Fast Facts

The federal government awards billions of dollars in grants to state and local governments each year for everything from children's health insurance to higher education.

We looked at the training federal grants managers receive at selected agencies. We found that while agencies provided some training and the Office of Management and Budget developed some career assistance resources, none had evaluated the effectiveness of their efforts.

We made 5 recommendations, including that:

OMB better publicize and evaluate available career resources

Health and Human Services, USDA, and Education take steps to better evaluate their grants training

Distribution of Grant Dollars Awarded by Selected Agencies in Fiscal Year 2017

This graphic shows that Health and Human Services awarded 67.4% of federal grants, Education awarded 6.2% and Agriculture 5.6%.

This graphic shows that Health and Human Services awarded 67.4% of federal grants, Education awarded 6.2% and Agriculture 5.6%.

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Highlights

What GAO Found

The Offices of Personnel Management (OPM) and Management and Budget (OMB) and the Chief Financial Officers Council (CFOC) have taken some steps to help ensure the federal grants workforce receives training. For example, OMB worked with the CFOC to issue five basic grants training modules and a “Career Roadmap” for grants managers; however, they did not widely publicize the resources. Many of the officials with whom GAO spoke at selected sub-agencies at the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS), Agriculture (USDA), and Education (Education) were unfamiliar with the Career Roadmap and made limited use of the training resources. Further, OMB and CFOC do not collect detailed user data or feedback, limiting their abilities to determine the usefulness of these resources.

GAO found that sub-agencies at HHS, USDA, and Education vary in following leading training practices for planning, designing, implementing, and evaluating their grants training programs. Additionally, HHS, USDA, and Education could not readily identify grants management specialists—the 1109 job series—or employees in other job series working on grants without querying each sub-agency. These agencies cannot do so because their central offices do not have a reporting mechanism tracking their sub-agencies' grants workforce. Further, agency central offices do not evaluate sub-agency grants training efforts. Without sufficient monitoring and oversight, the agencies cannot have reasonable assurance that their sub-agencies are sufficiently training their grants workforce so they have the necessary knowledge, skills, and abilities to properly manage, administer, and monitor the billions of dollars that the federal government spends on grants annually.

Number of Grants Specialists and Non-Grants Specialists in the Grants Workforce at Selected Agencies as of March 2018

Number of Grants Specialists and Non-Grants Specialists in the Grants Workforce at Selected Agencies as of March 2018

Why GAO Did This Study

In fiscal year 2017, the federal government awarded approximately $675 billion in grants to state and local governments. GAO was asked to review the federal grants workforce training. GAO reviewed (1) OPM's, OMB's, and the CFOC's actions to address the grants workforce's training needs; (2) the extent to which grants workforce training at selected agencies is consistent with leading practices; and (3) how selected agencies monitor and oversee training of their grants workforce. GAO selected HHS, USDA, and Education and several of their sub-agencies based on their grants spending and numbers of grants management specialists. GAO reviewed OPM and OMB memorandums and guidance, compared selected agency training practices against leading training practices, and interviewed officials.

