Sneak Preview: GAO Identifies Many Grants Management Challenges

November 8, 2012 | By Jerry Ashworth | Post a Comment

(The following was excerpted from an article in the Federal Grants Management Handbook.) As the total amount of federal outlays in grants to state and local governments has grown to more than $480 billion as of fiscal year 2011, several areas of concern are threatening the appropriate management of those funds, according to a recent Government Accountability Office report.

Although the report did not contain any recommendations, it specifically identified five troublesome areas: challenges related to effectively measuring grant performance; a lack of grant program coordination; the need for improved collaboration; internal control weaknesses; and the lack of agency or recipient capacity to manage the grant.

Good governance practices necessitate that granting agencies establish performance measures demonstrating how they will meet program goals. These measures should be linked to the overall agency goals and mission, should be clearly stated, should include measurable targets and should be reliable. However, GAO found that many agencies have performance targets that do not address all of these attributes. For example, the Department of Justice developed new performance measures for the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant fund for criminal justice activities in 2009, yet of the 19 measures GAO reviewed, 14 were not linked to the agency’s program goals, 14 were not clearly defined and 17 did not have measurable targets.

In addition, GAO found that grant programs often rely on recipients’ administrative systems to provide performance information. However, agencies have traditionally had difficulty obtaining this data and determining its accuracy. In other cases, actual performance data may not be available until after the completion of the grant project. For example, the energy savings data reported under the Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant is generally available after a project is completed. Consequently, the agency could not identify early in the program those instances where recipients’ estimates may need to be more carefully reviewed.

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