Magazine article Government Finance Review

From Paper to the Web: Streamlining Grants Management in Los Angeles

Magazine article Government Finance Review

From Paper to the Web: Streamlining Grants Management in Los Angeles

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The Community Development Commission's "From Paper to the Web: Streamlining Grants Management in Los Angeles" initiative won the GFOA 's 2011 Award for Excellence in eGovernment and Technology.

In response to increasing administrative costs, federal budget reductions, changing federal requirements on reporting and monitoring, and staff reductions, the Community Development Commission of the County of Los Angeles developed an integrated, web-based tool that allows an unprecedented level of paperless efficiency in all aspects of grants management--from project planning and development, contract processing, and execution, to fund disbursement and budget tracking, as well as monitoring and reporting. A multi-year strategic planning effort led the CDC to develop an electronic grants management system for the Community Development Block Grant program. The design of the grants management system allows for flexibility and replication, and the commission has adapted it to manage other federal stimulus and local grant-funded programs. The GMS provides internal and external users with real-time access to all contract information and allows payment requests and project accomplishment data to be submitted electronically

The GMS is not just another database. Its interactive functioning includes notifying users of pending actions while automatically tracking the status of contracts and payment requests in different stages of processing. Since it started using the system, the CDC has increased productivity and efficiency and benefitted from substantial cost savings in the form of reduced printing, mailing, and hard copy storage expenditures, as well as reduced or reallocated staff resources.

The CDC's CDBG program is the largest urban county program in the nation. With an annual allocation of $28 million and a large number of sub-recipients, including 49 small cities, 39 non-profits, and 7 county departments, the CDC processes more than 300 contracts and amendments and 4,000 payment requests annually. As a result, it was imperative to develop an automated system that could manage these processes more efficiently, meet the commission's reporting needs, and maximize resources.

GETTING STARTED

The commission has been continuously developing the GMS since fiscal 2005, using internal staff resources. The overall system was developed incrementally as a series of "modules" that manage the component phases of the grant lifecycle, starting with planning, contract development and execution, project implementation and monitoring, and reporting. Exhibit 1 shows the CDBG annual project cycle and the modules developed to automate these workfiows.

The following steps were crucial in putting the system into operation:

* Document existing work processes through procedures manuals, flowcharts, etc.

* Look for duplicative or overlapping efforts.

* Involve staff in efforts to improve business processes.

* Establish staff liaison with information technology developers.

* Prioritize short- and long-term system development goals.

* Ensure that partner agencies have the proper technology and understanding to make full use of system automation.

* Track development progress against milestones.

* Establish and track new targets as unexpected development issues arise.

The first module was the electronic payment process for grant sub-recipients, which involved assigning one full-time staff person as an IT liaison and development coordinator. In subsequent years, an additional full-time IT programmer and another full-time operations specialist have been devoted to continuing development, refining and implementing the system, and maintaining completed components. Much of the efficiency and cost savings created by the GMS stems from eliminating the duplicative processes and information handling. …

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