Since the ravages of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, earthquakes, and COVID-19, in Puerto Rico, federal funds have been a constant conversation in all island sectors. These funds from federal agencies, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Community Development Building Grants (CDBG, Department of Housing), the Federal Highways Administration (FHWA), and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), help both public and private sectors to start recovery projects, capital improvements, have better operations, and even establish mitigation and resilience projects against future natural disasters.
But in February this year, a local newspaper published the survey results on disaster recovery, and the population expressed that they have yet to see progress on this issue. In public opinion forums and even in our personal closest circles, the general impression is that the injection of federal funds needs to translate into an evident impact on our society’s daily life.
How can the public and private sectors make better use of, establish good practices and successfully carry out projects that benefit the community using federal funds? To respond, we should answer jet another question:

What is effective management of Federal Funds, and what does it entail?

First, it is necessary to define what federal funds are. According to the Office of Management and Budget (OGPe) of the Puerto Rico Government, federal funds are: “Contributions made by the Government of the United States for educational, health, social welfare, employment, permanent improvements, and other programs. These resources do not require legislative action since federal legislation determines their use.”
Once we understand how the responsible agency defines federal funds, the next question is, who can manage the funds assigned to Puerto Rico? The answer is varied. The managers of federal funds can be both the public sector (this sector can include: agencies, public corporations, and municipalities) or the private sector (this sector can include: non-profit organizations, universities, and hospitals). A successful grant management team distinguishes itself by its results—experience and dedication to successfully assisting public and private sector clients in managing the federal funds assigned to them. In short, all sectors offering services to citizens can be recipients and need an effective grant management team.

How can potential recipients of federal funds take advantage of the opportunity federal funds provide for the services they offer?

The first step should be to assess the organization’s or agency’s needs. For example, an organization that provides services to the elderly population or people with functional diversity has identified that its beneficiaries must constantly attend medical appointments or treatments to improve their quality of life. Another example of a need might be a community hit by hurricanes that would like to improve its resilience to natural disasters.
Once the need or problem is clearly defined, the next step is to formulate how to solve it. Most likely, capital (budget) is needed to undertake activities that help meet the identified needs. This capital in Puerto Rico mostly comes from the federal government, which allocates it to local agencies to be distributed or assigned to recipients on the island.

So, if federal funds are available to meet a broad spectrum of needs, why are they not acquired or used in a way that uses all its potential to impact our society’s daily life?

Our team has seen firsthand how non-recommended practices and deficiencies affect development and fundraising.
Lack of knowledge
Lack of organization
Lack of staff
Lack of structure
Documentation issues
Language problems
One of the leading causes identified from that list is the need for more knowledge of the availability of funds, which many potential recipients of funds ignore they can apply for. Other recipients requested the funds but needed to comply with the necessary structure in the information management that guarantees to obtain the requested funds. As part of our experiences managing federal funds, some clients must be aware of the organization and planning required to control their programs better.

The Roadmap to Successful Federal Funds Management

Once our Federal Fund Management Team integrates with the client’s team, they analyze the client’s current status and draw an action plan. It is a roadmap with objectives and actions where all the parties responsible for the tasks execute in synchronicity to meet the goals established by the client.
It often needs to be made clear to federally funded staff that, to be successful, they must go through a pre-award planning process to obtain the necessary grants to complete projects. Let’s use the example of an organization that offers services to the aging population. The organization has already identified a need to transport users to medical appointments or essential services. Now, the organization must find staff dedicated to obtaining external funds in its structure and how these staff can coordinate with the relevant agencies to get funds. The Agencies generally establish windows of opportunity for organizations to submit their federal proposals. To submit the proposal, the team must evaluate ALL requirements since the approval or denial of the projects will depend on this. A good practice is to have a current plan with the vision and mission, to be up to date with the documentation of all the services provided, detailed financial information, and other pertinent documentation that helps justify the submitted proposal.

A good planning process (pre-award) is the key to effectively obtaining funds.

Once the grants of funds are obtained (award phase), the organization must prepare for the following steps, mainly the use of the funds received.
Following the example of the organization, they managed to obtain funds for the transportation of their users. They determined in their proposal that they would acquire vehicles to mobilize their users. The organization must begin a process of acquisition of goods or services (procurement). To carry out the purchase, the provisions of 2 CFR 200 (UNIFORM ADMINISTRATIVE REQUIREMENTS, COST PRINCIPLES, AND AUDIT REQUIREMENTS FOR FEDERAL AWARDS) and the additional requirements according to the Federal Agency that is offering the funds must always be followed. All the organization and planning carried out in the pre-award process will help expedite the acquisition of goods or services in a structured and efficient manner.
After the grant stage (award pass), the fund management process moves to the closing stage of post-award. In the post-award phase, the team completed the goods or services acquisition or project X is already in its final stages. In the closing stage, the entity (following the example) must, as at the beginning, be organized and have the required documentation to comply with the initial plan. Depending on the agency you are working with, the closing processes may vary, but they should always follow the provisions of 2 CFR 200.

Recommendations for the successful management of federal funds

Successful federal funding management depends on many factors, but Acumenian has identified some recommendations based on experience:
Organization and Planning: Every agency or organization receiving federal funds must self-examine, identify its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT), organize its federal fund’s office, and establish plans to justify the needs or projects. They need to be able to provide 100% service.
Teamwork: Many times, the management of federal funds falls to one or a few people when, in reality, they need different talents and resources to achieve effective governance—for example, finance, legal, human resources, and even operational staff. A committed work team can make your organization or agency successful.
Documentation: Sometimes, due to ignorance, teams leave uncompleted documentation or not fully documented followed processes. For this reason, it is essential to document all federal processes to achieve the projects and, in many cases, receive reimbursements for the activities carried out.

Acumenian has a team to help public and private organizations in all these processes and steps necessary to identify federal funding opportunities and get and execute them. We are a management consulting firm specializing in Advisory, Technology, and Analytics and provide visibility of crucial data and optimize processes, systems, and decisions.

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