In a typical year, the federal government provides over $700 billion in grants to other levels of government, educational institutions, and nonprofit organizations that provide critical services to individuals and families. The American Rescue Plan (ARP), recently passed by Congress and signed into law by President Biden, provides a lot of additional grant funds. Among other provisions, the ARP includes $350 billion in state and local coronavirus fiscal recovery funds; $6.1 billion to support health centers funded under the Health Center Program to prevent, mitigate, and respond to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and to enhance health care services and infrastructure; and approximately $50 billion in additional relief for the nation’s small businesses and hard-hit industries.
Recognizing the importance of grants as a policy instrument, the National Academy of Public Administration (the Academy) and Grant Thornton established a Grants Management Symposium in the spring of 2018. The Symposium is a place for knowledge sharing and problem-solving, including on how to streamline grants administration to maximize the opportunity to achieve programmatic results.
In its quarterly meeting in March 2021, the Grants Management Symposium heard from the recently designated Grants Quality Service Management Office (QSMO) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The Grants QSMO has important federal-wide responsibilities over the course of the entire grant management lifecycle, and its customers include federal grantor agencies, along with their external applicants and recipients.
The Grants QSMO has the three major functions of serving as a:
- Market coordinator—establishing a marketplace for grants systems, designating high-quality services based on clear standards, and overseeing investments in grants systems.
- Solution manager—bringing grants management solutions to the marketplace and overseeing operations for QSMO-approved solutions and systems.
- Community builder—creating a repository of training resources for grants professionals and recipients, while supporting the adoption of effective practices through a central repository of forms, forums, and so on.
Other QSMOs have been developed with similar responsibilities for the areas of financial management, cybersecurity, and civilian human resources.
The Grants QSMO joins the federal grants system at a time where tremendous opportunity exists to address current challenges, including:
- Duplicative, burdensome, and conflicting requirements;
- Fragmented recipient experience;
- 300-plus highly customized IT systems that are difficult to navigate and offer limited interoperability;
- Many manual and time-consuming processes;
- Aging technology; and
- Information sources stored in dispersed places.
HHS Grants QSMO leaders have begun to address some of these issues. By facilitating the development and adoption of customer-focused, innovative, and efficient solutions and services for grants management, the Grants QSMO seeks to empower and enable applicants, recipients, and federal awarding agencies government-wide to maximize mission impact. In the near-term, the Grants QSMO is working to develop a single sign-on and minimally invasive portal to improve grant recipients’ user experiences, reduce unnecessarily time-consuming processes, and save resources for recipients and grantors.
Following the Grants QSMO presentation, symposium attendees had the opportunity to discuss key grants topics and vote on future topics that will provide relevant and timely information to the community. Based on this input, the Grants Management Symposium will focus on such issues as:
- Implementing the American Rescue Plan of 2021;
- Ensuring accuracy of performance data;
- Reconciling reporting requirements from multiple federal grantors; and
- Developing a common grants management training curriculum.
Clearly, federal grants are only increasing in importance with the recent American Rescue Plan. The Grants Management Symposium wants to continue to assist in maximizing the impact of grants by helping to address common challenges and build collaborative partnerships. If you are reading this blog and wish to get further involved, we encourage you to email the authors (email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org) to join the Symposium. We look forward to your insights and participation!
Joe Mitchell is Director of Strategic Initiatives & International Programs at the National Academy of Public Administration. Elise Johnson is a Senior Research Associate at the National Academy of Public Administration.