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Politics & Government

Grants Management Software to Replace Spreadsheets in City Budget Office

“In the 10 years I‘ve been (working with) Council, I can remember always seeing stories on the Internet … about other cities getting grants … from D.C., getting grants from Harrisburg, getting grants from Home Depot, the Coca Cola Foundation,” said City Councilman Dan Gilman during Wednesday’s committee meeting. “Occasionally Pittsburgh would pop up, but it was pretty rare.

All that is changing though, as Mayor Bill Peduto’s administration begins to make good on its promise to bring more grant money into the city.

“This is the first time I’ve ever seen a (meeting) agenda where it’s about 10 times the amount coming into the city than going out,” Gilman said, in reference to Wednesday’s agenda which including bills to approve grant funding for initiatives related to public safety, energy conservation, and economic development. “We should have more meetings like this. It’s good for our budget.”

One of the bills up for discussion Wednesday would allow the city to purchase web-based software to manage grants, which Budget Director Sam Ashbaugh said would take the grants function of his office “to the next level.”

“This bill you have before you will allow us to take it one step further and continue to increase the capacity of the grants office to … seek, pursue, and also improve the management of awards that we’re receiving from state, local, foundation, and federal sources,” Ashbaugh said.

The software, called eCivis, will cost the city $125,327 over three years, but Ashbaugh said it will pay for itself.

“One of the things we do now is manage this on a series of spreadsheets,” Ashbaugh said. “One bad grant management experience can cost the city tens of thousands or millions of dollars.”

All members of Council were supportive of the measure. Councilwoman Darlene Harris lauded Ashbaugh for hiring three grants managers this year, while Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak said, “It’s a wonder we operated with such a platform for so long.”

Councilwoman Deb Gross inquired as to whether the software would allow the administration to track outcomes, as most grant agreements involve a reporting requirement.

Ashbaugh answered in the affirmative, and said his team was working on a grant implementation plan to be finalized next week. He said the newly developed protocol will require grants officers to map out the grant process before spending any money.

“We’re going to first stop and say, ‘OK, what are the grant requirements? What are the goals and objectives? What are the key deadlines and milestones? What are the key reporting requirements and measurements that we’re supposed to achieve?’” Ashbaugh said.

City Council gave preliminary approval to the purchase of the software Wednesday, and will take a final vote on Monday.