Science and Technology:

NSF Experiment in Research Grant Administration Promising

PAD-82-7: Published: Sep 10, 1982. Publicly Released: Sep 10, 1982.

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GAO reported on the Association of American Universities and the National Science Foundation (NSF) experiment in research grant administration which focuses on the needs of universities for flexibility in allocating funds while ensuring appropriate financial accountability.

The experiment redirects the focus of research grant administration from NSF to individual universities and researchers, reduces NSF involvement in grant administration, and recognizes the scientific relatedness of researchers' grants. In its initial phase, the experiment reduces NSF involvement by shifting its authority to review and approve administrative and budget changes to the individual university's organizational prior approval system (OPAS). The second phase of the experiment provides universities and researchers more flexibility in the use of grant funds. GAO found that the NSF monitoring of its experiment raised a number of concerns, and it did not always adequately inform universities of changes and modifications to the experiment. However, GAO concluded that, despite some operational problems which could adversely affect the experiment's success, with the changes recommended in this report, the new approach to research grant administration will have a beneficial effect on the future administration of federal research grant funds.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Director of NSF should require that retroactive approvals of actions needing prior approval: (1) document the reasons why prior approval was not obtained in a timely manner; and (2) certify that approval would have been given had the request been submitted on time.

    Agency Affected: National Science Foundation

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Director of NSF should require that: (1) each university report to the cognizant NSF official all OPAS actions on any grant whenever the cumulative OPAS actions, excluding preaward costs, exceed 25 percent of the grant's direct costs; and (2) NSF ensure that each participating university is aware that its OPAS is responsible for monitoring all actions on grants with special grant conditions.

    Agency Affected: National Science Foundation

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NSF does not like the requirement of a fixed percent threshold. NSF officials monitor the universities through spot checks. It is already the universities' responsibility to monitor actions on special grant conditions. Therefore, it is up to each university, not NSF, to decide whether to delegate this responsibility to its OPAS.

    Recommendation: The Director of NSF should require that all OPAS actions document: (1) the description of the request; (2) the scientific reason for the request; and (3) the source of the funds being rebudgeted and for rebudgeting actions on grants with special grant conditions.

    Agency Affected: National Science Foundation

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Director of NSF should require that each university's OPAS have an official independent of the participating departments who can ensure that each department is exercising the delegated authorities properly and who has or has available the scientific expertise necessary to review and approve actions.

    Agency Affected: National Science Foundation

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The NSF evaluation panel did not believe this to be necessary; it thought that it was too burdensome for an individual outside of NSF to be involved. Therefore, NSF has not required that this recommendation be implemented.

    Recommendation: The Director of NSF should closely monitor the universities' use of the experiment's authorities and provide those responsible for managing the experiment at the universities with information on changes or modifications to the experiment in a timely manner.

    Agency Affected: National Science Foundation

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: As of April 1983, the process was no longer an experiment. Insitutions are regulary advised of changes through normal updates of the grant policy manual and important notices distributed, as with all NSF policies and procedures.

    Recommendation: The Director of NSF should ensure that applicable NSF regulations or grant agreements explicitly provide that the authority to approve preaward costs cannot impose an obligation on the United States prior to the availability of appropriations.

    Agency Affected: National Science Foundation

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Director of NSF should require that NSF review each university's OPAS to ensure that the university has established a system that can act responsibly before any delegations of prior approval authorities are made.

    Agency Affected: National Science Foundation

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: On April 1, 1983, NSF opened this system to all grantee institutions. NSF sent out standards for the university OPAS systems to follow. There are now about 700 institutions with such systems, far too many for NSF to monitor. The review is based on institutional self-certification and NSF spot checks through site visits.

    Recommendation: The Director of NSF should develop a Phase II evaluation plan and ensure that the necessary resources are available to carry it out. The evaluation should include a thorough review of each university's OPAS policies, procedures, and actions, and be conducted by official(s) independent of those managing the experiment.

    Agency Affected: National Science Foundation

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

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