Blueprint for the Future of Grants Management

By Jasmine Faubert , Marla Ozarowski , Bianca Piccione

MITRE has successfully demonstrated how to address the longstanding challenges of transparency and administrative burden in grants management. The Blueprint for the Future of Grants Management provides the path forward to achieve this future state.

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In fiscal year 2021, federal agencies granted more than $1.3 trillion to state and local governments, universities, tribal nations, and other community-based organizations. The administrative burden and lack of transparency that permeate the grants ecosystem undermine achieving the intended outcomes of Federal grants and cooperative agreements.

Industry proposed to Federal government grants management leaders that distributed ledger technology (DLT), commonly referred to as “blockchain,” could be used to manage grants information as “digital assets.” Unsure why this technology was necessary to solve their business challenges, the Federal government grants management leaders turned to MITRE, the independent, not-for-profit, operator of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC), to identify how to best address grants management business challenges and evaluate the potential use of DLT.

A rigorous, iterative approach was used throughout this initiative, starting with a Research Study to verify with stakeholder communities the problems to be addressed, identify potential solutions, and identify how technology could enable a future state. Building on the results of the study, MITRE formed a public-private consortium of Federal and non-Federal end-user organizations, industry solution providers, and multi-organization communities of interest that collaboratively:

  • Developed a Functional and Technical Definition of the future state, agnostic to specific technologies and useful to end-user communities and service/solution providers to plan, acquire, and implement the grants management future state.
  • Designed, developed, integrated, tested, and evaluated the results of a Proof-of-Concept Technology Solution to demonstrate technical feasibility and identify additional technical considerations for an operational future state solution.
  • Executed Solution Adoption Analyses to explore and address stakeholder concerns associated with implementing and sustaining the grants management future state.

The key outcomes from these collaborative efforts are:

  • Confirmation of the potential benefits to each stakeholder community of a modified grants management business process where grants management entities post and retrieve grants information via a Distributed Grants Ledger without using the DLT for transfer of stored value (i.e., virtual- or crypto-currency).
  • The Functional and Technical Definition of the future state vetted with representative end user communities, service/solution providers, and multi-organization communities of interest.
  • Demonstrated ability to implement the future state Functional and Technical Definition using a mixture of commercial and government providers, multiple technology products, and decentralized parallel development/deployment activities without requiring significant changes in existing technology products’ user interface or internal data architecture.
  • Confirmation that, although there are challenges, there are no significant barriers to successful implementation and adoption of the grants management future state and identification of important near-term and longer-term actions to enable successful implementation and use of the future state.

The next steps should be to use the body of knowledge presented in the Blueprint to:

  • Initiate an operational pilot with an initial cohort of Federal and non-Federal government and private sector organizations supported by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Health and Human Services (HHS) Grants Quality Service Management Organization (Grants QSMO).
  • Address solution adoption challenges related to legislation, policy, guidance, and standards through actions including:
    • Congress updating Federal grants management legislation and OMB updating the Uniform Guidance regulations to:
      • Shift language from “reporting” to “making information available.”
      • Eliminate references to current technologies and systems to enable the continuous evolution of solutions.
      • Emphasize the contractual relationship between grantmaking and grant recipient entities while also allowing for other authorized entities to receive grants management information and streamline payment request processing.
    • OMB and HHS updating grants management data standards to incorporate learnings from the Demonstration Project.
    • OMB establishing a policy for Federal grantmaking agencies to incorporate progress towards the grants management future state into their investment requests to acquire a new or modernize an existing grants management solution (GMS).
    • National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) developing grants management–specific information privacy and protection guidance.
    • National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) updating Federal records management guidance for information stored on a DLT.

MITRE and the government, university, community-based organization, and industry consortium partners have successfully demonstrated how to address the longstanding challenges of transparency and administrative burden in grants management. The Blueprint provides the business operating model, technology architecture and design, and action plan needed to achieve the future state. It will be imperative for Congress, OMB, and the Grants QSMO to leverage the work accomplished to date and actively lead and support grants management ecosystem stakeholders in this effort.