Irrespective of the disaster; pandemic, flood, wildfire or hurricane, States and local governments must strike a balance between taking swift, mission-focused actions and mitigating the potential for waste, fraud and abuse. Implementing a modern grant management system accelerates delivery, improves transparency and directs maximum funding for the people and businesses it is intended to help, all while creating a robust system of record to facilitate the audit process.
With $150 Billion dollars through the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF), state and local governments must develop and execute a strategy and ensure the delivery of funds to its constituents. Decision makers are faced with a challenge to package compliance, scalability, reliability, cybersecurity and innovation with a competitively priced technology solution.
The U.S. Department of Treasury has provided guidelines and disbursed funds to States and some municipalities to distribute and reimburse COVID-19 related expenses. This increases the urgency for state and local governments to stand up processes that ensure compliance and minimize the risk of repayment.
Challenge: Deliver funds quickly with maximum coverage to citizens and communities in need.
Solution: Leverage industry best practices that can be rapidly deployed with video learning and instructional guides to shorten the learning curve.
Challenge: Federal regulations and risk of repayment make it very important to get it right.
Solution: Balance the use of manual checklists and system business rules to keep the process flowing.
Challenge: A myriad of compliance requirements makes it difficult to remember every programmatic control that is in place.
Solution: Create a catalog of controls to ensure compliance. Take inventory and shore up weaknesses with training or system enhancements. Provide full transparency, traceability and accountability to meet strict compliance need
Challenge: Difficult to balance short and long-term objectives.
Solution: Federal grants are controlled and regulated by the same Code of Federal Regulations, think strategically of how the process and system can be used to manage future grants.
Challenge: To foster ideas that will improve adoption of new technology through workflow automation
Solution: State and local governments have within reach, the technology innovations necessary to adapt to new demands of remote and contact-less workplace with ease-of-access and optimal cybersecurity. CRF funds can be used to purchase technology to support distance learning and technological improvements.
Our team has 15 years of experience implementing grant management systems throughout the country and provide the following insights for what States and Local governments will need to consider when implementing a grant management system.
People, Process, Technology
All three ingredients are necessary to deliver a successful program that can be sourced in multiple ways to meet the individual needs of a neighborhood, community or state-wide directive.
The CARES Act allows State and local governments to utilize funds to increase staff, improve processes and the technology necessary to enhance their ability to manage future disasters.
Identify staff with skillsets needed to address key aspects unique to the program. A path to success will be staff to address the following areas;
- Manage the program,
- Develop procedure manuals,
- Create job aids, and
- Generate process flow charts.
If current staff has these skillsets and can absorb this workload, the program is off to a great start. If these assets are unavailable, leverage domain experts and consultants while simultaneously augmenting staff. This is a great way to shorten the initial learning curve. Provide and encourage a venue where State and local government staff to work closely with domain experts to facilitate knowledge transfer. Best Practice: Collaborative teams across business units provides flexibility and enhances the overall team effort to serve constituents.
Organize a steering committee with decision-making authority. This structure dramatically improves:
- Program visibility and encourages productive communications. The committee helps align business priorities and funding.
- Ability to execute a strategy to efficiently spend in the areas of the greatest impact.
- Coordination among cross-functional team members from executive, technology, and business areas to ensure the needs of all Stakeholders are addressed.
Identify actors and document a baseline process, paying careful attention to hand-offs. A well-documented process that is internalized by all departments involved improves the collective team’s ability to find the best solution. Once the process has been established and socialized internally, State and local governments are better positioned to plan and execute their grant programs.
- Maintaining standard operating procedures (SOP) manuals, even if they are only detailed at a high-level is crucial. SOPs provide a common touch point for all stakeholders—providing clarity in key areas of program management.
- If contracting with consulting firms, understand the area of expertise and decide early if they can assist in development of business requirements. Best Practice: Business Analysts add tremendous value by documenting every step and high-level system requirements along-side the policy team.
- Take time to formulate a strategy with the intend to manage work. Real-time dashboards, queues and reports are all tools that can be used to inform and consider expectation on how to consume data along with specific data points that will be considered to make decisions and report progress.
- A carefully crafted communication plan along with effective content management tools helps set expectation and reinforce the process. Program policy explanation videos, step-by-step instructions and built-in system navigation guides steers all stakeholders in the same direction.
- Remote work groups contact less meeting and conferencing aids are absolutely required in today’s workplace. Technology solutions that offer interoperability within the same system enable teams to continue working in the same business flow and stay engaged. Systems will need to be rapidly deployed by teams working in all areas of the country.
State and local governments have several approaches to address technological needs, among them are, repurpose of existing systems, hiring a grant management firm and investing in new technology to address cross-agency and department needs. To move quickly, be prepared to provide decision makers with all available documentation or information about systems currently in place. Conduct a gap analysis between your current systems and the need to isolate specific needs.
