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EPA Grants

EPA Funding Instruments and Authorities

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Relationships: Assistance versus Procurement

The EPA accomplishes much of its mission through services provided by non-federal entities using a variety of funding instruments, including contracts, grants, and cooperative agreements. Each instrument has a specific purpose, and thus creates different relationships between the federal and non-federal parties.

The Federal Grant and Cooperative Agreement Act of 1977 requires federal agencies to distinguish procurement relationships from assistance relationships. Although the act does not dictate any specific terms and conditions that should be placed on contracts, grants, or cooperative agreements, it does require that the choice and use of these funding instruments reflect the type of relationship expected between the federal and non-federal parties. If EPA’s principal purpose is to acquire property or services from a recipient for the direct benefit or use of the Agency, then a contractual relationship is established.

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Grants and Cooperative Agreements

EPA issues grants and cooperative agreements to support and stimulate a public purpose. These assistance relationships are established if EPA's principal purpose is to transfer funding, property, services, or anything of value to a recipient to accomplish a public purpose or to stimulate a particular area of interest authorized by law.

Grants are used when:

  1. no substantial programmatic involvement is anticipated between the EPA and the recipient during performance of the financially assisted activities, thus allowing the recipient significant freedom of action in carrying out the assistance project; and
  2. there is no expectation on the part of the EPA of a specified service or end product for use by the EPA.

Cooperative agreements are used when:

  1. the applicant is responding to a specific EPA announcement for cooperative agreements and must tailor the proposal to the announcement's requirements; and
  2. substantial programmatic involvement is anticipated between the EPA and the recipient during the performance of the activities.

Note:  The word grant is commonly used to refer to both types of assistance: grants and cooperative agreements.

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Grant Authorities

The U.S. Constitution

The requirements to which grants are subject have their roots in a number of specific sources or authorities, the broadest of which is the U.S. Constitution. Congress has the authority to impose conditions upon the receipt of federal assistance funds. The cornerstone of Congress's authority in the grants area is Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution, referred to as the spending power clause, which provides that Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and to provide for the…general welfare of the United States.

Laws that authorize the formulation of regulations for grant programs are ultimately based on constitutional provisions. For example, the EPA grant appeals procedures can be traced to the due process principles outlined in the 5th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Another example is the grant application form, which contains provisions relating to civil rights, individuals with disabilities, and age and sex discrimination. These are all extensions of constitutional requirements for equal protection under the law covered in the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution.


Congress can enact statutes authorizing federal agencies to award grants and impose reasonable conditions on the receipt of federal assistance funds.

The next broad level of federal grant lawmaking is the enactment of specific laws by Congress. Two of the most general laws, but nonetheless most important, are authorizing legislation and appropriation legislation. The authority to award grants is contained in the basic substantive legislation establishing a Federal program. Such legislation may authorize program expenditures for a specific or indefinite number of years. Subsequent to the enactment of authorizing legislation, Congress generally enacts appropriation laws permitting funds to be obligated for a specific program. Appropriation bills begin in the House of Representatives and then are acted upon by the Senate. Through the appropriation process, Congress greatly influences both program and grants administration decisions by controlling the amount of funds authorized annually, and by setting conditions on the use of funds.


Because the language of many laws is vague, federal agencies often need to publish regulations to clarify the details. A rule or regulation is a formal document issued by a Federal agency that has general or particular applicability and legal effect. Compliance with federal regulations and statutes must be taken seriously. When finalized, regulations have the full force and effect of law.

The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), a codification of permanent rules published in the Federal Register, contains the regulations for reviewing and administering EPA grants. Program regulations expand on program legislation to provide additional guidance regarding program requirements and how the program will be managed. (Some programs have guidelines instead of, or in addition to, regulations.) The Uniform Administrative Requirements, Cost Principles, and Audit Requirements for Federal Awards to Non-Federal Entities (2 CFR 200), commonly known as the Uniform Grant Guidance (UGG), provides a government-wide framework for grants management that reduces administrative burden for non-Federal entities receiving Federal awards while reducing the risk of waste, fraud and abuse. The EPA supplements its adoption of the UGG as specified under 2 CFR 1500.

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