What You Need to Know Before Setting Up a Federal Grant Program Part II
Jun 24, 2020
Roxy Barboza, Washington D.C.
Joan Keiser, Washington D.C.
This is the second blog post in this series. For “What You Need to Know Before Setting Up a Federal Grant Program Part I” click here. To download our “Guiding Principles for Grants Management”, click here.
In fiscal 2019, the federal government made more than 435,000 grant awards, totaling an estimated $766 billion. Grants are a big deal and can be complex to implement and administer. If you work in the federal grants space, you might be familiar with the Uniform Guidance for financial assistance codified at 2 CFR 200. This guidance is important and there are many resources available to help you apply it.
In our last blog we covered the importance of knowing your authorities and knowing your objectives and expectations. This blog covers two other basic building blocks:
Knowing who’s on your team, and
Knowing your timeline and process
These building blocks help you construct and manage an effective grant program because:
Grant programs are under constant pressure to make awards quickly. A basic understanding of the legal underpinnings of your program makes up-front planning faster and easier.
Your program’s legal basis helps you clarify grant program, stakeholder, and agency objectives, which provide the boundaries that shape early discussions.
Setting and communicating your program’s objectives and expectations is crucial to program success. If your internal team doesn’t have a grasp of what’s expected and when, the program will encounter obstacles. Similarly, clear objectives and expectations effectively communicated to the applicant community result in well-organized, high-quality applications.
Understanding the role of your team, including where they can help and where they can’t, helps determine whether additional resources are needed to make the program work.
Knowing the grants lifecycle helps you set a realistic timeline and plan for approvals and interactions with other internal parties like your finance office.
Knowing Who’s On Your Team
Federal agencies are often big, complex organizations. Seek out the federal employees identified in the table below to help you set up and manage your grant program. As a program manager, you will likely be responsible for making connections, but it’s possible that your grants office will reach out to you to get the process started.
Program Office (PO)
Program Manager, Program Staff
Determine objectives and goals, outreach to stakeholders and beneficiaries, design the program. Assess and monitor risk. Interact with agency management and finance office.
Do you have enough staff to handle outreach and reviews, as well as post-award monitoring?
Grants Office (GO)
Grants Officer, Grants Specialist
Help the PO shape the program, manage application intake, negotiate and administer awards. Interpret and apply 2 CFR 200. Liaison to grants policy office.
Knowledge of program and objectives. Program timeline could affect availability of GO staff. Grants policy office reviews can take significant time.
Office of General Counsel (OGC)
Program Attorney, Grants Counsel
Review legal authorities to ensure all are in place, advise on program construction and selection of award instruments. Advise on 2 CFR 200.
Build their availability into the grant program’s timeline. Reviews can take time. OGC can also advise during monitoring.
All of your teammates need to fully understand your expectations for the program. Clearly documented and communicated objectives, deadlines, and requirements establish a shared understanding of each team member's roles and responsibilities, and ensures everyone is working toward the same goal.
The need to physically distance to hinder the spread of the corona virus has caused our federal clients to re-think how they interact with both internal and external stakeholders. Recently Corner Alliance transitioned a key multi-day workshop for awardees from in-person to virtual for our client at USDA.This workshop brought together recent award recipients and federal staff for key discussions on how to administer awards for a new assistance program. The team surmounted logistical, scheduling and technology challenges to help the client reach 1,888 attendees across 10 sessions.
Program award schedules compress as review periods lengthen, putting pressure on both the PO and GO staff to make awards while ensuring that awardees are capable and funded projects will meet statutory and program objectives. Before getting started, you’ll want to ask if you have enough staff to effectively review funding applications and monitor awards.
Corner Alliance has successfully assisted federal agencies with program design and implementation, as well as providing experienced consultant staff to assist with review coordination and award monitoring. For example, Corner Alliance supports a $116.5 million grant program at the Department of Commerce by pre-screening electronic applications to ensure that all application components are present, as well as reviewing budget calculations and modifications for accuracy. During the post-award phase, Corner Alliance conceptualized, designed, developed, deployed, and managed the Grants Data Center (GDC), a cloud-based software tool that assists the client with data management and reporting on awards.
Know Your Process and Timeline
Here’s the grants management life cycle:
Pre-Award Planning involves the PO staff, the GO, and counsel. You might want to include other stakeholders such as related agencies or senior management. Be sure to use this time to create your project timeline, consider risks and mitigation, and obtain all necessary approvals.
Your GO can help you ensure that all of the relevant steps to Commit Funding are completed. As you might expect, your agency’s financial team will be involved with this phase.
Your GO Announces the Funding Opportunity on grants.gov, after you’ve all worked hard to draft a clear, cogent, and helpful announcement. This announcement governs all of the activities of the program.
Your PO team has a big role to play in Reviewing Applications. While your GO may be able to assist in the reviews, if you have a popular program with many applicants, you might need additional resources.
Your GO will Negotiate and Make Awards, but your PO team will play key roles in determining the reasonableness of funding requests and recommending awards to your agency’s decision-maker.
The PO team is also a vital part of Administering and Monitoring awards, to ensure that awardees fulfill their grant agreements and execute the approved projects.
Closeout involves your team’s input on final performance reports and ensuring that all funds are properly accounted for.
Understanding this process at a high level helps you determine a project timeline and allocate sufficient resources to ensure that you can move through every phase with confidence.
Corner Alliance can help Manage Grant Programs from Planning to Closeout
Developing, executing and monitoring grant programs can be complex and frustrating at times. But being very clear about your program’s authority, objectives and expectations, your team’s strengths, weaknesses and availability, and the process itself provides a solid foundation for success.
Corner Alliance aims to empower our clients to reach new heights and achieve their goals. By understanding a program’s current state, we help our clients establish clear objectives and a customized approach to measure impact. To address what can often be a complicated process to complete funding packages, Corner Alliance follows the most current and up-to-date detailed processes, procedures, and requirements to guarantee these packages are submitted correctly and on time. We leverage our extensive experience in the rigorous day-to-day management that a grant program requires, ensuring that our clients can have the utmost confidence that their programs will succeed. Corner Alliance promises to always have our clients back and to present creative solutions to address their most challenging needs.
Our guiding principles for grants management are:
Accurate understanding of recipient’s current state.
Clear objectives and a way to measure impact.
Complete funding packages with detailed processes, procedures, and requirements.
Rigorous day-to-day management and oversight.
Learn More About Our Guiding Principles of Grants Management
Roxanna (Roxy) Barboza, MPA, Consultant to the USDA, has cultivated a passion for mission-driven work through her personal connection with broadband access. A California native, her dedication to serving others led her to a career with Corner Alliance after earning her Master’s in Public Administration from the University of Southern California.
Joan Keiser, Consultant to the USDA, has a mission to leave the world a better place than she found it. That mission has been the thread that flows throughout her careers as an advocate for rural America, a federal civil servant and now at Corner Alliance. Joan is a native Pennsylvanian and a proud alumna of the University of Pittsburgh.