Veterans Paralympics Program:

Improved Reporting Needed to Ensure Grant Accountability

GAO-12-703: Published: Jul 26, 2012. Publicly Released: Jul 26, 2012.

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What GAO Found

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) primarily awarded program funds through subgrants to 65 national and community organizations that support adaptive sports opportunities. However, their respective program expenditure reporting was not consistent with federal internal control standards, making it difficult to know fully how program funds were spent. VA’s reporting of first-year program funding was problematic because it did not closely track costs until midway through the fiscal year. During the second fiscal year—2011—VA granted $7.5 million to USOC, which, in turn, awarded $4.4 million to subgrantees and spent the remainder primarily on operations and personnel. Subgrantees reported using funds for activities such as training and camps. GAO found, however, that USOC did not have sufficient reporting requirements in place for subgrantees to provide information on how VA funds were used separate from other sources of funding.

VA relied upon self-reported, unverified information to oversee the grant program but is planning to make improvements. In fiscal year 2011, VA did not conduct any on-site or remote monitoring to verify how funds were used. Thus, VA lacked information on how well USOC and subgrantees managed grant funds, potentially exposing itself to paying for services not delivered. In 12 of 21 subgrant files selected, USOC was not holding subgrantees accountable for meeting the terms of their agreements. For example, one subgrantee agreed to conduct 10 activities, but the file indicated only 4 were conducted. VA reported that it has plans to improve to oversight, including conducting on-site monitoring of grantees’ and subgrantees’ use of funds and having USOC verify financial reports for at-risk subgrantees, such as those with large subgrants.

While program benefits were reported by subgrantees and participants, up until this point VA has not systematically measured how adaptive sports activities benefit the health and well-being of veterans and service members. Subgrantees primarily report anecdotal information on program benefits, such as individual success stories. VA collects information on the number of activities and participants from USOC. In 2011, over 10,000 participants were served through nearly 2,000 activities. However, these metrics are flawed due to double counting and other measurement issues. VA officials also recognize that the metrics do not comprehensively measure program benefits. Thus, VA and USOC have hired a contractor to conduct a study on the effects of adaptive sports on rehabilitation and reintegration of veterans and service members into the community.

Why GAO Did This Study

The Veterans Benefits Improvement Act of 2008 established VA’s Paralympics Program to promote the lifelong health of disabled veterans and members of the Armed Forces through physical activity and sports. Additionally, the act authorized VA to provide a grant to USOC’s Paralympics Division, and allowed USOC to enter into subgrant agreements to provide adaptive sports activities to veterans and service members. The act also mandated GAO to report on the VA Paralympics program.

GAO is required to (1) review how VA and its grantee and subgrantees used program funds to provide adaptive sports opportunities to veterans and service members; (2) assess how VA is overseeing its grantee’s and subgrantees’ use of funds; and (3) describe how veterans and service members have benefited from VA Paralympics activities. To do this, GAO reviewed relevant federal laws, regulations, guidance, agency reports, and a non-probability sample of 21 of 76 subgrant files, consisting of data on about 56 percent of funds subgranted. GAO also conducted site visits to two states and interviewed veterans as well as agency and grantee officials.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that VA take additional actions to improve grantee and subgrantee reporting of expenditures, activities, and participants, as well as USOC’s monitoring of subgrantees. In commenting upon a draft of this report, VA agreed with these recommendations and reported that it was taking steps to implement them.

For more information, contact Daniel Bertoni at (202) 512-7215 or bertonid@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: In August 2013, VA officials reported that they have directed USOC officials to clarify its guidelines with subgrantees on reporting expenditures, activities and participants, and officials from both organizations are working to ensure the improvements are in place. Specifically, officials reported that VA and USOC expenditure reports now only include information on program funds. Also, the two organizations have worked together to determine a methodology for counting participants and activities. Over the past two years, VA officials reported that USOC has been training relevant staff on grant management and hired a consultant to assist it in managing the grant, including improving reporting to VA. Furthermore, both VA and USOC have been making updates to their monitoring guidance to ensure that they reviewing how subgrantees are reporting information on activities and participants.

    Recommendation: To improve oversight within the VA Paralympics grant program, the Secretary of VA should direct the National Director of the Office of National Veterans Sports Programs and Special Events to require USOC to modify reporting requirements that will: 1. Direct subgrantees to only include VA Paralympics program funds in expenditure reports; and 2. Provide a consistent methodology for how subgrantees should count their program activities and participants, including explicit instruction on what should and should not be counted as an activity or participant.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to VA officials, USOC implemented a new on-line data reporting system for subgrantee monitoring in January 2012, and the system specifications require subgrantees to report how VA funds were spent separately from other funding sources. Furthermore, officials reported that USOC has trained subgrantees on appropriate financial reporting processes. As a part of its monitoring, VA officials stated that they reviewed subgrantee programmatic and financial data during the third quarter of July 2013 and provided USOC with direction on actions needed for proper ongoing management of each of its subgrants.

    Recommendation: To improve oversight within the VA Paralympics grant program, the Secretary of VA should direct the National Director of the Office of National Veterans Sports Programs and Special Events to ensure USOC adds controls to its electronic reporting system that will require subgrantees to identify how VA grant funds were used separate from other funding sources subgrantees use to support adaptive sports activities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: According to VA officials, the agency began implementing new monitoring procedures for overseeing USOC in fiscal year 2012 and is working with USOC regularly to oversee its efforts to monitor subgrantees. Officials reported that VA and USOC conduct weekly program status report meetings, and, in fiscal year 2013, VA and USOC conducted some combined site visits with subgrantees. Also, in fiscal year 2013, USOC contracted with a consultant to assess its compliance with federal practices and procedures for grant monitoring. According to VA officials, the consultant verified that USOC's monitoring plan met federal standards and made recommendations to further enhance its efforts.

    Recommendation: To improve oversight within the VA Paralympics grant program, the Secretary of VA should direct the National Director of the Office of National Veterans Sports Programs and Special Events to review the implementation of USOC's monitoring plan after a reasonable period to ensure planned efforts were conducted.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

 

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