The growth of Grants.gov

If Grants.gov (www.grants.gov) continues on its track toward integrating and improving federal online grant materials, we may soon see that hope realized. Belief in that goal is certainly reflected in the people behind www.Grants.gov, who demonstrate a sense of excitement about its growth that’s more reminiscent of the pride you’d find in a successful mom-and-pop business than a federal initiative authorized by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
Grants.gov, which officially went live on Oct. 31, 2003— Halloween—was created as one of 24 high-priority “Quicksilver” programs identified by OMB as part of the President’s Management Agenda E-Government initiatives. The Department of Health and Human Services was charged as the “managing partner” of the project. The intent behind the site is to create a “one-stop” arena for federal grant seeking and submittals. As the site explains, the hope is that “the grant community, including state, local and tribal governments, academia and research institutions, and not-for-profits, need only visit one website, Grants.gov, to access the annual grant funds available across the Federal government.”
Cultural change
While the potential benefits of Grants.gov are significant, the push to make federal agencies operate less autonomously when it comes to online grant information and submittals is also significant. When Rebecca Spitzgo, the Grants.gov program manager, remarks that the site’s success is due in part to “a lot of cultural changes going on,” you sense that she knows whereof she speaks. Grants.gov is exceptional in envisioning a means of streamlining the grant process, creating a single federal mechanism to address the entire life cycle of a grant, from the initial research to award closeout. Diminishing the complexity of award administration means that recipients can focus on achieving the goals meant to be supported through the award, which is clearly a win-win situation for both grantor and grantee.
The site’s functionality has expanded since its inception and, to a greater and greater extent, both grant seekers and grant makers are taking advantage of this. When I spoke to Ms. Spitzgo, Grants.gov boasted the following numbers: 1,600 electronic grant applications had been received; over 350 packages had been posted; 4,000 grant-seeking users had enrolled to apply for grants online; 2,100 grant opportunity notices were currently posted daily; and 800,000 grant opportunity notices had been emailed to interested parties each week. Over the next year, she is anticipating dramatic increases in some of these numbers, particularly the number of electronic grant applications available and the number of proposals submitted through the system.
And her efforts and those of her team have been recognized. Grants.gov has received six major awards recognizing the impact, technology and innovation of the site. In October 2004, for example, Grants.gov received the ACE Annual Process Innovation Award for implementing the e-forms technology. The site was additionally heralded as an American Productivity and Quality Center Best Practice Partner, and the team will be participating in a benchmarking study titled “Realizing Change,” which seeks to examine how best-practice organizations know when and how to change. While not an award, per se, participation in the benchmarking study is definitely an honor.
Expansion
Grants.gov will continue to expand as more agencies and grant seekers utilize the system. Ms. Spitzgo reports that her current big emphasis for the site is getting it “ramped up,” meaning getting all federal agencies on board – and moving Grants.gov closer to its potential to be a one-stop site for federal grant seeking. To this end, OMB, which still issues mandates to agencies to expand Grants.gov’s capabilities, has directed all agencies to post a minimum of 25 percent of their grant application packages on Grants.gov, so that grant seekers can both download application packages from the site and submit their proposals and other required materials online. OMB has additionally reiterated that the goal should be 100 percent. So far, 20 of the 26 federal agencies and nine small commissions that award grants have been extended the offer to use Grants.gov. Nine small commissions have posted applications. By the time this article goes to print, all 26 agencies should have packages posted.
To date, Grants.gov has been primarily concerned with posting information for discretionary grant programs. Recently, however, it has begun to roll out information on formula grant programs, enabling formula recipients to download the datasets they’ll need to request their formula grant dollars. Additionally, by the time you read this, Grants.gov will have created a new applicant system-to-system interface providing an electronic datastream that’s universally compatible, making it easier for users to exchange electronic information regardless of the software they use to support their backend administration.
Users familiar with fedGrants.gov will notice that Grants.gov shares the same information and search functionality. In fact, the two systems should fully merge under the Grants.gov system by September 2005. At that time, Grants.gov will beginto consider ways to expand the search functionality of virtually the entire federal grants universe.
Addressing complaints
As far as grant seekers are concerned, a somewhat slow registration process seems to be their chief complaint. Indeed, Grants.gov does require significantly more than just a user name and password to fully utilize their system. An institutional registration is required, which includes participation in the Central Contractor Registry (CCR), in order for people to submit grant applications. This process can take up to a week, and requires institutions to gather information about themselves to submit to Grants.gov to register with CCR.
Certainly, this is more complicated than registering for most websites, but Ms. Spitzgo emphasizes that this is a one-time process, explaining: “Once you’ve registered, you can apply for any grant across the federal government. It also gives the organization a high sense of assurance about who’s submitting for them and on their behalf.” She also confirms that, “other than collecting the data, [the registration] is [usually] a two-day process” for CCR. As such, she advises that you gather the requisite information prior to entering it into the form. Information on what’s needed for the CCR can be found at the Grants.gov website. HST
Kara Mitzel is manager of grants development services at the Grants Office, LLC, in Rochester, NY, a national grants consulting firm specializing in homeland security funding.

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