New fed guidelines simplify grant awards process

The changes will reduce fraud and award abuse, officials say.

Taylor Nachtigal

The University of Minnesota is working to make the process of applying for and using research grants simpler, in accordance with new federal guidelines.

The University is currently working to bring its policy for research awards up to speed with the new guidelines, which school officials say will make the process more efficient and will reduce any chances of fraud, waste and abuse in the system.

While the changes streamline the grant process, it doesn’t come without new challenges. 

The federal Office of Management and Budget issued the changes last year, and they officially go into effect Dec. 26. Since May, the University has been gearing up to implement the changes detailed in a 700-page document, said Pamela Webb, associate vice president for research.

The Office of the Vice President for Research has been working with college deans, department heads and others throughout the University to update them on the coming changes, she said.

The old federal guidelines were developed separately over several years. Consequently, they had many overlapping regulations, causing confusion for researchers when applying for awards and during audits.

The new set of guidelines, called “Uniform Guidance,” combines the separate regulations into one document, Webb said.

While she said the new guidelines reduce overlap in policies and streamline regulations, they’re a trade-off.

The changes help to detect any problems in the implementation of grant funding and will relieve the administrative burden of filing excessive paperwork, Webb said, allowing researchers to spend more time on their research.

“If we spend all the time typing [up paperwork], we can’t do the work we are paid to do,” said Maria Gini, chair of the University Senate’s Research Committee.

Despite the positive changes, the University will still have to deal with some inconsistencies. 

For example, each individual grant-awarding agency, like the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, two agencies that commonly help fund researchers — have the option to deviate from certain guidelines as long as they disclose it to universities.

The problem, Webb said, is that there are 27 different agencies providing the University with research funds, leaving a lot of room for inconsistency. 

The NSF has already notified the school of two deviations that will come with its awards, said Nicole Pilman, the University’s Uniform Guidance Implementation Coordinator.

Webb said the University is waiting to hear from the rest of the agencies to see which ones will have deviations, which will affect how the school applies for awards at those organizations.

So far, the school is prepared for the changes, Pilman said.

“If everyone implements no deviations, we’ll be ready,” she said.

The regulation changes will be beneficial overall, Webb said, despite some of the challenges that come with it.  

“In general, it’s a good idea. The concept is excellent,” she said. “The reality is sometimes we got good things [from the regulations], sometimes we didn’t.”