards data into a single data submission to FAADS or FPDS, and some don’t. The formats in which this data is assembled and sent out are also different across agencies. So the first challenge is to figure out how to standardize awards data across all agencies.
The second challenge is the business process that creates the data. H.R.5060 requires only that grant awards data be posted to a database, whereas S.2590 demands that contract awards also be posted. Different agencies handle grants and procurements in different ways, often in entirely separate offices and using completely different systems. So someone at each agency — be that in the Secretary’s office or otherwise — needs to create a point in the business process where grants and procurements data intersect (in the case of S.2590) or at least where all grant-making organizations within the agency convene (in the case of H.R.5060).
Finally, there is the challenge of where to locate such an awards database. The most obvious location for grant awards data is Grants.gov, the “front office” for federal grant-making which actually included the awards step of the grant lifecycle in its original business case back in 2002. Implementation of awards-oriented functionality was also mentioned as an optional component of Grants.gov’s recent recompete of their systems integration contract (which has yet to be awarded).
But if the database is to include contract award data (per S.2590), is Grants.gov the right place to locate it? Some — including Senator Coburn, who sponsored S.2590 — might argue that it is; representatives of his office mentioned Grants.gov as a potential implementation site at a recent National Grants Partnership meeting, although that person also noted that implementation decisions would be left to OMB to decide. Other options would include improving FAADS or FPDS, to make them more user-friendly and their data more timely.
The first step, of course, is to see passage and reconciliation of these bills. Nothing will move forward until that happens. There’s no doubt, though, that such an awards database would increase the transparency of public funding and help a whole lot of people run their own organizations a lot better through increased predictability of funding and improve latitude for planning.