april_2011_coverIt is no exaggeration to say that the current system of federal grant application and reporting requirements has local government drowning in paperwork. Since the federal government increased reporting and management requirements to achieve transparency and accountability for American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds, cities and counties across the country have found it increasingly difficult to keep up with mundane requirements.

That is why the National Grants Partnership, in cooperation with the American Association of Grant Professionals, the City of Bowie, MD, and several other organizations are currently working to address one of the critical issues today in grant administration: how to reduce the administrative burden associated with grant funds.

Unfortunately, addressing this issue is easier said than done. Individual local government practices multiplied by thousands of grant programs with different requirements create a cumbersome system that places a heavy burden on local governments seeking funding assistance. Compounding the problem is the fact that cities and counties apply for funding at both the state and federal levels, which makes standardizing practices across agencies very difficult.

Through a streamlined grants management pilot project, this group is working to develop a set of methods and procedures that enables local governments and nonprofits to systematically gather information, file reports with all requisite agencies, and manage procurement and record keeping in a manner consistent with established accounting rules and federal reporting standards.

The partnership is specifically working with the software firm, Streamlink, to develop systems that can more effectively input required information into the standardized forms. The pilot sponsors seek to standardize certain concepts, such as terms and definitions, data elements, forms, performance measures, reporting periods, report formats, hardware and software systems, procurement regulations, labor rules and Recovery Act requirements.

To date, the federal government has had mixed results in engaging non-federal grants stakeholders in grants streamlining efforts. In light of such, the group plans to meet with the Office of Management and Budget and Grants Policy Committee to assess each federal agency’s reporting systems and requirements.

Jesse Buggs, who is directing the pilot project and serves as the Director of Grants Administration for the City of Bowie (MD), sees this project as an opportunity for taxpayers, program participants, and federal, state, and local program administrators to provide their input and begin a dialogue to better understand some of the on-the-ground best practices in this area.

And while Mr. Buggs says that streamlining grants management at the federal, state and national nonprofit level is sorely needed, he believes the need is actually greater at the local city and county level where there are no resources available, and no organized nation-wide activities for improving the chaotic and costly local grants management situation until now.

Among what the partnership hopes to standardize are:
Terms and Definitions like in the case of “cost match,” “cost share,” “non-federal contribution requirement,” and “local contribution”
Data Elements
Forms, similar to how the SF-424 is used across federal agencies, a single form could be applied across states.
Performance Measures standards would allow apples-to-apples comparisons across grant programs.
Reporting Periods to be consistent as monthly, quarterly, bi-annually or otherwise.
Report Formats that allow the grantee to avoid constantly crafting new documents and narratives.
Systems (Software/Hardware) that streamline the completion and submission of such standardized forms.

James Alfano is an Editor at The FundBook, a free monthly publication that provides unique monitoring, analysis, and assessment of federal funding opportunities for city and county decision makers across the country.  Subscribe for free at www.fundbook.org and read our current issue here http://goo.gl/negqZ.