New Regulations Tighten Controls for Federal Awards
Effective since December 26, 2014, the federal government’s Uniform Requirements law is streamlining guidance and increasing accountability for recipients of federal funding. This federal law affects practically all of Georgia Tech’s $700 million in funded research.
As a result of this law, there are now tighter timeframes and increased responsibility for award recipients. This means administrative reports will have to be submitted more quickly and often with a greater level of documentation.
“If you perform government-funded research, financial performance and technical performance are linked in the minds of the agencies,” said Jilda Garton, vice president for research and general manager of Georgia Tech Research Corporation. “The idea that you can perform the research now and catch up on the paperwork later is something we will have to be more careful about.”
The Uniform Requirements were developed in response to a directive from President Barack Obama to streamline guidance and increase accountability for federal grants. The Council on Financial Assets Reform (COFAR) took eight sets of existing regulations and collapsed them into one set, published in December 2013. As the new set of regulations was being developed, Georgia Tech and all others affected by the proposed changes were invited to provide comments and suggestions.
In addition to tightening the reporting timeframe, the government also is interested in seeing the award recipients’ internal control processes and will require a higher documentation standard for purchasing. For example, purchasing materials or supplies that cost more than $3,000 will require getting two quotes and choosing the less expensive option, or ensuring a valid reason for not choosing the less expensive option.
“Prior to this law, we didn’t require bids on anything under $10,000, but that has changed to $3,000,” said Garton. “Therefore, a lot more purchases will have to be documented.”
Because this change will require many university procurement systems to be updated, this purchasing requirement will not go into effect until July 1, 2016.
“The good news for Georgia Tech is that if you make purchases through Buzzmart there is already a competitive process, so you won’t have to provide additional documentation,” Garton said.
From ‘Should’ to ‘Must’
Garton noted that many rules that used to be “good practices” under the old regulations are now requirements. The word “should” has changed to “must,” and her office counted 823 “musts” in the new document.
But, award recipients will not receive additional funding to help them comply with the Uniform Requirements. Some may view this as another administrative burden.
“How can we do more with the same amount of funding is the trick,” Garton said. “Our interdisciplinary taskforce and department administrators from the College of Engineering, the College of Sciences, the College of Architecture, the College of Computing, and GTRI have been working on this since April. They have been part of the process because they will get the operational responsibility. We are doing our very best to make these changes as modest as possible, to automate systems wherever we can, and to bring everything into compliance.”
The plan is to streamline the research administration process and create an electronic pathway to make it easier for faculty to do what they need to do and get the documentation required.
“We are trying to give them better tools, easier access, faster ways to do things, and improve the information they have to manage,” Garton said.
All faculty members already have access to My Research Portal, an online system that provides customized access to every system they will need for research administration.
“If we do it right, this will be a win for the government and a win for us, too,” said Garton. “We will be able to give our faculty a better handle on what’s happening with their grants in real time. They will have better capacity to manage their grants. That helps them as much as it helps us.”