Grant Oversight: Issues and Challenges

grant oversightAs a federal official, I was acutely aware of the importance of grant programs, as well as the traditional problems associated with grant record keeping and management at both the federal and local levels. This year, the need for improved grant management has been highlighted by OMB’s Unified Grant Guidance and the passage of the DATA Act.

Seeking Grant Management Improvements

The federal government spends billions annually on grant programs, funding a vast array of initiatives from housing to environmental protection. Based on the importance of these programs and the amount of money spent on them, oversight organizations spend a considerable amount of time evaluating and auditing grant-giving agencies and recipients. This often results in recommendations to improve grant management.

For instance, at the federal level, inspectors generally identify both management best practices and high-risk areas requiring improvement within specific agencies. The General Accountability Office (GAO) normally focuses on cross-government programs at the federal level, while also working with states. Whereas congressional oversight committees look at government operations and problems requiring legislative fixes. 

A review of activity over the past year indicates that oversight organizations seek to improve efficiency and effectiveness with a common theme of improved program management, including enhanced record keeping and information reporting. 

Enhanced Record-Keeping and Information Reporting

The following examples from recent reports show the widespread nature of the concerns identified: 

The Health and Human Services’ Inspector General (IG) annually reports on top management and performance challenges to the Secretary. For fiscal year 2013, the IG noted two of 10 challenges that apply to grants—protecting HHS grants and contract funds from fraud waste and abuse, and effectively using data and technology to protect program integrity. The IG concluded that common problems include a lack of robust financial management systems, late or absent financial reports, insufficient progress documentation, and some grantees being unable to account for specific grants on a grant-by-grant basis.

A March 2014 report from the IG for the Department of Labor audited its Jobs for Veterans State Grants (JVSG) in Florida. Findings noted that the state did not provide intensive services to veterans or maintain documentation on areas such as assessment, veterans’ employment needs, and plans to address employment barriers. The IG recommended new JVSG intensive service guidance for state Disabled Veteran Outreach Programs Specialists, and enhanced procedures to review documentation and verify program performance.  

A Department of the Interior IG report on Management of the Coastal Impact Assistance Program in Louisiana found deficiencies at both the federal, state and parish (county) level. Deficiencies include ineffective grant monitoring, millions in ineligible grant charges and inappropriate changes in grant scope.

The Department of Agriculture IG reported on Private Voluntary Organization Grant Fund, evaluating the $745 million Foreign Agricultural Services Food for Progress Program. These awards seek to improve agricultural productivity and expand trade, while feeding hungry people in needy countries through donations and concessional programs. The IG found internal control weaknesses, incomplete financial reports and a lack of strong program management. It recommended better management, an assessment of corrective actions, and recovery of unallowable or unsupported costs.

In August 2014, the GAO issued the “Data Transparency: Oversight Needed to Address Underreporting and Inconsistencies on Federal Award Website” report, which found improper agency reporting on grants or loans that totaled approximately $619 billion in fiscal year 2012. In cross checking USAspending to agency records, they noted that few awards on the transparency website contained information that was fully consistent with agency records. Among other items, GAO recommended that OMB clarify guidance on award reporting and record maintenance, and develop and implement oversight processes to ensure that award data is consistent with agency records.

These examples demonstrate a common theme of challenges regarding record keeping, and the need for accurate and quality grant data. Streamlink Software’s AmpliFund can help awardees manage grants successfully, maintain organized records that will withstand audits, and document costs and grant performance.

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Image Credit: Tall Chris