The office in charge of building a governmentwide shared services ecosystem for grants management plans to launch a new website and marketplace by the end of 2021 and have all federal service providers onboarded by mid-year.
The Quality Service Management Office, or QSMO, idea launched in April 2019 with the goal of creating four shared services centers around key needs for all federal agencies: grants management, cybersecurity, human resources and financial accounting. At that time, leaders in the Office of Management and Budget knew which agencies would likely lead these efforts, though official designations didn’t start coming until a year later.
Once designated, the respective lead agencies got to work developing long-term plans to build out marketplaces for shared services, contract vehicles for others to purchase from and governmentwide standards for everyone to follow.
The HHS Grants Management QSMO is well on its way, according to Executive Director Chad Clifford.
“The government spends well over $1 trillion in grants, and that’s been increasing,” Clifford said Thursday during Nextgov’s Roadmap to Modernization event, noting agencies spend more annually on grants than procurement of goods and services. “We’re trying to drive shared services through a federal government marketplace that agencies can utilize where they will get guarantees about the level of quality and modernization of functionality.”
The “marketplace” piece of the QSMO effort requires the four lead offices to establish a single location from which agencies can purchase shared services provided by other federal agencies or the private sector.
Clifford said the grants management marketplace is set to go live in early fiscal 2022, with the first service providers onboarded before the end of this calendar year.
“We’re going to have a federal marketplace that we house and operate,” he said, noting the office plans to onboard federal providers first, then find contractors to fill in the gaps. “We should have all of our providers on by midway through that year,” he said.
One of the federal services looking to make an early entrance to the marketplace is the team at GrantSolutions.gov, an existing grants management shared services provider that serves HHS along with other federal grantors.
Julius Chang, director of strategic initiatives for GrantSolutions.gov’s System and Support Services Division, said his team has a machine learning-powered tool about to be deployed that they hope to make available through the marketplace when it launches.
The automated risk management tool called Recipient Data Insights uses machine learning to analyze and flag potential high-risk grant recipients—those that don’t have experience administering large grants or have a track record of mismanagement, waste or fraud.
The effort coming to a head now stands on the shoulders of decades of work to digitize the grants management process and establish data standards to allow for automation.
“Everyone needs to conduct some sort of pre-award risk assessment before we give them any kind of financial assistance,” Chang said. “Sometimes there may only be small providers—in rural areas or less densely populated areas—where they’re the only organization out there willing to try to do the work. That’s OK, we need that and we should be willing to accept that risk. But in larger areas where there is more competition agencies should be making informed decisions.”
Compiling the data to make those decisions requires grants administrators to dive into a number of data sources, few of them connected or automated. But much of that work can be automated, Chang said.
“There are a common set of things that most agencies are doing,” he said. “We pull all that information to one spot so they can check it and our AI algorithm will flag, ‘Is this someone not following the happy path.’”
Chang noted the system does not make decisions on risk allowance—it merely flags potential high-risk grantees for further review.
He also addressed measures being taken to avoid automating bad practices and biases—including those baked into the old processes or introduced by the algorithms. [Watch the full interview.]
The RDI system can take hours—or even days—worth of work down to 10 minutes, Chang said.
The tool will be available to HHS grantors this fall, Chang said, with the goal of having it on the marketplace and available to all of government once that is up and running.
Clifford said his team wants to treat providers like GrantSolutions.gov as their main customers.
“We’re a marketplace that we want them to be a part of, so what value are we giving back to them,” he said.
The Grants QSMO aims to have offerings from all federal grants management service providers on the marketplace by mid-fiscal 2022.