Award Administration and Reporting Requirements for EERE Cooperative Agreements Webinar: Text Version

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Below is the text version for the "Award Administration and Reporting Requirements for EERE Cooperative Agreements" webinar, held on December 5, 2017.

Eric Parker, Fuel Cell Technologies Office

Good day, everyone. And welcome to the U.S. Department of Energy's Fuel Cell Technologies Office webinar. We've got a great presentation this month from Lalida Crawford, Nick Oscarsson, and Jesse Adams on Award Administration and Reporting Requirements for EERE Cooperative Agreements. My name's Eric Parker. I'm providing program support within the Fuel Cell Technologies Office, and I'm the organizer for the meeting.

We're gonna begin shortly, but first, I have a few housekeeping items to tell you about. Today's webinar is going to be recorded and will eventually be made available—that recording as well as the slides—and we'll be sure to let you know.

Moving on, all attendees are going to be on mute during this webinar, but, if you have a question—which we'd love to answer—please submit your questions via the WebEx chat box you should see on your screen. You'll be able to send a question or message to the host, and we'll be sure to address those as they come up. And we'll have the slide again at the end as well, and we'll have a Q&A period at the end of the presentation.

With that being said, I'd like to introduce the webinar host for today, Lalida Crawford, who is joining us remotely. Lalida is FCTO's contracting officer within the financial assistance office at EERE. Thanks for joining us. Let me transfer presenter, and we'll get started.

Lalida Crawford, U.S. Department of Energy

Thanks, Eric, and welcome everyone. Thanks for listening in to this webinar today. As Eric had mentioned, my name is Lalida Crawford, and I'm a contracting officer for the Department of Energy. I'm assigned to the Fuel Cell Technologies Office. For those of you who are new to the agency, the Fuel Cell Technologies Office is part of the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, otherwise known as EERE throughout this presentation.

Today, I will provide you with a brief overview of the administrative and reporting requirements for your new EERE cooperative agreements. I will touch on some basic information about your cooperative agreement and focus on administrative requirements that can be problematic for both you, as a recipient, and the agency.

To begin with, the DOE management team for your cooperative agreement consists of a project manager, whom you've already interacted with extensively during award negotiations; myself, the contracting officer; a grants management specialist assigned to your award; and the project monitor or engineer assigned to your award. As you already know by now, the project manager leads award negotiations, and is responsible for monitoring the progress of your project. This includes site visits, quarterly report reviews, and making go/no-go decisions.

As the contracting officer, I'm responsible for all non-technical or non-programmatic administration of your award, including obligation of funding, approving all award documents and modifications to awards, as well as invoice approval. Your primary DOE award administrator is the grants management specialist identified on page two of your award document. The award administrator can answer any questions you may have regarding the administration of the award. Although not included on this slide, you may also interact with a project engineer, who assists the project manager with project monitoring and oversight. Your award is now available in the FedConnect System.

Please acknowledge the award in FedConnect and take some time to review all the special terms and conditions and attachments. If you have any questions about any of these documents, please feel free to reach out to me or to the administrator assigned to your award. The award includes the agreement document, special terms and conditions, and attachments listed on this slide. The statement of project objectives, approved budget, and data management plan were all provided by you to DOE. The intellectual property provisions are specific to your entity type, and I will address the requirements and reporting checklist a little later in this presentation.

Your award with EERE is a cooperative agreement, which means the agency is substantially involved in your project. How EERE involves itself in your project is stated in both the FOA—the Funding Opportunity Announcement, which you applied to—and the special terms and conditions of your award. The structure of the award with go/no go decision points is also a reflection of how EERE defines substantial involvement. This involvement includes assisting, guiding, collaborating, project management support, activity intervention, or other efforts to ensure that project objectives are met.

This next slide references the requisite financial assistance regulations for your cooperative agreement. DOE implemented regulations 2 CFR 910 and made 2 CFR 200 applicable to commercial organizations, and 2 CFR 910 includes supplemental regulations specific to DOE and notably, to commercial organizations.

This slide references other laws and requirements that are applicable to your cooperative agreement. If you can't fall asleep at night, I recommend try reading some of these laws.

The Federal Cost Principles specify allowable or un-allowable costs that can be incurred in the performance of a federal financial assistance award. The cost principles in 2 CFR 200 apply to all types except commercial organizations.

Cost principles for commercial organizations are in the Federal Acquisition Regulations, otherwise known as the FAR. They are, for the most part, similar to the cost principles in 2 CFR 200, particularly with regard to the types of cost incurred for financial assistance awards. I'm sure you hear this over and over from the grants and contracts professionals in your organization, but I am going to repeat it again, because it's the financial assistance mantra that can make or break your project. All costs charged to your project must be reasonable, allocable, and allowable. "Reasonable" means "prudent." "Allocable" means the cost was incurred for your specific project, and "Allowable" means it conforms to the applicable cost principles.

