Utilizing grant funds: Proper procurement keeps the auditor away

Know your local requirements and then know the requirements of the grant funding agency

Utilizing grant funds for your department is rarely an all-around easy solution.  Whether it’s the application that is lengthy and time consuming, the review process that takes forever or the follow-up reports that seem to come around every two weeks, grants are a lot of work. 

One thing that grants that are funded through federal or state sources have in common are the policies surrounding the procurement process.  We’re talking purchasing here.  Equipment grant recipients need to be especially careful in this area as they could be at a higher risk of being audited.

Procurement policies are designed to ensure that money is being spent fairly and goods or services are being purchased at the best possible price.  It is important that governmental agencies be responsible with the money they have available since the source of the money are the citizens.  Government agencies also have a duty to be fair in their spending to ensure that all vendors have an equal opportunity to gain the business of the agency. 

First and foremost, grant writers and administrators need to be aware of the procurement guidelines set forth by their specific governing body.  Whether you’re a municipal, county or state agency, you have some sort of procurement guidelines in place to ensure fairness in spending.  Chances are, your procurement policies require some sort of bidding process but they may not always depending on the amount being spent. 

That presents an interesting situation because you probably called a specific vendor in order to get a quote so you could put your grant budget together.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that takes that particular vendor out of the picture.  Vendors are well aware of procurement requirements and are generally well prepared to submit bids.  Additionally, many vendors have pricing for their products on the GSA list.  That means that the item has been given a discount when being sold to a government agency and has been approved by the Government Services Administration as the best possible price for that item.  Often, working with an approved GSA vendor will satisfy the bid requirement but you should always verify with your accounting department and/or the funding agency. 

There are a few things you can do to ensure that you don’t become the focus of an audit based on your purchasing procedures.  First, know your local requirements and then know the requirements of the grant funding agency.    Be sure you are clear on what you need to do.  If you can’t find the answer yourself, ask your accounting department or call the funding agency directly.  If you’re still unsure, go ahead and get three to five bids before you make the purchase just to cover yourself. 

Secondly, communicate with your vendor about getting the best possible price.  Determine if they are on the GSA list or if the product they sell is proprietary.  If it is, be sure to get a letter from them saying so and keep it in your records.  Finally, spend the grant funds on what you stated in the application you were going to spend them on.  Do not go outside of your budget without submitting an amendment and getting the approval. 

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