If you’re new to the federal grants process and you’re planning to apply for a grant from the U.S. Department of Education (ED), or it has been quite a while since your last ED grant application, you’ll want to check out a recently updated publication on the agency’s web site, titled “Grantmaking at ED: Answers to Your Questions About the Discretionary Grant Process.”

The document covers the entire grant application, review, award, administration, closeout, and audit processes. It is divided into eight sections: (1) Before We Begin, (2) Let’s Get Started, (3) Applying for a Grant, (4) Waiting to Hear, (5) Getting Funded, (6) My Responsibilities as a Grantee, (7) Wrapping It Up, and (8) Just One More Thing. The document also includes an extensive glossary of terms and a list of helpful web sites. It is easy to understand–in other words, it’s not full of technical jargon!–and is written in a question-and-answer format.

The definitions of three types of funding are given in the introductory section. Formula grants are based on a predetermined formula and are non-competitive. They’re frequently awarded to state education agencies, which then distribute the funding to the local level. Discretionary grants are awards made by ED for which the department has the discretion, or choice, as to which applications are funded. According to the document, virtually all of ED’s discretionary grants are made based on a competitive review process. Cooperative agreements are a type of discretionary grant. ED awards them when it determines it must have substantial involvement with the grantee to meet the objectives of a project.

The “Applying for a Grant” section is the most comprehensive. Readers can learn what constitutes an application package, how to understand funding priorities, what “certifications and assurances” are, and how to calculate a project’s indirect cost rate (and why this matters). This section also discusses ED’s electronic applications process and what happens after the department receives an application, providing a smooth transition to the next section, “Waiting to Hear,” which includes insights into the competitive review process. Information about reviewers and scoring procedures is covered here, as well as scoring criteria.

The sections “My Responsibilities as a Grantee” and “Wrapping It Up” cover what I consider to be one of the most difficult parts of the grants process–grants management. These sections give potential applicants a clear picture of what will be expected of them if they receive an award, from both a programmatic and a fiscal standpoint. The payment process of a grant award is also explained in detail.

Although the last section, titled “Just One More Thing,” sounds somewhat insignificant, it actually covers a very important responsibility of a grantee–the grant audit. This section discusses audit requirements, what to do if selected for an audit, and how to appeal a decision if costs or activities are found to be unallowable.

Be sure to look through the eight-page glossary, too. There, you’ll find definitions of grants-related terms ranging from “administrative action” to “substantial progress.” Becoming familiar with these terms and definitions should help make RFPs (requests for proposals) easier to understand as you proceed through the ED grants process.

Deborah Ward, CFRE, is an independent grant writing consultant. She welcomes questions at (717) 295-9437 or Debor21727@aol.com.