4 Senate bills to improve federal accountability, transparency

The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs passed 15 bills May 25, including four aimed at increasing government accountability and transparency.

Here is a round-up of some of those focused on changing the way agencies work:

S. 2834: Getting Results through Enhanced Accountability and Transparency Act of 2016

This bill would attempt to reduce “unnecessary duplication, fragmentation and overlap in government programs” through a number of new requirements for several agencies:

  • The Government Accountability Office would be required to compile the total costs of unnecessary duplication in agencies, actual and potential, separate from their annual report.
  • Agencies, with some exclusions such as the departments of Defense and Energy, would have additional requirements as part of their systemic reviews, including identifying opportunities for both internal and external coordination, and recognizing high-performing employees.
  • Chief operating officers would see their responsibilities similarly expanded, requiring them to address duplicative efforts and both internal and external coordination opportunities. They would also have to publish copies of all reports to Congress on public websites.
  • The Office of Management and Budget’s federal government performance plans also would be required to address unnecessary duplication.
  • The Performance Improvement Council would be required to create a public website containing “annual reports describing its structure, budgets, funding, staffing, and activities.”

S. 2972 Grant Reform and New Transparency (GRANT) Act of 2016

This bill seeks to make the system by which agencies award grants more transparent. Agencies would be required to publish specific information about grants sooner to provide more small organizations a competitive opportunity to apply. This information would be due “not later than November 30 of each year or not later than 60 days after the date on which amounts are appropriated to an executive agency for a fiscal year, whichever is later.”

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Agencies also would be required to work with OMB to regularly upgrade www.grants.gov with information about the grants. The bill mandates that said information should be publicly available, free of cost, searchable, downloadable and include an opportunity for public commentary. Agencies also would be required to provide an explanation for how any grant over $100,000 was awarded, including, if possible, why the grant wasn’t awarded to the institution requesting the information.

Agency inspectors general would be responsible for performing a review of the grant awarding process no more than 180 days after the GRANT Act is passed.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) said during the committee’s markup some small organizations have expressed concern that this could slow down the grant process, although she expressed support for the increased transparency measures.

“Sunshine is the greatest disinfectant,” she said.

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) responded that this bill is designed to help the smaller institutions by giving them more advanced notice, which will allow them to prepare better and become more competitive in grant applications.

S. 2976 , DHS Accountability Act of 2016

This bill would amend the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to reform the Department of Homeland Security. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said that concerns about stovepiping within the agency prompted efforts to streamline the agency and improve internal coordination and cooperation. It accomplishes this by officially making Secretary Jeh Johnson’s “Unity of Effort” reforms into law.

It also includes measures that would improve transparency and accountability, such as independent assessments, better reporting of data from immigration and border security, and better whistleblower protections.

S. 2852, OPEN Government Data Act

The OPEN Government Data Act will make it easier to share data among agencies, and make data more available to the general public in an easily searchable and machine-readable format.

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