UW News

December 10, 2009

UW responds to heavy reporting requirements for economic stimulus money

The UW has received $190 million as the result of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that President Barack Obama signed in February, but reporting on spending has been more demanding than for any federal funds in the past, according to people compiling the reports. Faculty and staff members at universities across the country are stretching to meet the demands.

“Reporting requirements have been more demanding, more detailed than anything we’ve had to do in the past,” said Mary Lidstrom, vice provost for research.

UW administrators like her say the reporting requirements are part of the Obama administration’s focus on transparency.

“ARRA requires reporting on up to 99 data elements. That would have been a time burden for principal investigators, so we took responsibility,” said Jessie Garcia, associate vice president of campus human resources operations and a member of the stimulus team.

Based in Human Resources, the team created DataMart, a massive database. “History told us we would be getting large awards and many of them, so we had to be ready,” Garcia said.

The team drew from large units — Human Resources, Payroll, Grant and Contract Accounting, and the Office of Sponsored Programs System to Administer Grants Electronically (SAGE). Each office has separate systems that don’t normally talk to one another, but since last February, there have been scores of meetings, not to mention hundreds of e-mails and phone calls between staff members. “We had to do this; otherwise, there could be duplicate information, indeed conflicting information,” Garcia said.

The University could have used a spread sheet offered by the federal government but it would have been more work and could have led to mistakes, Garcia added. Since February, she’s spent about half her average workday on ARRA reporting.

“The support groups in all units are working hard to keep up with the workload, but it’s put stress on all parts of the system supporting research efforts,” Lidstrom said.

However, from listserv conversations, Garcia and other members of the ARRA team learned that the UW was ahead, sometimes months ahead, of other research universities in creating its reporting system.

As of Nov. 29, the UW has received 370 awards ranging from $5,000 to $36 million. The first ARRA reports to the federal government were due October 10 and included job information: 72 new positions and 738 retained at the UW. Undergraduates got the largest number of new jobs, 15, with professional staff following at 14 and faculty and graduate students with 10 apiece. Faculty members have the largest number of retained jobs, 275, followed by professional staff, 232, and bargaining contract classified staff, 71.

It’s the first time job creation or retention has been tracked as part of federal research grants, said Dan Hamlin, executive vice president of Eclat Consulting in McLean, Va., which specializes in research grants and contracts in higher education. Before ARRA, Hamlin said, grant reporting could typically include 40 or 50 data elements but additional ones such as job creation and retention have increased the amount.

Principal investigators and research staff said reporting requirements and paperwork have not been a burden, apart from hustle to file grant proposals on time. “The application process was particularly hard because all the requests for applications came out at the same time,” said Kathy Tietje, director of research operations at the Tumor Vaccine Group.

Tietje and researchers said reporting has been quite streamlined so far. The National Institutes of Health have asked researchers to submit quarterly reports in addition to a standard annual report, said Dr. Tom Montine, UW professor of pathology and neurological surgery. “That means for a two-year supplemental award, we’ll give the NIH seven or eight reports, but they’re shorter,” he said.

To read reports on UW awards and those to other universities, go to http://www.recovery.gov.