This slide shows some examples of un-allowable expenses. The list is not comprehensive, and not every cost you may incur for your project is listed in the cost principles. If you have any questions regarding the allowability of costs, please reach out to anyone on the DOE team.

Regarding travel, I want to point out that air fare cannot be in excess of the basic, least expensive, unrestricted, accommodations class offered by commercial airlines. Travel expenses are a common invoicing pitfall, and I will touch more on invoicing for travel costs later in this webinar.

All equipment charges must be preapproved by the agency. After your budget is approved, if your equipment needs changed, you must request preapproval from the agency for those changes. Please review the management standards for equipment and 2 CFR 200. A common audit finding is failure to conduct a physical inventory of equipment every two years.

You, as a recipient, have title to equipment. The title is conditional, subject to the requirements in either 2 CFR 200.313 or 2 CFR 910.360. You cannot encumber the property. Once you no longer need the property for your project, you can use it on other DOE awards, federal awards, or charge a fee to entities that want to use it, which would be considered program income. If you run into this situation or are considering it, please contact DOE. Also, you can buy out DOE's interest in the equipment or property or request disposition instructions. If you have specific questions about equipment, please feel free to contact me.

So, I'd like to point out that 2 CFR 910 specifies that commercial organizations must file a uniform code—commercial code financial statement in order to receive federal reimbursement for equipment. A draft of the statement must be sent to me before it's filed. Filing fees are allowable costs to the award, and the UCC filing fees tend to be minimal. The requirement was included in 2 CFR 910 as bankruptcy protection for the agency, in case anyone was wondering why this requirement was included in the new regulations.

Regarding sub-recipients and contractor determinations, 2 CFR 200.330 contains guidance on how to make these determinations, but there are situations in which the agency may provide feedback on that determination if the commercial organization, for example, is being treated as a sole source contactor, but the nature of the relationship between you, as a recipient, and the commercial contractor, is seemingly that of a sub-recipient. I won't discuss the characteristics of a sub-recipient or a contractor in detail during this webinar, but the distinction is critical in terms of management. Sub-recipients must be approved by the agency. The special terms and conditions of the cooperative agreement flow down to a sub-recipient. I will also note that the agency will not intervene in disputes between you, the recipient, and your sub-recipient.

In contrast, contractors are procured to full and open competition. For 2 CFR 200.320, sole source or non-competitive procurements are limited to specific circumstances. It is also unlikely the agency will approve a non-competitive procurement. You must have written standards of code of conduct covering conflicts of interest. You must also check and ensure that contractors are responsible—meaning the contractor is not debarred or suspended from receiving federal funding. We find that this is also a very common audit finding.

Audit requirements for your federal awards vary by entity type. This slide lists the types of audits you can expect based on entity type. The pre-award, post-award, and as-needed audits listed on the slide are really for organizations with whom DOE is the cognoscente agency.

The cognoscente agency, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, is the federal agency from which you receive the preponderance of your federal funding. This is the federal agency that reviews and approves your indirect rates. Depending on your entity type, a single auditor compliance audit must be completed by an independent auditor if you exceed $750,000 or more per your fiscal year in federal expenditures. Commercial organizations must specifically exceed $750,000 in DOE expenditures in order to meet the threshold for a compliance audit.

This next slide includes a chart of information about audit requirements for federal financial assistance awards. As I mentioned previously, several common audit findings—this slide lists more examples of audit findings, and it's not comprehensive.

So, what happens if you have audit findings? Recipients must provide a corrective action plan for audit findings. If DOE is your cognoscente agency, DOE will review your audit report and your proposed corrective action. If your corrective actions are not sufficient or sufficiently detailed in the audit, it may request more information or that you implement or complete additional corrective action. Failure to sufficiently correct deficiencies identified in the audit report could potentially result in the disallowance of cost, meaning that federal reimbursement that has been paid by the agency must be repaid by you.

The special terms and conditions of your cooperative agreement include payment procedures. The agency determines what type of payment method will be used on your award based on its pre-award risk assessment of your organization. The agency uses either the ASAP or ACH payment systems, with advanced or reimbursement payments. Cost share for the entire award must be met cumulatively by invoicing period or the period stated in the cost sharing terms of the special terms and conditions. If you get behind on cost share, you must notify the agency. The agency may withhold federal payments until you're caught up on cost share.

So, failure to meet cost share is one of the more common invoicing issues. This slide and the following slide highlight other common invoicing issues, and this list is, by no means, comprehensive. As you can see from the list, invoicing is an administrative problem area for many recipients. I want to stress to you that you must monitor your approved budget against current expenses. If your payment method is reimbursement, you cannot request advanced payment. Please, double check indirect rate calculations and all calculations. We routinely see math errors on invoices.

