(Editor’s Note: This article first appeared on the SmartBrief's Blog here). The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) made sure at the recent 104th ICMA Annual Conference to demonstrate federal efforts to be more transparent, helpful and effective in the information available to states and local governments, as well as in the grant policies it sets.
Merril Oliver of eCivis introduced the panel, noting each official’s deep experience and subject-matter expertise when it comes to grants and meeting local government needs.
Victoria Collin of OMB’s Office of Federal Financial Management acknowledged right away that the federal government often falls short in how it prepares grant recipients. Goals, incentives, terms and conditions and more -- all can be unclear or otherwise lacking.
To drive home this point, she asked everyone to stand. Then, she listed various problems grant recipients might face, asking people to sit down if they’ve faced such a problem. No one was left standing by the end.
In other words, no one had the ideal -- and expected -- experience.
Every presidential administration has a President’s Management Agenda, and Collin described how OMB is working to be a mission-driven organization that is service- and stewardship-oriented, as well as efficient in how money is spent. IT modernization and better data transparency are also part of this, with these high-level efforts trickling down to the grant process.
The President’s Management Agenda includes Cross Agency Priority Goals. For the first time, grants are part of those goals, said Mary Tutman, a senior policy analyst with OMB.
Local governments are likely to benefit from this Results-Oriented Accountability for Grants goal, as the administration seeks an outcome where “Recipients and agencies spend less time on administrative compliance and more effort is put into achieving and reporting program results.”
How will this be achieved? Through better structures, portals and technologies. First, the structure. One example is the federal government’s use of a Risk-Based Data Management Framework to collect and circulate data throughout a grant awarding cycle. Leveraging this data will help grant managers as well as improve performance management going forward.
Second, as Danielle Lawrence of OMB’s Federal Financial Manager's Leadership Development Program explained, there are new websites and improved portals for data that local governments can access.
These include The Opportunity Project, a Census Bureau initiative that uses a sprint/agile methodology to help end users, including local governments. The goal is to “making access to federal data more open and convenient” for a variety of users, Lawrence said. Other websites that local governments will find helpful include Grants.gov, USASpending.gov and SAM.gov.
All of this data and transparency should also help further a second goal: federal government accountability.
Finally, technology is part of all of this, and OMB is using various technology teams, including eCivis.
To have better access to and management of federal grants, as Lawrence explained, digital tools are needed to help grant managers manage the grants life cycle, discover information and assess risks.
What kind of tools do you need? We want to hear from you! Leave us a comment.