When doing the work of the government through a grant or other funding mechanism, it is important to understand the process for awarding grants.
Grant Process Overview
The FNS Grant Management Process reflects established policies and regulations and is designed to ensure that grants serve the American public's interest in well-managed grant programs. Specifically, the process ensures that:
- grants are properly planned;
- competition is open and fair;
- proposed budgets are carefully scrutinized;
- grant awards are negotiated and structured to protect the interests of the government;
- recipients are given the assistance and support they need to succeed;
- awarded grants are carefully monitored and adjustments made, as necessary, to solve problems that arise;
- and conflicts with recipients are constructively resolved
FNS Grant Management Process
FNS awards both competitive and noncompetitive discretionary grants. Unlike mandatory or entitlement awards, a discretionary grant allows an agency to exercise judgment in selecting recipients through a competitive process. Additionally, managing noncompetitive grant awards differs in that there is no requirement for an announcement, and the review process is a technical evaluation.
The process outlined below addresses grants awarded under the competitive process.
Here are the basic steps:
In preparation for a Request for Application Funding Announcement, the FNS Grants Management Office and applicable Program Office performs various activities required for implementation of an FNS grant program. The planning activities include:
- Identifying the appropriate funding authorization.
- Identifying program goals, objectives, and available resources.
- Determining the grant mechanism, suited to meet program goals (e. g, discretionary grant or cooperative agreement).
- Identifying and planning for special grants management requirements
Request for Applications (RFAs) that accurately reflect program goals, requirements, and timetables are developed by FNS. The agency reviews and approves the RFAs to ensure compliance with laws and regulations, as well as with sound business management practices.
RFAs describe the programmatic and business management requirements of the grant program. FNS publishes every RFA on Grants.gov (federal government-wide portal to find and apply for Federal grants).
The application evaluation activities include the receipt and review of grant applications submitted by potential recipients. FNS oversees the review and evaluation of grant applications to ensure outside reviewers and agency personnel comply with management policies and regulations, and sound business management practices.
FNS evaluates grant applications for their eligibility and all applications are subject to a pre-award risk assessment.
Receipt and Screening
FNS receives and logs incoming grant applications. Applications are screened to for completeness, eligibility of the applicant, and to assess pre-award risk.
Through its merit review process, FNS ensures that proposals submitted are reviewed in a fair, competitive, transparent, and in-depth manner by an independent panel, of technical experts. This involves evaluation of the technical aspects of grant applications through the objective review process. After the technical evaluation is completed, a preliminary decision is usually made and documented on a technical merit rankings list using a numerical scoring process.
This involves conducting a detailed cost analysis of the proposed budget submitted by the grant applicant to determine if costs are allowable, allocable, and reasonable. The Grants Management Office performs cost analysis activities. The Program Office assists the Grants Management Office as requested, particularly by assessing the impact of cost issues on technical aspects of the grant.
The negotiation process may be minimal or may involve negotiating all aspects of the grant award with the applicant. The process may also involve explaining to the recipient that the budget must be changed to comply with regulations, or it may involve a comprehensive give-and-take negotiation of all aspects of the award, including the scope of work, the budget and the terms and conditions. The Grants Management Office represents the government in all negotiations with recipients. The Program Office will provide information and/or participate in negotiations, in coordination with the Grants Management Office.
The award process involves the preparation of the Grant Award Agreement document, (i.e. the FNS-529, Grant Award Agreement) and officially obligates funds for the grant. The Grant Award Agreement describes all terms and conditions of the award, including reporting requirements. These documents are usually generated through an automated system. The Grant Award Agreement is distributed to the recipient for signature. As part of this step, required files (usually an official grant file and an institutional file) are created and/or updated for each grant/recipient. Upon return of the signed GAD it is signed by the Director of the Grants and Fiscal Policy Division and sent to accounting for obligation.
Post-award monitoring of recipient performance includes:
- Tracking receipt of required financial and progress reports.
- Reviewing these reports to identify performance or financial deficiencies.
- Maintaining records of all communications with the recipient, including correspondence and telephone or on-site contact.
- Conducting desk- reviews or site visits when necessary to closely investigate problems or deficiencies identified through analysis of reports.
- Responding to requests for amendments to the grant.
The Grants Management Office performs post-award monitoring activities including site-visits, reviewing reports, etc. The Program Office monitors the technical progress and performance of the recipient through review and analysis of project reports and through on-site reviews.
Audit resolution involves reviewing required periodic audits of recipients and determining how to respond to audit findings. It also includes explaining to recipients actions they must take in response to audit findings and following up to ensure the actions are implemented.
The Grants Management Office ensures that recipients comply with audit requirements and document actions needed to resolve audit findings. It ensures that recipients complete follow-up actions. The Program Office provides information and consultation to the Grants Management Office as required.
Conflict resolution involves settling disagreements that may occur with recipients, including formal appeals. The Grants Management Office works with recipients to achieve informal resolution of disputes (alternative dispute resolution). For formal disputes, the Grants Management Office takes the lead in researching case history; conducting background analyses; and providing expert advice and testimony. It also ensures the availability of a complete and accurate official grant file. The Program Office works with recipients to achieve informal resolution of disputes. For formal disputes, the Program Management Office provides information and consultation to the Grants Management Office.
Closeout involves reviewing expiring grants to ensure all requirements are met, obtaining certification from the Program Office that programmatic objectives have been met, resolving any known business management issues (e.g., ensuring costs are allowable, ensuring proper disposition of property purchased with grant funds), and ensuring that the grant file is complete.