On March 27, 2014, eCivis spoke with Hank Griffith, Deputy Director – Grants, for Harris County, TX, about grants management best practices from the third most populous county in the United States. The interview is divided into two parts. Here is part 1:
Can you tell us about Harris County’s grant administration and the makeup of the county?
I’m the section head for the group that coordinates all the grants for Harris County. I have three analysts and one administrative person that work for me. Harris County is the third largest county in the United States, with 47 departments. Typical annual grant dollars under management is approximately $500 million—that does not include several additional grants that we have pending right now. And as a percentage it’s roughly about 21 percent of our overall operating budget, because we have a general fund budget of just under $1.9 billion.
And has that percentage shifted over the years, or is that percentage the average?
The percentage has actually gone down only a little bit only because our general fund for Harris County has had a pretty good few years. The economic downturn didn’t affect us quite as bad as it did most the rest of the United States, and so our economy is really kind of picking back up. The county primarily relies on property taxes, so luckily we didn’t take a big hit in property values, and they’re coming back up, so our general fund budget is expanding.
What are some of the biggest grant challenges the county has faced?
Because we have so many departments, our biggest challenge has been searching for grants that will fit into the needs and goals that the various departments have. And that’s one thing that eCivis has allowed us to do: We’ve been able to push some of the grant searches to the actual departments, so it reduces the amount of time we spend determining whether departments are interested in a particular grant. Now they’re coming to us and saying, “We saw this grant and we’re interested in. Can you help us apply for it?”
Are there any best practices you can share with other departments and local governments?
We’ve tried to be as efficient as possible, and it’s helped the county as a whole and us. A lot of times a problem will come up and departments will want to throw more people at it. And you can’t do that; taxpayers will go nuts. eCivis so far has helped us not have to add additional bodies, to be able to handle the workload.
Would you say that grants management software has allowed for increased transparency? For instance, you can know which departments have looked at which grants so you don’t have accidental internal competition applying for the same grant.
It might seem silly, but just the due date tracking in eCivis has allowed us to be more pro-active about turning in programmatic reports.
(Continue to Part 2 of this interview.)