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5.2 Data Standardization

At OMB’s request, HHS is leading a research project on the standardization of data elements and data element definitions for the Federal grants lifecycle. HHS initiated the project by examining over 1,100 individual data elements and their associated definitions using a set of17 individual data sources. Key leaders in the grants community who worked on the development of information collections through the framework of the Grants Policy Council (GPC) and Grants Executive Board (GEB) were interviewed, and GPC documentation reviewed and analyzed line-by-line.

Though data standards exist throughout the financial assistance[6]community, they are not always consistently defined or used across Federal agencies.  This lack of consistent implementation of standards results in duplicative infrastructure within and among both Federal agencies and recipients, and creates challenges to the assurance of high quality publicly shared financial data. The goal of the financial assistance administrative data standardization initiative is that every set of approved data elements will have the same meaning across the grants administration lifecycle – from pre-award activities through to post award reporting, for the whole Federal government.  As grants data standards are developed, data quality gaps may be identified in systems like the CFDA and USA Spending.gov.  Establishment of these standards and ultimately remediation of gaps in systems will foster improved data quality for all federal financial data associated with financial assistance awards.  Implementation of these standards will also result in reduced administrative burden on recipients, who will be able to collect, store, and report consistently defined data more efficiently throughout the lifecycle of an award. The intended result of this effort is a set of approved data elements that will have the same meaning across the grants administration lifecycle – from pre-award activities through to post award reporting, for use by all federal grant making agencies.  The goal of this initiative is that every set of approved data elements will have the same meaning across the grants administration lifecycle – from pre-award activities through to post award reporting, for the whole Federal government. 

The DATA Act requires the full disclosure of federal funds and the use of common terms, formats and definitions for key financial data elements.  To meet this requirement the grants, finance, and acquisitions communities will need to use a common taxonomy and provide unambiguous definitions of terms used in reports so that they are understandable to a non-federal audience. This effort will require cross OPDIV collaboration as well as collaboration with other agencies.  As part of HHS’s ongoing data standardization efforts, HHS is working with DoD on the development of common definitions for FFATA elements that can be used for Grants and Contracts. OPDIVs and STAFFDIVs are participating in the collaborative effort and will be asked for feedback on proposed definitions. Additionally, as standard data elements and associated definitions are agreed upon either within the grants community or across the financial assistance portfolio, both federal agencies and the public will require the ability to access these standards to understand their meaning and incorporate them into appropriate business processes.  HHS, in partnership with OMB is developing a technical proof of concept to build a [grants] data standards repository.  The Proof of Concept Tool provides direct benefit to the federal community and the public will facilitate the implementation of the DATA Act. The Proof of Concept Tool is designed to house standard data elements and associated data element definitions, and make the common standards available for government-wide use in information collection activities, and visually accessible to the public to increase their own understanding of the information being displayed and collected in support of federal programs.

Table 3. DATA Act Timeline

Activity

Responsible Party

Deadline

Sec 3 – Post on the web information about each appropriations accounts, program activities, etc.

Treasury, OMB, Agencies

3 years after enactment and monthly when practicable (not less than quarterly) thereafter
May 2017

Sec 4 – Develop and issue guidance on data standards

Treasury and OMB

1 year after enactment

  1. May 2015

Sec 4 – Report financial and payment data in accordance with the new standards

Agencies

2 years after guidance

  1. May 2017

Sec 4 – Ensure the new data standards are applied to the data on USASpending.gov

OMB and Treasury

2 years after guidance

  1. May 2017

Sec 5 – Establish Pilot program that will generate recommendations to standardize reporting, eliminate duplication and unnecessary reports, and reduce compliance costs

OMB

1 year after enactment, completed within 2 year pilot established

  1. Establish Pilot by: May 2015
  2. Conduct Pilot:  May 2015 – May 2017

Sec 5 – Report on results of pilot

OMB

90 days after pilot completion

  1. August 2017

Sec 5 – Guidance to agencies on how data standards can reduce burden and simplify reporting requirements/eliminate duplication

OMB

1 year after Report

  1. August 2018


[6] The terms “financial assistance” and “grants” are used interchangeable in this section.
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