House Bill Would Make Nonprofit Data Publicly Available and Searchable

April 18, 2018

A bill that passed the House of Representatives this week, the  (HR 5443) would require electronic filing of nonprofit tax returns and make those forms available to the public in a machine-readable, searchable format. 

The measure grew out of work by The Aspen Institute's Nonprofit Data Project, an effort to improve nonprofit information and transparency, in partnership with GuideStar, Urban Institute, Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, Foundation Center and Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies. It would enable the public to use IRS Form 990 data for research, fraud reduction, informed charitable giving and other purposes, according to a statement from The Aspen Institute. In committee markup of the bill last week, Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) described it as "sound and good policy." 

IRS Form 990s contain information on the missions, governance and finances of nonprofit organizations. Until recently, they were only available as non-searchable images, greatly limiting their potential. This system led the Nonprofit Data Project to issue the report, Information for Impact: Liberating Nonprofit Sector Data, in 2013. Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the report detailed the benefits of open data, such as increased transparency, improved speed and accuracy, and new opportunities for nonprofit innovation. In June 2016, electronically filed Form 990s were released as open data by the IRS on Amazon Web Services. Approximately 60% of the forms are electronically filed and available through this service. 

The bill now moves to the Senate, and if passed, would go into effect the tax year after the law's enactment. 

Proposals To Improve Licensing Process for Charity Programs Sent to Treasury

August 2, 2013

CSN’s proposals to improve the process for obtaining a license that permits charities to prevent and alleviate human suffering in global hot spots were sent to the Treasury Department on July 21, 2013.  The proposals address problems with the licensing mechanism run by Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) that aid groups have repeatedly found to hamper humanitarian action in places like Somalia and the Palestinian Territories, with dire consequences for civilians waiting for urgently needed assistance.   Improvements to the current process outlined in the proposal include having OFAC issue clearly defined standards for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) applying for a license, timetables for responding to an application, and providing an explanation for any application that is rejected.  To further discuss these ideas, CSN has requested a meeting with Adam J. Szubin, OFAC’s Director, to “make the process work better for charities and for OFAC.”

Need to Update Treasury’s Terrorist Listing and Delisting Procedures

April 26, 2013


The U.S. terrorist listing process is designed to cut off funding to terrorists by freezing their funds and banning financial transactions with them. The President designates terrorist groups by Executive Order and authorizes the Treasury Department to list others that support them.   A lack of clear standards, transparency and oversight of the list  has raised serious concerns over the due process rights of those listed and the accuracy of the list itself.

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