The Gallery: Civic Leaders: How to Prepare an Open Data Readiness Plan

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The march toward open data is evolving how government leaders at all levels relay information and funds. The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, signed into law May 2014, creates standardized data elements, formats and processes. These uniform requirements will help mitigate waste, fraud and abuse of government funding; reduce the administrative burden associated with federal grant management and reporting; and increase government transparency.

DATA Act reporting standards will be imposed on federal agencies, but the burden of funding accountability will have a ripple-down effect on recipients of all federal grants, contracts and loans. City and county leaders must begin laying the groundwork now in order to effectively compete for funds and comply with impending award requirements.

Below are the first steps in creating a readiness plan for open data compliance.

Start preparation early.

The DATA Act puts OMB and the Treasury Department jointly in charge of creating standard data requirements for reporting federal dollars. They have one year from the law’s passage to develop consistent data formats, identifiers and processes.

Once complete, government agencies will have two years to apply data standards. But cities and states across the nation have seen the writing on the wall, and are being proactive in developing their own accountability and data management standards.

For example, Illinois passed the Grant Accountability and Transparency Act earlier this year. The legislative reforms heighten financial controls, enacting a comprehensive set of standards for the management and oversight of state grant funds. Strengthening internal controls and reporting processes at lower levels of government set the stage for pain-free compliance once federal reforms are handed down.

Consider skill sets, technology and processes.

Federal grant management becomes part of a much larger puzzle—one where data, reporting and measurable outcomes are essential to long-term program viability. Municipality grant managers will need to improve program performance as well as their ability to demonstrate quantifiable success to grantors. This means performance-focused teams and processes must be in place.

But even the best and most prepared staff has its limitations; civic leaders should also consider how technology can supplement personnel.

Technology is already being deployed across the grant lifecycle—in the collection, management and reporting of funds between grantors, recipients and sub-recipients. The Grants Reporting Information Project (GRIP), piloted by the Federal Recovery Board, has confirmed that data could be collected in a centralized fashion across government agencies with the help of “middleware.”

Optimize programmatic performance and reporting.

Measurable results and return on investment will soon become standard award application and compliance metrics. In an already competitive grant environment, municipalities that are not prepared to report quantitative and qualitative outcomes may struggle to secure funding.

Granular fund tracking will be required to create adequate audit trails. Federally funded programs must be closely monitored and measured for performance. Administrative time and resources must be reclaimed and invested in more mission-critical initiatives

In short, municipalities must spend these next few years investing in the adoption of infrastructure, processes and technology that support the open data imperative.

Adam Roth ( is the founder and CEO of StreamLink Software

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