(The following was excerpted from a recent article in the Federal Grants Management Handbook.) The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plans to better assess future budget considerations by surveying its project officers in federal fiscal year (FY) 2017 to determine the workload of its grants management staff, in response to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
EPA, which awarded about $3.9 billion in grants in FY 2015 to state, local and tribal governments and other recipients, oversees grant funding through grants specialists and project officers. Grant specialists typically manage the administrative aspects of grants on a full-time basis, while project officers are assigned to individual grants according to their subject matter expertise and oversee the programmatic and technical aspects of the grants.
Based on data entered into EPA’s Integrated Grants Management System, GAO found that the number of grants management specialists at the agency has dropped from 137 in FY 2006 to 109 in FY 2015, and the number of project officers has shrunk from 1,504 in FY 2006 to 885 in FY 2015. Despite these declines, which were generally due to budget cuts and sequestration, “it is unclear how workloads may have changed because available information is contradictory, EPA has not consistently tracked and analyzed key aspects of grants management workload over time and the agency does not have a process for doing so,” GAO noted.
Although Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular A-11 states that agencies should assess and, as appropriate, resize full-time equivalents (FTE) to achieve the agencies’ missions as effectively and efficiently as possible, EPA does not have a documented process for obtaining workload data and typically allocates FTEs by shifting personnel within a region to manage grants when necessary. “Without developing a documented process that can be consistently applied by EPA offices to collect, analyze and use workload data to inform full-time equivalent (FTE) allocations, EPA cannot track changes in workload or have assurance that it is allocating grants management resources in an effective and efficient manner,” GAO explained.
GAO did note that EPA partially follows leading practices of strategic workforce planning for its grants personnel by identifying critical skills and competencies, primarily for grant specialists, and developing strategies to address skill and competency gaps by updating training courses as EPA issues new regulations. Also, in 2016, EPA’s Office of Grants and Debarment conducted a grant specialist workforce review that identified key aspects of grant specialist staffing levels, capabilities, knowledge and skills through interviews with assistant regional administrators, grants management officers and regional grant specialists. The agency also has issued its EPA Grants Management Plan, 2016-2020, which includes performance measures such as developing a high-quality grants workforce.
(The full version of this story has now been made available to all for a limited time on Thompson’s Grants Compliance Expert site.)