OMB to name grants service providers

Three agencies given go-ahead as others told to curtail spending on new or modernized systems

The mostly dormant Grants Line of Business initiative will come alive this year when the Office of Management and Budget gives three agencies the authority to become cross-agency shared-services providers.

In the fiscal 2007 budget released today, the administration will name the Education Department, the Health and Human Services Department's Administration for Children and Families, and the National Science Foundation as grants consortia centers of excellence, according to industry and government sources.

Sources also said OMB expects to add up to three more grants management shared-services providers over the next year or so.

Spending limit

The administration will limit how much money agencies can spend on developing, modernizing and enhancing current grant management systems, sources said. In 2005, agencies spent about $144 million on DME for grant systems. All requests for funding to update grant management systems must be justified, sources said, and will be allowed if agencies are expected to apply to become a center of excellence. All other requests to update grant management systems likely would be denied, sources said.

OMB included the provision in agency 'pass back' language'instructions to agencies following budget negotiations'that mirrors similar wording the administration used for the financial management and human resources management consolidation efforts.

OMB will sort the consortia shared-service providers according to business processes. Agencies will move to the SSPs based on how they award grants, sources said.

Most of this year will be spent setting up the shared-service providers and creating an action plan; documenting policy, technical data, process guidelines and standards; and ensuring consistent operating-model and common business processes.

'The only important metric for these centers is how many customers they get and how quickly,' said David Cassidy, a vice president for Turner Consulting Group Inc. of Washington and a co-chair of National Grants Partnership White Paper Series Committee and a member of the Federal Grants Management Handbook Advisory Board.

'Congress or OMB must provide all agencies with money so they can align their strategies with the Grants LOB and show concerted progress,' he said.

HHS CIO Charles Havekost, the co-program manager for the Grants LOB effort, said at a recent event sponsored by the Industry Advisory Council in Washington that the goal would be to have one agency migrate to an SSP in 2007. He said the real payoff will be in streamlining the grant process.
But the interest in grants streamlining seems to be tepid among agencies.

Jerry Fralick, the Office of Justice Programs CIO and the chairman of the Grants Executive Board, which oversees Grants.gov, the Grants LOB and the ties into the grants policy group, said seven agencies responded to OMB's request for a declaration of intent to become shared-services providers.

Right direction

'There are some who are the believers and there are some who are waiting to see what happens,' Fralick said. 'I would like OMB to say what should happen, but I don't think they will do that. [But] we are moving in the right direction.'

Fralick pointed to his office's recent work with the Homeland Security Department as an example of the potential of the Grants LOB.

DHS' Office of Domestic Preparedness'which used to be a part of the Justice Department'gave Justice Programs permission to download its grants from Grants.gov, he said. Justice Programs holds ODP's security certificate and is providing a service that ODP wasn't receiving previously.

'We are only downloading the applications that grantees have submitted and passing them to ODP,' Fralick said. 'We are showing we can provide DHS with secure grantee applications. We should have a public safety grants management system that could include FEMA and other public safety grants.'

Fralick added that Justice could become another SSP based on their success with DHS.

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