It may take several weeks or months to fully procure licenses and execute contracts. Work with your information technology team to identify opportunities to leverage existing agreements to procure software licenses. For example, Microsoft offers State and local governments enterprise license agreements for Office365 which can be used to procure Dynamics licenses.
To adapt quickly to changes in CARES Act, the solution you choose should be built on a highly configurable technology platform with pre-configured modules requiring low to no-code to deploy.
Our team recently worked with the State of Georgia’s Office of Planning and Budget to implement the GrantCare GM product for payment review and disbursement of the COVID stimulus funds to State constituents. The entire implementation was managed remotely over Microsoft Teams. The system was configured and ready to accept payment requests in 10 business days and is now collecting direct expense data, and documentation from agencies throughout the state. Using Microsoft PowerApps Portal and Dynamics 365, our client now has a complete view of COVID-related spending in their State.
Oversight at all Stages
The combination of clear policies and procedures, and a culture of commitment to oversight are keys to success.
With the stringent oversight needs of a program of this scale, State and local governments must aim to put in place a system backed by experts to help maintain oversight at each stage of the program. Outcomes will be evaluated against the method of distribution to ensure coverage on all the critical paths for the COVID Federal stimulus program.
It is in the best interest of the States and local governments to maintain systems to control workflow and oversight across multiple agencies and programs. Whenever possible, use the same system to manage your programs. The opportunity to integrate other funding streams and processes using the same technology solution can exponentially enhance data collection, analytics, reduce costs and provide the highest level of oversight.
Selecting the Grant Management System
Innovation in times of a disaster must address short and long-term objectives and be delivered rapidly.
With all the uncertainties associated with COVID-19, new initiatives will be quickly needed at all levels of government to deploy solutions and reimburse departments or deliver programs that support people in need. Programs such as emergency rent and utility assistance, mortgage assistance, and distance learning initiatives will emerge as quick ways to get help to those in need. Although on the surface, these are different grant programs, peel back a few layers and you will see that every grant has the same DNA of similar regulatory requirements and policies.
While evaluating the technology to be adopted, here are some key areas and related questions.
- Can the system be configured as a turn-key solution for multiple types of funding programs managed by the State or local government?
Is the technology platform feature rich, modular and low code with the capability to easily adapt for all types of assistance?
Does the solution draw on the dedicated experience in grant and disaster recovery programs and deep technology expertise?
Does the solution facilitate constant updates and close monitoring of performance parameters that clients can continuously benefit from?
Can the solution integrate with AdobeSign, DocuSign or any other electronic signature collection tools?
Business Process Automation
- Is the system configurable to manage the complete life cycle of the grant management process?
- Does the system contain pre-configured business rules?
- Does the solution offer workflow managed review process with automated emails at each step of the process?
- Is the system able to support multiple security roles to segregate duties and responsibilities?
- Does the system provide a front-end portal where applicants, grantees and contractors can interact with the program, check status of applications and make appointments?
- Can the solution integrate or collect data from other sources?
Cybersecurity, Risk and Compliance
- Is the solution built on a FedRamp (High) compliant platform?
Are expense categories, allowable activities, risk determination parameters fully defined in your solution?
Are there predefined sub-categories where you can control and assign risk levels?
- Is document collection heavily integrated with the solution and is there a limit to the number of document types connected with a contract?
- Does the solution offer advanced document tagging or artificial intelligence to scan for key words related to types of expenditures?
- Is the document collection module configurable to enforce naming conventions, abbreviations for specific document types and allow control over metadata collection?
- Can the solution drill down with visualization options on exactly where the funds are being utilized?
Is the system delivered with a set of reports and dashboards to provide immediate visibility into operations?
Can the system connect in real-time to other reporting platforms?
These are trying times for everyone involved and States must determine quickly how they can restore control and minimize the damage from the COVID disaster.
GrantCare has been on the forefront of innovation in disaster recovery. Our solutions have been crafted to swiftly address the systemic challenges in a comprehensive manner. The company’s consultative approach enables our team to fast track the delivery and implementation of end-to-end grant management needs.
With decades of disaster recovery program management experience, and the technology foundations built to address grants for high impact disaster needs, we were able to anticipate the stimulus program needs brought on by COVID very early. Working closely with industry leaders to gain a thorough understanding of the CARES Act, we packaged the GrantCare GM solution within just weeks of the Act being passed. The solution was designed with a singular purpose to lay the foundations for full life cycle grant management and empower States to respond swiftly, be self-dependent and be in control during unprecedent disaster cycles very effectively.
Written by Shane Lucas – CEO & Founder with Santhosh Kumar – Principal Consultant
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