Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Stimulating Reports

All federally funded grants have reporting requirements -- e.g., annual reports and final reports -- in which PIs describe major research and educational activities, results, publications, participants and so on. Projects funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, however, have more intense reporting requirements than projects funded by more traditional means:

Article 2. Reporting and Registration Requirements under Section 1512 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, (Public Law 111-5)

(a) This award requires the recipient to complete projects or activities which are funded
under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (“Recovery Act”) and to report on use of Recovery Act funds provided through this award. Information from these reports will be made available to the public.

The reports are due no later than ten calendar days after each calendar quarter in which the recipient receives the assistance award funded in whole or in part by the Recovery Act.

I understand that the public wants to make sure the money is spent and spent well and that we scientists and others don't go giving ourselves big bonuses and jetting off to luxury resorts to have 'conferences' while playing golf with celebrities. Even so, that's a lot of reporting.

Perhaps the ARRA funds are also stimulating the economy by providing employment for additional report readers? I doubt it. I bet that program officers who fund grants through ARRA just have to do the extra work.

I'm not complaining (really). I think that using ARRA funds for scientific research is part of an overall effort to restore science to its rightful place and recognize that university research and graduate education are vital to the economy. My colleagues and I will in fact spend the money on worthwhile endeavors, including hiring people and paying for goods and services, and then we will happily do our extra reports. And then the public (maybe even my mother!) can read them.


Anonymous said...

I once advised an overseas PhD student who was funded by a national scholarship, and her home govt. similarly wanted regular progress reports. In the end I found I could re-use the first report - on the what and why she was doing - and then add in one or two new sentences on progress made or hurdles faced.

I never heard a peep from them that these reports (pl.) were (was) not satisfactory, and came to the conclusion that all they wanted to know was that she was still alive and still doing what she was supposed to be.

I guess that any other simliar frequent request for reports should be tested in such a way (unless it is industry-funded or related work where such reports often precede research based meeting with collaborating staff).

Comrade PhysioProf said...

Many grant recipients tried to argue that because of these extraordinary reporting requirements that were not contemplated in the negotiation of institutional F&A (indirect cost) rates, the additional administrative costs of preparing such reports should be allowable as direct cost charges to ARRA-supported awards, notwithstanding the provisions of Circular A-21. OMB told the institutions to pound sand.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Perhaps the ARRA funds are also stimulating the economy by providing employment for additional report readers? I doubt it. I bet that program officers who fund grants through ARRA just have to do the extra work.

Wait... you believe that someone is actually reading these reports?

((doubles over with laughter))

Female Science Professor said...

We could test that hypothesis.

New Asst. Prof. said...

We could test this hypothesis, and Anon's method might just work. I can tell you right now what my first progress report for my ARRA-funded stuff is going to say:
- obtained cryovials of mouse embryos
- implanted in pseudopregnant females
- am waiting for heterozygotes
End of story.

jamy said...

I am the kind of person who receives this kind of report (for a non-science funding gvmt agency). We require monthly reporting for contract research and quarterly reporting for grants. We DO read these reports but the best way to write them is to keep/copy the old stuff and highlight the new stuff (as the first comment describes). That's standard practice and makes everyone's life easier.

What they tell us is that you are doing the work that we just signed an invoice to pay you for.

The extra reporting required for the recovery act money is because of the short-term fast-turnaround work that it is supposed to produce.

Ms.PhD said...

Sweet! Too bad they don't do this for regular grants. I've gotten zero credit for actually doing what I've proposed to do with the money that was allotted to do it.

Of course I doubt there will be any punishment for the PIs who take the money, spend it however they want, and then lie in the reports about stuff that never actually got done. I can't imagine they are going to create jobs for people to actually confirm deliverables (or whatever the jargon is for being productive).

Anonymous said...

Actually, ARRA funds and TARP funds have created a bunch of jobs for report readers, really auditors and policy analysts. My government agency hired 100 hundred more people to do this work. If your university has a public administration/ public policy/ public affairs program some of their graduates snagged these oversight jobs.

Of course the new people are in no way equal to the volume of oversight required so that means that the people who read the reports are scrambling just as much as you are.

I suggest we band together to storm OMB and convince them that yes, their is such a thing as too much oversight.