Common Problems and How to Solve Them

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Even the best-planned subaward program can encounter bumps in the road. Common types of problems faced may include projects that stall, projects making insufficient progress toward outcomes, subawardees that are not in communication, noncompliance with program requirements, and improper use of program funds. Through this chapter you will discover strategies to troubleshoot the common problems encountered while managing a subaward programs.

Projects that stall.

Sometimes a subawardee will begin a project with energy and enthusiasm, but hit a full stop before the project’s complete. If you have built enough good will with the organization, they will feel comfortable turning to you for help. More likely you will notice that their progress reports are thin, with little evidence of effective activity.

Stalled projects are not that unusual, but you should intervene as soon as possible, and help the organization get back on track. Here is one possible intervention process for you to consider.

  1. Describe the problem tactfully but directly to the subawardee.
  2. Call a meeting to work out a solution.
  3. Detail your concerns at the meeting, and ask what is causing the delay.
  4. Re-state the problem in your own words, and check for accuracy.
  5. Ask the subawardee to suggest solutions. Decide what help your organization can give, and offer it. Then, decide together on what steps will be taken to correct the problem.   
  6. Create a written document that states the problem and the steps each party will take to correct the problem. Include any deadlines and any consequences for not following through.
  7. Have both parties sign the new agreement, and monitor the subawardee’s progress.

Insufficient progress toward outcomes.

You could address this issue with the intervention process described above. Just be sure to:

  • State the problem clearly.
  • Reach agreement on solutions.
  • Offer your organization’s assistance.
  • Create and sign a written agreement.
  • Monitor compliance with the agreement.

Subawardees that have stopped communicating.

If faced with subawardees that have stopped communicating, you might simply send written communication to the last known e-mail and mailing address. Send your e-mail or letter with receipt confirmation requested. Ask the organization to answer by a certain deadline. You might also visit the physical location to express your concerns in person.

If the deadline for responding passes with no communication from the organization, it might be time to terminate your agreement with the organization. Contact your Federal or other program officer for guidance on how to proceed.

Noncompliance with program requirements.

Depending on the severity of this problem, you may have to exercise your right to terminate the organization’s participation in the program. If you do so, be sure to put the termination and your reasons in a letter that you send to the organization. In less severe cases, you could troubleshoot according to the process found above.

In cases of noncompliance, it is vital to notify your program officer of the problem, and to seek their advice. The program officer may be aware of greater consequences for the subawardee, particularly if your program subawards Federal funds.

Improper use of subaward.

This is another instance where your actions will depend on the severity of the problem. If the subawardee has spent a small amount of money on non-related supplies, they might reimburse the project with other organizational funds. A faith group that uses Federal funds to purchase religious materials, however, has put your program in jeopardy. The consequences, therefore, are much more serious.

For serious violations, it will be important notify your program officer about the problem and ask for guidance on how to proceed. You will likely need to terminate the subaward, and provide written support to your funder for your decision.

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