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Recommendations

GAO is making five recommendations including that OMB, working with the CFOC, should (1) publicize the Career Roadmap and (2) collect data metrics and user feedback on its use. HHS, USDA, and Education should establish processes to centrally monitor and evaluate their grants training, including identifying the grants workforce and ensuring consistency with leading practices. HHS and USDA concurred, Education generally concurred, and OMB partially concurred with our recommendations. OPM had no comments on the report.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Office of Federal Financial Management OMB's Office of Federal Financial Management's Controller (the CFOC chair) should ensure CFOC formally publicizes the Career Roadmap guidance among the 24 CFO agencies through memorandums, briefings, trainings, regular CFOC meetings, or technical assistance and clearly posts its "Controller Alert" on the CFOC website with the Career Roadmap Report. (Recommendation 1)
Closed - Implemented
OMB staff provided us with oral comments stating that the agency partially concurred with our recommendations. For our first recommendation, OMB generally agreed with our finding that the Career Roadmap guidance should be better publicized. However, OMB believes this is not its responsibility but rather the responsibility of federal agencies. OMB stated that federal agencies could incorporate a method into their improvement plans to ensure that sub-agencies are made aware of the Career Roadmap Guidance. We believe that, as the federal government's central management agency and developer of the Career Roadmap, OMB has a responsibility for ensuring that federal agencies are aware of the Career Roadmap guidance by formally publicizing it through memorandums, briefings, trainings, regular CFOC meetings, or technical assistance. For the portion of our first recommendation that discusses clearly posting the "Controller Alert," OMB stated it will look at the alert's placement on the CFOC website to see if the agency can make it more prominent. We continue to believe that the "Controller Alert" should be easily accessible to anyone visiting the website and should be located on the same page as the Career Roadmap, where it would have greater visibility. In May 2019, OMB staff said that no action had been taken to date in response to this recommendation. In January 2020, OMB provided a written response saying it concurred with this recommendation and had announced the release of the Financial Assistance Career Roadmap by posting an announcement and materials on the CFO.Gov website and by announcing the availability of these tools in a Controller's Alert, which was also posted on the website. Based on this action, we consider this recommendation to be closed as implemented.
Office of Management and Budget The Director of OMB, working with CFOC, should (1) collect data metrics regularly on the Career Roadmap Builder online tool and Grants Training 101 to determine how widely the resources are being used, and (2) obtain periodic feedback from federal agencies on the usefulness of these tools and any needed improvements. (Recommendation 2)
Open
OMB staff provided us with oral comments stating that the agency partially concurred with our recommendations. For our second recommendation, OMB agreed that user feedback data regarding the Career Roadmap Builder and Grants Training 101 is useful. However, OMB stated that while it will continue to collect data on the number of users, it believes that federal agencies should be responsible for collecting specific, detailed user data if they are using those resources. We continue to believe that OMB and CFOC would benefit from collecting specific, detailed user data on these tools, which they devoted time and multiple resources to developing. Collecting detailed data metrics that go beyond the number of users can help OMB and CFOC to better evaluate the effectiveness of these grants training tools. Additionally, OMB stated the agency is committed to working with CFOC to review the Grants Training 101 module to determine how useful it is and if any improvements or adjustments are needed. In May 2019, OMB staff said that no action had been taken to date in response to this recommendation. In January 2020, OMB responded in writing to this recommendation stating that it was continuing to collect data on usage for both training tools on the CFO.gov site. OMB specified, however, that the usage data was for the number of visitors on the two sites and on users by agency. OMB went on to say that each agency is responsible for the professional development of its own workforce, and that federal agencies can, at their discretion, collect user data if the Roadmap and Grant Training 101 are part of their official training program. In addition, OMB stated it had made the Grants Training 101 available publicly for federal and non-federal personnel on CFO.Gov, and that collecting specific user data is not considered to be beneficial to demonstrate the usefulness of the materials. In late 2020, we requested an update from OMB regarding the availability and use of metrics and effectiveness measures for the Career Roadmap and the Grants Training 101 modules. We are awaiting a reply to that request for an update.
Department of Health and Human Services The Secretary of HHS should establish a process to monitor and evaluate HHS's grants training at the central office level. This process should include (1) a method for identifying all employees working on grants across the agency, and (2) oversight procedures to evaluate the sufficiency of sub-agencies' grants training efforts including the incorporation of leading practices related to assessing competencies, training approaches, accountability, and training results. (Recommendation 3)
Open
HHS concurred with our findings and recommendation. In its comment letter, HHS stated that its Office of Grants Policy, Oversight, and Evaluation, within the Office of Grants and Acquisition Policy and Accountability, Division of Grants, in conjunction with the HHS ReInvent Grants Initiative would be developing and implementing a department-wide financial assistance training and certification program to improve the functional effectiveness of the financial assistance management workforce in the areas of internal controls and risk mitigation. HHS provided GAO with quarterly updates on these efforts through December 2020. GAO will continue to request updates from HHS in this area throughout 2021.
Department of Agriculture The Secretary of USDA should establish a process to monitor and evaluate USDA's grants training at the central office level. This process should include (1) a method for identifying all employees working on grants across the agency, and (2) oversight procedures to evaluate the sufficiency of sub-agencies' grant-training efforts including the incorporation of leading practices related to assessing competencies, training approaches, accountability, and training results. (Recommendation 4)
Closed - Implemented
In an email, the Chief Learning Officer said that USDA concurred with our findings and recommendation. In November 2019, USDA officials said the agency had worked over the past year to collaborate with HHS and the Department of Education to define the grants workforce as all employees who are subject to carrying out the requirements for financial assistance in the form of grants and cooperative agreements under Title 2 CFR Part 200 (i.e., the "Uniform Grant Guidance"). They said Identifying the grants management workforce involved having each sub-agency provide a list of employees in the OPM job series 1109 and "500" and other job series employees that work with grants, such as financial administration (501), financial clerical (503), financial management (505), accountants (510), budget (560), other USDA grant workforce from various job series, and signatory officials. Further, they said that through this effort, USDA had identified approximately 8,000-9,000 employees as part of the grants workforce. After our conversation, these officials provided a draft document showing how employees in multiple job series were required to take the "Grants 101 Training" modules 1 through 5. They also provided a spreadsheet tracking how USDA has greater oversight into the courses employees have taken or should take in each sub-agency. After speaking with a USDA official on March 6, 2020, we were provided with the USDA Memorandum signed by the Principal Deputy Chief Financial Officer requiring that agencies and staff offices within USDA identify employees in their grant workforces and directs them to use the "Career Roadmap" and "Grants 101" as training. Based on this, we consider this recommendation closed as implemented.
Department of Education The Secretary of Education should establish a process to monitor and evaluate Education's grants training at the central office level. This process should include (1) a method for identifying all employees working on grants across the agency, and (2) oversight procedures to evaluate the sufficiency of sub-agencies' grants training efforts including the incorporation of leading practices related to assessing competencies, training approaches, accountability, and training results. (Recommendation 5)
Closed - Implemented
The Department of Education generally concurred with our findings and recommendation. In its comment letter, Education stated it would identify by March 2019 all employees working on grants and establish a process to monitor and evaluate grants training at the central office level. In addition, grants staff will be evaluated on their competencies by September 30, 2019, and the Department will implement training and developmental opportunities at a central office level to address skills gaps through Fiscal Year 2020. In December 2019, staff from the Department's Data Integrity and Financial Controls Division in the Office of Finance and Operations provided us with two new documents--the Ed-Wide Competency Initiative Summary and the Department of Education Standard Operating Procedures for Monitoring and Evaluation of Grants at the Central Level--that addressed these issues. Based on this, we consider this recommendation to be implemented.

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