Sneak Preview: GAO Seeks Burden Reductions for Research Grantees

August 19, 2016 | By Jerry Ashworth | Post a Comment

xgran_bookshot(The following was excerpted from a recent article in the Federal Grants Management Handbook.) As the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) evaluates the level of administrative burden on awardees under the uniform guidance, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) encouraged OMB and other agencies to specifically review requirements for research grants to universities to reduce awardee administrative workload and costs.

According to figures from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the federal government obligated more than $27 billion for university research in federal fiscal year 2015. Administrative requirements for these research awards not only include OMB’s uniform guidance, but also agency regulations. Agencies awarding most federal research grants are the Department of Energy (DOE), Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS’) National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and NSF.

In a recent report, GAO cited studies, such as a National Science Board (NSB) report in 2014, that found that the administrative workload placed on federally funded research is more than needed to ensure project accountability, transparency and safety. Likewise, in its own interviews with university officials and stakeholder organizations, GAO found that several factors add to university administrative workload and costs, including: (1) variations in agencies’ implementation of requirements; (2) pre-award requirements for applicants to develop and submit detailed documents for grant proposals, such as biographical sketches of researchers; and (3) requirements, such as the uniform guidance’s procurement provisions, that are more prescriptive that those under former OMB circulars that applied to universities.

For example, the procurement provisions in the uniform guidance (§§200.318-.326) more closely follow the requirements from prior OMB Circular A-102, which applied to state, local and tribal governments. This means that institutions of higher education, nonprofits and hospitals that previously followed the less stringent requirements in prior OMB Circular A-110 now are subject to a more restrictive set of procurement rules. “Such requirements help to protect against waste, fraud and abuse of funds and to promote the quality and effectiveness of federally funded research, but they also create administrative workload and costs for universities,” GAO said.

In addition, the uniform guidance allows awardees to use a risk-based approach to monitor subrecipients (§200.331(b)), but it does not allow a risk-based approach to following up on audit findings pertaining to a subaward, GAO said. “The requirement for a university to follow up on audit findings is not risk based in that it applies to all subrecipients, regardless of their risk as assessed by the university,” GAO noted, adding the university officials contend that administrative resources spent reviewing and following up on audits of low-risk subrecipients could be better targeted on monitoring higher-risk subrecipients.

(The full version of this story has now been made available to all for a limited time on Thompson’s Grants Compliance Expert site.)

 

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