Seeking a Bit More Precision from COFAR

June 25, 2013 | By Jerry Ashworth | Post a Comment

1416275_untitledIn college, I had a summer job at an agricultural experiment station in my hometown, where one my duties was to collect samples of the vegetables we grew and carefully record data on each plant. The researchers wanted to know how well a certain fertilizer or growing technique was working. Specifically. To the finest detail. “It’s all about precision,” the old farmhands used to say to us youngsters with a smirk as we recorded this data. All I can do is assume that the researchers knew what they were doing, and that this precise information ultimately helped develop more hearty crops down the line.

The Government Accountability Office is now acting a bit like those researchers, seeking more precision from the Council on Financial Assistance Reform. In February, COFAR established five strategic grants priorities for fiscal years 2013-2015 (Federal Grants Management Handbook subscribers can read about those priorities in the March 2013 issue). For each of the priorities, COFAR identified proposed deliverables and milestone dates for the deliverables.

However, that is not enough for the GAO, according to a report it released Monday. GAO said that as of May, COFAR had not released an implementation plan that includes other key elements such as performance targets; mechanisms to monitor, evaluate and report on progress made towards stated goals; and “goal leaders” who can be held accountable for those goals. In essence, GAO wants more precision. “Establishing implementation goals and tracking progress toward those goals helps to pinpoint performance shortfalls and suggest midcourse corrections, including any needed adjustments to future goals and milestones,” it added.

In an April 29 letter responding to GAO, the Office of Management and Budget admitted that over time, COFAR would be better able to “articulate metrics that allow for a more thorough evaluation of whether the policy changes were having their intended impacts” and that the “publically stated deliverables were intended to leave room for further evaluation of the right approach for implementation.” Hmm, okay.

GAO contends that a more detailed, publically available implementation plan will allow Congress and the public to better monitor the progress of the reforms. Of course, if anyone has followed the history of OMB’s release of the annual Circular A-133 Compliance Supplement, they will realize that OMB doesn’t have the best reputation for meeting an implementation schedule.

During a family vacation I took earlier this year to Costa Rica, we often remarked at the slow service we received at restaurants and the response we would get from our waiter when we questioned where our food was. The waiter would simply smile, hold up his hand and say in his friendliest voice, “Soon come!” Maybe COFAR and OMB, with their penchant for lacking specifics, may take a similar approach to GAO’s recommendation. Oh, and while it’s at it, maybe OMB can give us a better clue when the 2013 Circular A-133 Compliance Supplement will be forthcoming. Yes, yes, I know, “Soon come!”

Would you like to see more details about COFAR’s grants priorities, including those mentioned by GAO? How would that help your grants processes?

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