Seeking Answers to Questions about the Frequently Asked Questions

Jerry Ashworth
February 12, 2020 at 07:12:59 ET
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So many questions, so little time! In case you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past month, OMB last month issued proposed revisions to the uniform grant guidance, and is accepting comments until March 23.

While all this works its way through the proposal and comment phase, we had questions about how this would affect other related OMB documents. One in particular is the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) pertaining to 2 C.F.R. Part 200, which was last updated in July 2017 by the now-defunct Council on Financial Assistance Reform. The document contains numerous grant-related questions that were often asked by award recipients, and it was intended to provide additional context and background for the uniform guidance. Although the FAQ was not codified as official guidance under federal regulations like the uniform guidance was at 2 C.F.R. Part 200, many grant managers and auditors often referenced the answers within the document when overseeing programs or conducting single audits.

Let’s assume that OMB receives positive comments to its proposed revisions and finalizes them, and federal awarding agencies adopt the revised version to become effective for nonfederal entities. At that point, the current FAQ would become outdated as many of the citations it references would have changed. For example, under the proposed uniform guidance provision, all the definitions in Subpart A would be combined in a single §200.1. Also, by inserting a new proposed provision at §200.202 in Subpart C, OMB would move the current provisions at §§200.202-200.213 to §§200.203-200.214, and would include a two new provisions at §200.215 and §200.216. Further, OMB plans to delete the period of performance provision at §200.309, and move current provisions at §§200.310-200.321 forward to §§200.309-200.320, which would affect the procurement provision citations so that procurement by states would be §200.316, instead of §200.317, and general procurement standards would be §200.317, instead of §200.318.

Thirteen questions in the current FAQ apply to Subpart A definition provisions, and under the proposed structure, the current numbering scheme would be outdated. Three questions under Subpart C and nine under Subpart D would also be affected by new numbering plan. This is only the beginning. While some of the discussion in FAQ would continue to remain applicable, there presumably would be several other changes that would need to be made to the document to make it match the revised provisions, if ultimately approved and adopted.

There are some FAQ responses that were critical enough that OMB actually included them within the newly proposed provisions. For example, taking language from .303-2 of the FAQ, OMB proposed in a new 200.101(b)(1) to state that, “throughout 2 C.F.R. Part 200, when the word “must” is used it indicates a requirement. Whereas, use of the word “should” or “may” indicates a best practice or recommended approach rather than a requirement and permits discretion.”

So, assuming the proposed revisions are approved and adopted, would OMB consider releasing a new version of the FAQ making corresponding adjustment? We checked with OMB officials on that, and just found out that yes, the FAQ would, in fact, be updated as part of the final revisions to the guidance, if approved. Make sure to keep your eyes open for that document down the road as well!

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