Federal Website Makes Grants and Contracts Transparent

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December 7, 2010; Source: Government Executive | In many ways Nonprofit Quarterly, like many journalistic enterprises, lives on its access to data. Efforts to make government information accessible and interpretable have been invaluable in recent years, particularly the development of USASpending.gov, which we have used repeatedly to find out about the amounts of money in government grants and contracts that have gone to nonprofit and for-profit vendors.

The Office of Management and Budget just announced a new improvement to USASpending.gov. Until now, the only information available was spending data on prime contractors and grant recipients. Since late November, the site has been making some data available on subcontractors and subgrantees and plans to make more available beginning in 2011. The process won’t be immediate, however. “To minimize the burden on agencies and contractors,” according to OMB, the subgrant and subcontract data will be slowly phased in.

Through February 28, 2011, agencies will be required to post subcontract awards on prime contracts larger than $550,000, and after March 1, the threshold shrinks to reporting on all subcontracts on prime contracts or grants above $25,000. Classified solicitations and contracts are exempt as are data on contractors with less than $300,000 in annual revenue.

The information will still only be for two tiers–prime contractors and subcontractors. If the subs further sub out the money, that will not be posted. Still, despite thresholds and exceptions, this is incredibly important information, allowing us to see which nonprofit contracts and grants get subbed to for-profits and which for-profit contracts pass along money to nonprofits.

Where did all this come from? It was the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006, co-sponsored by a senator named Barack Obama and signed by President George W. Bush. Expect your friends here at NPQ to begin testing USASpending.gov for the subcontactor and subgrantee data and report back to you on what we find. And we hope you’ll tell us about prime contractors and prime grantees whose subcontracting practices to nonprofits and for-profits you would find of interest.—Rick Cohen