Grants Management:

EPA Needs to Strengthen Efforts to Provide the Public with Complete and Accurate Information on Grant Opportunities

GAO-05-149R: Published: Feb 3, 2005. Publicly Released: Feb 3, 2005.

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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has faced persistent challenges for many years in managing its grants, which constitute over one-half of the agency's budget, or about $4 billion annually. Among other things, EPA has been criticized for not always promoting competition in awarding grants, including not completely and accurately announcing grant opportunities to the public and potential applicants. One avenue EPA uses to inform the public about grant opportunities is the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA), the federal government's listing of available grants and other federal funding opportunities. EPA's Office of Grants and Debarment (OGD), among other things, develops grants policy and guidance and compiles grant information for the CFDA. OGD has taken several steps to address criticism regarding the lack of complete and accurate information in the CFDA. In this context the Chairman, Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, asked us to determine whether EPA is providing complete and accurate information on grant opportunities to the public in the CFDA.

EPA still does not consistently provide complete and accurate information on grant opportunities in the CFDA. Without complete and accurate information, potential applicants will not be fully informed about grant opportunities, and EPA may not have the broadest applicant pool from which to select grantees. Specifically, we found problems in the following areas: (1) funding priorities; (2) funding level estimates; and (3) miscellaneous CFDA program codes. OGD was not aware of the continuing problems with funding priorities and funding levels in the CFDA that we had identified until we brought them to its attention during our review. OGD has begun taking steps to correct the problems we identified. Although OGD had issued CFDA guidance in 2002 on providing complete and accurate information, it had not evaluated the effectiveness of this guidance and its procedures. Periodic evaluation of the effectiveness of guidance and procedures is necessary to ensure that information is complete and accurate. During the course of our review, we also identified inaccuracies in EPA's Integrated Grants Management System (IGMS), which OGD uses to generate reports about its grants to the public and the Congress. These inaccuracies could impair EPA's ability to completely and accurately inform the public and the Congress about its $4 billion annual investment in grants. OGD might have detected these problems if it had conducted a comprehensive review of the IGMS's data quality.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to our recommendation, EPA's Office of Grants and Debarment as of June 1, 2006, had taken steps to periodically evaluate the effectiveness of their guidance and its implementation. According to an Office of Grants and Debarment official, EPA semi-annually randomly samples proposed entries in the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance to determine if they contain accurate information on funding priorities and funding estimates. In addition, EPA's Grants Competition Advocate reviews each entry to ensure accurate information on competition.

    Recommendation: To address EPA's continuing problems in consistently providing complete and accurate information on grant opportunities to the public in the CFDA, the Administrator of EPA should require the Director of the Office of Grants and Debarment to periodically evaluate the effectiveness of CFDA guidance and its implementation to ensure that the CFDA contains complete and accurate information.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to the GAO recommendation, EPA issued guidance that deleted two miscellaneous codes and required program offices to establish separate program-specific codes for grant activities such as research and training.

    Recommendation: To address EPA's continuing problems in consistently providing complete and accurate information on grant opportunities to the public in the CFDA, the Administrator of EPA should require the Director of the Office of Grants and Debarment to continue to work on placing grant opportunities under program-specific codes instead of under miscellaneous codes.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to our recommendation, EPA issued guidance on April 28, 2005, that required program offices to provide program descriptions including funding priorities and for senior resource officials to document funding priorities. In its guidance, EPA took steps to ensure these actions were taken.

    Recommendation: To address EPA's continuing problems in consistently providing complete and accurate information on grant opportunities to the public in the CFDA, the Administrator of EPA should require the Director of the Office of Grants and Debarment to work closely with (1) program offices so that they always provide complete program descriptions, including funding priorities and funding estimates; and (2) senior resource officials to ensure that they provide a memorandum documenting approval of the program's funding priorities.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to GAO's recommendations, EPA has issued guidance that requires that (1) funding priorities be provided and clearly labeled for the current fiscal year, and may be provided for the next fiscal year if the information is complete and accurate, (2) information on funding priorities be provided for both discretionary and nondiscretionary grants, (3) senior resource officials document funding priorities, and (4) funding estimates be provided for the next fiscal year, but only to the extent they are reasonably available. In its guidance, EPA took steps to ensure these actions were taken.

    Recommendation: To address EPA's continuing problems in consistently providing complete and accurate information on grant opportunities to the public in the CFDA, the Administrator of EPA should require the Director of the Office of Grants and Debarment to revise the agency's CFDA guidance to state that (1) both current and upcoming fiscal years' funding priorities be provided and clearly identified for inclusion in the CFDA; (2) information on funding priorities for both discretionary and nondiscretionary grant programs be provided in the CFDA; and (3) senior resource officials provide a memorandum documenting approval of program funding priorities.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to our recommendation, EPA conducted a data quality review of its grants database which was completed in June 2006. According to EPA, this data quality initiative addressed issues with the database, and furthermore, developed a mechanism for testing the reliability of the database in the future.

    Recommendation: OGD should conduct a comprehensive, systemwide data quality review of the IGMS in order to ensure the accuracy of the information reported from the database to the public and the Congress.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

 

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