Anita Mann works in an office of cubicles—but not the dreary kind. Yes, there are books and handbooks and pocket books and paperwork and filing cabinets and boxes upon boxes of information in that office. However, each desk showcases a different personality: one desk has sports trophies; another has potted plants; some have toys and figurines; most have family photos, one of a newborn baby; several have coffee pots. Bowling pins from team exercises and Gumby toys to remind them of their own flexibility are sitting on these desks.
Mann serves as the director of Outreach Sponsored Programs, which provides sponsored programs administration and compliance assurance services throughout the life cycle of University Outreach’s externally funded grants, contracts and cooperative agreements. For those who do not work with sponsored programs the job sounds confusing, she said.
“Even my daughters say, ‘I was trying to explain to somebody what you do, but I just couldn’t tell them.’”
“We have two somewhat competing roles: the first is to serve and assist with fiscal and administrative details; the second is to monitor programs for compliance with federal and state regulations,” Mann said.
There are 13 people in the office and every person’s job and every day is different, said Mann.
“Some parts of our jobs can be tedious, but it’ll change tomorrow.”
“We make it fun,” said Janet Bruce, sponsored projects accountant, who says that she is motivated by knowing that she is making a difference because Outreach’s mission is to positively impact people’s lives.
“Another motivator is the team environment we have created; we not only serve and help Outreach departments, but we also support and help each other.”
“Even though we might be dealing with details and things that other people really would prefer not to deal with, the outcome of Outreach’s sponsored projects depends on those details,” Bruce said. “If we all do our jobs well, it reflects positively on Outreach. If Outreach has a good reputation in carrying out its programs, our programs have a greater chance of receiving additional funding.”
Sponsored Programs is responsible for monitoring training, technical assistance, instruction, and applied research expenditures ranging from approximately $55 million per year.
“When you are dedicated to providing quality programs to our sponsoring agencies, it’s easy to lose sight of all of the rules and regulations,” Mann said. “As Dr. Pappas often says we as an organization cannot be casual about the regulations.”
“Unfortunately, the regulations are rarely straightforward and simple,” Bruce said.
A challenge for Mann, Bruce and other Sponsored Programs staff members is that it is common for them to have to look at multiple sources of information to answer one question or to provide needed decision-making information to upper management, Mann said. Mann and Bruce tell stories about when everyone had to stay in the office until midnight submitting proposals, putting paperwork together, writing, editing and whatever else needed to be done to make deadlines.
“Auditors ask a lot of questions about internal controls and policies and procedures and why things happen the way they did,” said Mann. “Most of all, the auditors ask for lots of documentation.”
One of Sponsored Programs’ newest challenges is that the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) recently released the single largest regulatory change in the last 40 years of sponsored programs/research administration, Mann said.
“It is being referred to as Uniform Guidance by some and as Circ-zilla or the volcano by others, because it combines eight formerly separate OMB circulars.”
While the regulations might take effect as early as December 26 of this year, many institutions are waiting to see if the OMB will make requested changes and offer an extension for implementation.
“We are still monitoring and learning how the changes will impact the university as well as Outreach,” Bruce said. “We are also communicating with colleagues on the OU campus who will help bring OU into compliance with the new requirements.”
Mann and Bruce said they want to ensure that any changes made as a result of implementation of the OMB Uniform Guidance results leads to positive audit results outcomes in the future.
“We love the Outreach programs we serve. We’re here to help them continue. We truly feel that we are all in this together,” Mann said.
In short, Sponsored Programs exists to help Outreach departments and programs succeed and that is what all the people in those cubicles are committed to do.