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Universities feel crunch to update stimulus job reports

by Ryan Craggs
Jan 19, 2010

Filing reports on jobs created or maintained by the federal stimulus package sounds simple enough: Get money. Create or save jobs. Tally them and send results to Uncle Sam.

If only it were that easy.

For universities, assembling all the material required by the government can be an especially onerous task. One condition of receiving stimulus money includes compiling and submitting a set of 99 data points to ensure the money is being spent properly. Rather than receiving one large block grant and filing one report, for example, the university might have more than 100 smaller grants. Each grant requires a report—meaning that 150 grants call for 150 individual reports.

“There’s lots of underlying overhead associated with managing the data,” said Michael D. Besançon, chief financial officer at Argonne National Laboratory. “[The government] wants to make sure funding is well-spent and it’s getting the most for taxpayers’ money.”

Government officials are not insensitive to the administrative demands for grant recipients.

“There’s a dialogue through all our professional organizations that work directly with the federal sponsors to raise these types of issues,” said Vanessa Peoples, executive director of grants and contracts at the University of Illinois-Chicago. “They want to make it doable.” 

As far back as November, the government considered extending the deadline for the last quarter’s reports. With the holidays effectively stopping work in most university-related jobs, the time crunch was intensified. To accommodate, the government extended the reporting deadline from Jan. 10 to Jan. 15, and again from Jan. 15 to Jan. 22.

Adding to the work, Peter Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget, changed the formula on Dec. 18 for calculating jobs saved or created.. While the change may not sound significant, it created a need to revise previous calculations.

Orszag’s directive meant more work, in a hurry.

“The changes were pretty significant,” said Jennifer Wei, in Accounting Services for Research and Sponsored Programs at Northwestern University. “The previous job number was cumulative, so you added up quarters. The new guidance says only [jobs created or maintained] between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31.”

Though additional work was created in the short-term, the new formula for calculating jobs is welcomed by those who work with the numbers themselves.

“It actually makes the calculations simpler than before,” Wei said. “Now there’s a clearly defined beginning and end date for reports. The new logic is good. It makes sense.”

Details on exactly how many jobs were created or saved are currently unavailable. At present, the Illinois Recovery Web site does not reflect the deadline extension.