By Wayne Chargualaf
There are a lot of research grants out there. From programs for managing the rhino beetle to the study of local coral, from geriatric workforce enhancement programs to the preservation and proliferation of indigenous languages, the amount of research on the University of Guam’s plate is wide-ranging and it all requires money.
Money that usually comes in the form of grants.
But even when a researcher lands the grant of their dreams, that doesn’t mean they can get right to work.
“It’s one thing to receive an award, and it’s another thing to actually spend the money,” Cathleen Moore-Linn, executive director of the Research Corporation of the University of Guam says.
What this means is that the money for a research program could be sitting there, waiting to be used by researchers for everything from hiring to the purchase of equipment and supplies, but they wouldn’t be able to use it. Why? Because to use funds from grants, certain rules must be followed. And there was a time when there were a lot of rules.
“Just as an example, if — as part of a grant —you were required to attend an annual meeting, you would put in for your airline ticket to be purchased,” Moore-Linn says. “But the process to purchase the ticket took so long that by the time it came out, that ticket became more expensive and you would almost have to start over. It was so hard to do basic things like hire people and just spend money. It was very frustrating.”
Before the corporation was created, research projects would often languish in a purgatory of regulations and red tape. To resolve this situation, then-governor Edward B. Calvo in February 2014 signed Public Law 32-114, which created the Research Corporation.
Since the corporation manages grants in a manner aligned with federal regulations — as opposed to government of Guam procurement rules — the acquisition and use of grant money has become far more efficient, which means researchers can more quickly put the money to its intended use — research.
“Now there are fewer obstacles to spending grant money,” Moore-Linn says. “The research corporation and the efficiencies that we offer when we support these various grants has changed the landscape of grants management at the University of Guam.”
The research corporation has shown double-digit growth in the percentage of grants supported every year — save one — since its first annual report was published in fiscal 2016. Its most recent annual report — for fiscal 2019 — showed a 26% increase in the number of grants supported since the previous year, totaling more than $8.9 million in funding. In May, UOG landed a $20 million grant for a project under the Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research or EPSCor, for coral reef research. The grant is the university’s largest ever. The amount of money actually spent — which indicates the efficiency which with grant money is being utilized — has steadily grown every year as well, with the first annual report showing a more than 200% increase in financial transactions.
“You can talk to any principal investigator — which is our scientists and faculty members — and they’ll tell you that the difference the RCUOG has made to the way that they work and the way they can deliver their grant outcomes has completely changed for the better,” Moore-Linn says.
The corporation also takes pride that there have never been any negative findings on it during a single annual audit since its inception.
“Because our regulations are aligned with federal regulations and we still went through the [request for proposals] process, we’ve had no questioned costs for five years on everything that we’ve purchased or expended,” she says. “We have to report to an external evaluator on our efficiencies every year — this is required by the National Science Foundation — and they have found that we’re indeed very efficient and our business processes are proper and aligned with our policies and the federal government.”
Thanks to the research corporation, the gap in time between the intent to do research and actually conducting research has narrowed, meaning that more research — one of the primary values a university provides its community and the world aside from formal education — can be done.
“We support business processes — we’re the fiscal agents,” Moore-Linn says. “We’ve just developed a really good system and that has made the difference. If we didn’t have RCUOG, UOG wouldn’t be able to manage the number of grants that it currently has.”