They’re Here to Help

Site visits are for grantees, not federal agencies, says National Science Foundation officials.

Last week at the National Grants Management Association Annual Meeting a session on virtual site visits — using shared desktops, conference lines, and videoconferencing — had an underlying message. As Dale Bell, deputy director of the Division of Institution and Award Support put it, “We are on your side. We want you to be the best you can be.”

Bell made it clear that the Cost Analysis and Audit Resolution Branch was not the same as the Office of the Inspector General, and in fact had very different aims. While the IG at NSF (and likely at other agencies) might be looking for fraud, waste, and abuse to eliminate or punish, this group was looking for problems to help solve. 

Because of their focus, Bell and his colleagues at the presentation –Tamara Bowman, team lead for the Award Monitoring and Business Assistance program, and Alex Wynnyk, chief of the Cost Analysis and Audit Resolution Branch — did not take the IG’s suggestion to “follow the money” when deciding which sites to visit or audit. The large grantee organizations have the infrastructure to ensure compliance, they reasoned. It is the smaller universities and research centers with smaller grants, in the $3 million to $10 million range, that need the most help from the Cost Analysis and Audit Resolution Branch.

Part of the branch’s charge is to get institutions ready for audits by helping them set up good processes and follow them appropriately. With those processes in place and followed, there should be no waste, fraud, or abuse. No institution wants to be the subject of an IG report, which is read by members of Congress (who then point fingers).

So if you have a grant, welcome those desk audits and site visits: sometimes when the Feds call, they’re on your side.