Your award includes a reporting checklist. Please review your checklist and ensure that you have organizational policies and procedures in place to ensure reports are submitted on time. As you may have noticed on the slide on common audit findings, late reporting is a common audit finding. Most of EERE's cooperative agreements require quarterly progress and financial reports, and final technical, financial, intellectual property, and equipment reports, as well as the submission of accepted manuscripts. Most of FCTO's awards require a hydrogen safety plan, which will be discussed in more detail momentarily.

Regarding manuscripts, DOE only needs a copy of your accepted manuscript, not the published version. The differences between accepted versus published manuscripts are included on this slide as a reference, as well as the next slide.

All work described in journal articles and final technical reports that were funded by the EERE cooperative agreement must acknowledge DOE support. This requirement is also included in the cooperative agreement special terms and conditions. The publication acknowledgments are listed on this slide, and if you have any questions, please feel free to contact us about how DOE should be acknowledged in publications.

The reporting checklist lists the final reports required for closeout. Final reports are due 90 days after their project's end date. The reporting checklist also includes instructions on where and how to submit your final reports. All records related to the cooperative agreement must be retained for 3 years after the project has ended.

You must immediately notify DOE if you or your parent company files for bankruptcy, becomes insolvent, or dissolves. If, at some point during the project, you cannot meet cost share, you must also notify DOE, which I had mentioned previously.

There are a number of administrative actions that require prior agency approval by the contracting officer. This list is not comprehensive, so please, ask if you're unsure about whether or not a particular action requires preapproval. Failure to request prior approval could result in noncompliance—a noncompliance finding by the agency and/or potential disallowance of cost. Some examples include SOPO revisions, continuation into the next budget period or phase, budget revisions in excess of 10 percent of total project cost, any changes to cost share, and any extension to the period of performance.

My colleague, Jesse Adams, a DOE project manager, will now discuss the hydrogen safety plan requirements and collaboration tool.

Jesse Adams, U.S. Department of Energy

All right. Thanks, Lalida. So, H2Tools.org is a resource that we have set up for all the recipients to learn about and share safety best practices. So, as Lalida pointed out, one of the deliverables for each project that will be using hydrogen as part of the project will be to submit a hydrogen safety plan. And so, as part of that, we looked—as part of the safety plan, we request that each recipient enter their lessons learned into this H2Tools.org database.

This is really a good place to go in here, learn lessons learned, and just take one second look at your safety practices and make sure that we don't have any incidences going forward. Next slide.

Another quick plug I'd like to put in for is about Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Day. This is set for each year, October 10th, which correlates with the atomic weight of hydrogen, which is 1.008. So, we really like to promote all of our hydrogen and fuel cell technologies on this date, and any of these projects—any of these new projects have exciting results coming out of them, this is a great time to share these exciting results on this day to really publicize the technology. So, as always, going forward, please keep your technology managers in the loop and up to date on what's coming out of your project, any big highlights, and perhaps we can even highlight some of the accomplishments on one of your projects on this date. So, with that, just a couple of plugs for the Fuel Cell Technologies Office. I'll turn it back to Lalida.

Lalida Crawford

Thanks, Jesse. So, in conclusion, we want you to be successful. So, please feel free to disseminate this information to your colleagues, and please, do not hesitate to ask us any questions. Please, read and follow the terms and conditions of your cooperative agreement, and please openly communicate any issues or problems that you are having regarding the administration of your award so that we can help you. Thanks again for joining this webinar. I hope you found it helpful. And now, if you have submitted any questions, we'll be happy to answer them.

Jesse Adams

We don't have any questions on the webinar yet, but please, if you do have any questions, you can put them into the chat box, and we'll be happy to answer them, especially while we have Lalida here—the expert here—to help answer these questions.

Eric Parker

This is Eric, again. I've put up the slide showing the window pane where you can submit questions, so, if you have any, please do so. And then, I will also remind everyone that you can email Lalida, Nick, Jesse, or myself if you have a webinar-specific question if you think of any after today's presentation.

Well, seeing—oh, we just got a question in. We had someone ask when this presentation will be disseminated. I can actually answer that one. We're going to go through the normal process of converting and hosting the webinar file, but since this is a private webinar, unlike our public monthly webinar series, it'll probably be on a little different time schedule. But, you can anticipate it being available in the coming weeks, and we'll be sure to notify all of you of it being posted and where you can go to download the recording file as well as the full presentation slide deck.

All right. Well, pending any further questions, I'll just thank everyone again for joining us today and thank our presenters for a great presentation. And, like I said, feel free to check in on email if you have any questions after the fact, and we will speak to everyone in the next one. Enjoy the rest of your week. Bye-bye.

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