Look Out for the “Musts” and “Shoulds” in the Uniform Guidance

May 8, 2014 | By Jerry Ashworth | Post a Comment

open-dictionary-2-1129743-mIf you have kids like me, you know that they are clued in to exact terminology when it comes to jobs around the house. When I say, “I want you to do the dishes,” that is heard as, “Do the dishes whenever you feel like it, if at all.” However, if I forcefully say, “Do the dishes, NOW!”, that tends to get a more immediate response. It’s all in the language.

The Office of Management and Budget’s uniform grant guidance is using a similar tactic, using the words “should” and “must” when discussing action federal and nonfederal entities should take. OMB’s Gil Tran, speaking yesterday at the Brustein and Manasevit Spring Forum in Washington, D.C., noted that when the word “should” is used, it is alluding to best practices or a recommended approach. However, when the word “must” is used, it is alluding to something that is required.

For example, in ¶§200.230 under methods of procurement, the guidance states that, “in order for sealed bidding to be feasible, the following conditions should be present: (i) a complete, adequate, and realistic specification or purchase description is available; (ii) two or more responsible bidders are willing and able to compete effectively for the business; and (iii) the procurement lends itself to a firm fixed price contract and the selection of the successful bidder can be made principally on the basis of price.”

However, in §200.321(a), the guidance states that “the nonfederal entity must take all necessary affirmative steps to assure that minority businesses, women’s business enterprises and labor surplus area firms are used when possible.”

Do you see the difference in these examples? When reading through the guidance and establishing policies at your own organizations, be sure to pay special attention to these “must” and “should” statements, especially when the cost principles section in Subpart E, as many of these include the word “must.” There is a big difference here; don’t let one word be the cause of an audit finding down the road.

Let us know how you feel about these “must” and “should” requirements, and if you think any “musts” should be a “should.”


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