UW News

January 13, 2005

Grant & Contract Accounting reorganizes with the new year

Grant holders on campus shouldn’t have any trouble knowing whom to turn to for help with the financial aspects of their work, thanks to a reorganization in Grant and Contract Accounting (GCA) that was launched with the new year. The reorganization assigns every department, school or college on campus to a particular team at GCA — a team that will see a grant through, from setting up a budget to closing it out when the grant expires.

That’s a radical change for GCA, which previously had had one group of staffers to set up new budgets, another to do invoicing and still others to do reporting. “So, from a customer perspective, the day the grant got set up they were dealing with one person and then a week later they might be dealing with someone else,” said Sue Camber, associate controller for research accounting and analysis. “With our new structure, there is one team assigned for the whole process, with one contact phone number and e-mail.”

As far as staffers at GCA know, the change marks the first major reorganization in at least 40 years, but feedback Camber was getting made her believe that the time had come. Although customers weren’t unhappy in general, she said, two concerns kept surfacing — that GCA staffers often didn’t understand the “big picture” of a customer’s grant, and that the customers were being passed around from one staffer to the next.

Both concerns, Camber said, are the result of increasing complexity in the world of grants. A 17-year veteran at GCA, she explained that over the years federal rules have added extra layers of compliance requirements, and that at the same time the University has come to deal with many more grants and many more sponsors than in the past — each with its own set of rules.

So it was that a year ago, Camber began floating the idea of reorganizing the department to better serve its customers. She talked not only with GCA employees, but also with faculty and departmental administrators who are their main customers.

“From the beginning people thought it was a great idea,” she said. “We’ve had excellent support from campus.”

It’s been a slow process, however. For most of the 45 GCA employees, it has meant a total change in their jobs, and that couldn’t be accomplished overnight. The department created an elaborate plan and asked employees to volunteer for committees that would work on various aspects of the transformation.

“At a staff meeting last fall, I asked people who’d been on one of the committees to stand, and it was about 75 percent of our employees,” Camber said.

One of the most complex tasks in the changeover was figuring out how to divide the campus and assign departments, schools, and colleges to teams. Camber said that campus units were given “weights” based on the number and complexity of the grants under their care, with the idea of distributing the workload evenly among teams. Consideration was also given to the timing of grant cycles, so that one team wouldn’t find itself overwhelmed during a given time period.

The most stressful time for employees came in November and December, when they began going through training to learn their new tasks. Employees whose job had previously been to set up budgets trained their peers for this task, those who had done invoicing led training for that, and so forth. And now that employees have begun working in the new teams, there will be follow-up training to answer their questions.

In the meantime, all the new teams are heading out to the departments whose grants they will support, introducing themselves and trying to learn more about how they can serve those units better.

“GCA is part of Financial Management, which has launched a customer relationship initiative,” Camber said. “So we’re looking at ways to serve our customers better — to find out what their unique needs are and how we can serve those needs. In our old structure, it was next to impossible to isolate those needs. Now we think we can.”