GAO has recommended that OMB collect and analyze information on special authorities related to grants that arose from the pandemic, saying it would help both OMB and the agencies “understand the extent to which the flexibilities assisted grantees while maintaining accountability.”
More than a dozen exceptions to government-wide grants management requirements were authorized through OMB guidance last year, a report noted, with some of them having expired in mid-year and others at year’s end. For example, agencies could allow grantees to continue to charge salaries and benefits and other costs necessary to resume grant activities and could allow grantees to submit financial and other reporting up to three months beyond its due date.
“Officials from grantee organizations told GAO that grantees reported using the flexibilities to address unprecedented operational disruptions related to COVID-19, such as having to close offices or laboratories in response to stay-at-home orders early in the pandemic. For example, research grantees reported using a flexibility to continue using federal grant funding to pay the salaries of employees unable to work during shutdowns. They reported that this flexibility allowed them to retain employees and be prepared to restart grant-funded work when it was safe to do so,” GAO said.
GAO added that the pandemic represented the third time in recent years in which OMB allowed such flexibilities—the other two related to hurricanes in 2015 and 2017.
It said its prior work “has found that collecting and sharing lessons learned from programs or projects helps organizations share information for improving work processes and factor beneficial information into future planning. While OMB is relying on agencies to individually document lessons they learned using the flexibilities, it has not established a process to collect and share lessons learned widely across the federal government.”
The report said that OMB generally agreed with the recommendation.