Reaching Out to Financial Assistance Stakeholders — NGMA session notes

Today I attended the NGMA lunch where Lois W. Paul of the US Fish & Wildlife Service, Department of the Interior, presented “Reaching Out to Financial Assistance Stakeholders.” I was most interested in Lois’s discussion of the ways in which the Bureau has conducted outreach to grantees, and enabled better coordination and collaboration between the Bureau and their funding receipents. Here are my notes; you can visit the NGMA Web site for the Webcast. (Click the link below for more.)

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Lois discussed her Bureau’s internal standardization, training, and coordination, the development of an online system for informational outreach, and how these efforts impact internal and external stakeholders.

Communication is a key element in realizing effective management of financial assistance, to achieve stewardship (knowing how money is being used) and successful outcomes. This applies to internal and external stakeholders.

Lois gave a short history of the Bureau of Fish & Wildlife Service and its programs. The shifting business practices of government has been caused by shrinking budgets, increased transparency and accountability, and increased grant funding (e.g. the Bureau’s funding almost tripled in 10 years, hitting $1.3 billion in FY09). Responses to these issues have included utilizing more private resources to shore up government-owned/operated, and development of stronger management tools to coordinate efforts. At the same time, Bureau grants professionals are surrounded by an alphabet soup of initiatives and changes, including FFATA, GMLOB, DUNS, EA, OMB, CFDA, and many more.

So there is a need for increased understanding and communication, and the Bureau has developed the Financial Assistance Coordination Team (FACT). The idea is to get relevant information to internal and external stakeholders, and talk about the impact of streamlining and legislation. Fundamentally, FACT is charged with pushing forward standardization, communication, and training/resources for financial assistance at Interior. The FACT includes subject matter experts from each Interior agency, and is charged with developing and coordination the implementation of policy, recommendations for policy, and procedures as they relate to financial assistance. FACT helps draw together stakeholders from across Interior’s geographically-distributed operations, and brings in other interested parties (such as Ecological Study Units, budget, finance, Congressional Affairs, etc.) who help Interior plan for the future. The FACT does the following:

  • Improves sevices for program partners
  • Encourages efficiencies in and streamlining of business practices (e.g. development of a toolkit to obtain and manage CFDA codes, which simplified a 53 page manual to a 2 page set of instructions and template)
  • Promotes consistency and standardization among FWS programs

FACT has a Web site to provide a central location for all information related to financial assistance. It also provides a way to make recommendations on policies being developed.

The increased communication has yielded the following outcomes within Interior:

  • Greater understanding of common versus unique grant processes; confidence and standardization of business operations
  • Preparation for on-line grants administration
  • Recognized forum for discussion

And for external stakeholders the outcomes have been:

  • Uniform information, providing consistency and reliability, which yields improved quality of applications/proposals and a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities
  • Greater confidence in the Bureau/agency, demonstrating integrity in the award process, that strengthens partnerships and collaboration
  • Preparation for on-line award cycle

The department has also formed the Financial Assistance Communication Liaisons Network (FACL), which deals with data calls from OMB and elsewhere in a standardized, protocol-driven way.

Interior is also implementing a new system — the Financial Business Management System (FBMS) — which includes a grants component, eGrants Plus. Three bureaus are involved with it right now, and deployment will be phased over time. It is envisioned that this system will reduce redundancies and human error, provide documentation of decisions and awards, allow improved data reporting, and enhance confidence and professionalism in the stewardship of Federal funds.

Questions and Answers:

Q: What can grantees do to make your lives easier and share information back and forth?

A: Grantees can work with associations in their area to collaborate with us.

Q: For other agencies or jurisdictions, what were the lessons learned in building FACT?

A: Have a genuine commitment from senior management to support the time commitment (about 20% FTE per member) required to perform this work, and lead project teams. This is key because, due to shrinking budgets, government staff are already overwhelmed. The FACT initiative came from the bottom up as well as top-down, and that’s how we got executive buy-in. We now market our successes so that the Director and other stakeholders have a genuine sense of what we have attempted to do and have achieved.

Q: How will the FBMS be related to the three GMLOB consortia leads?

A: We don’t participate in the GMLOB because we were provided a waiver by OMB. That said, what the consortia leads have prepared as describing the GMLOB process informs the work we’re doing with FBMS. FBMS has been in progress for some time and we need to capture enthusiasm about it to create momentum for the initiative, for which the conversation will begin in late 2009 and is scheduled to be fully online in Fall 2012.