GAO advocates for a better-defined grants-management workforce

Wednesday - 7/31/2013, 6:29am EDT

By Cogan Schneier
Special to Federal News Radio

A recent report from the Government Accountability Office recommended that the Office of Management and Budget's Council on Financial Assistance Reform (COFAR), in an effort to "professionalize" the grant workforce, make a clear distinction between a grants management specialist role and a program specialist role in its future competency plans.

The June 28 report, released Monday, said the two positions have evolved as agencies have taken their own approaches to managing grants.

The report said some agencies use a combination of program specialists — or subject- matter experts — and grants management specialists, while others use program specialists to manage the entire grants process.

Though 5,100 employees were significantly involved in managing grants, GAO found their positions spanned more than 50 occupational jobs series. The report suggested that finding a way to better define such positions could help create governmentwide grant management plans.

"With such a diverse range of job series across federal grant-making agencies, and given the considerable variation in how agencies assign individuals to grants management roles, it is difficult to identify all the staff responsible for managing federal grants other than on an agency-by agency basis," the report said.

OMB issued proposed guidance in February to help agencies manage grants, which dealt mostly with auditing and reporting.

The Office of Personnel Management also created a job series for grant management, referred to as "Grants Management Series, 1109." The report said that more than half of the 22 federal grant-making agencies made limited or no use of the series.

The report highlighted work done at the Department of Health and Human Services, which made great use of OPM's new job series. Other agencies, including the Transportation and Education departments, did not.

"These agencies told us that this decision resulted from their grants management approach where program specialists, who have expert subject-matter knowledge in the grant program area, also carry out the functions of grants management specialists," the report said.

Agencies did note that various practices to develop the grant-management workforce are going well, including competencies, agency specific training and certification programs.

The government spends between $500 billion and $600 billion annually on grants, and almost every department has a major grants program.

The report said OMB staff concurred with all of GAO's recommendations.

Cogan Schneier is an intern for Federal News Radio

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