Readers who have used Grants.gov to submit federal grant applications and who have experienced difficulties might find some comfort in a report that was released in July. The report, titled "Grants.gov Has Systemic Weaknesses that Require Attention," was based on a study conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in 2008 and 2009. The GAO surveyed federal agencies that use the Grants.gov system and came up with several recommendations for improving the system.
The report covers a lot of ground, including the benefits of Grants.gov, applicants’ experiences with submitting grant proposals, the governance structure of Grants.gov, and the range of agency policies for processing Grants.gov applications.
As for the benefits of Grants.gov, most grant seekers who are interested in federal dollars would agree that it’s highly effective to have a one-stop shop for information. Before Grants.gov, if a grant seeker wanted to apply for grants from several different federal agencies, he or she had to visit all of the different agency web sites individually or comb through the voluminous Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA) to look up grant information and determine whether to apply. With Grants.gov, users can sign up for free eMail notifications (usually appearing in eMail in-boxes daily) for when grant programs are announced, and with a few clicks, they can access all the information they’ll need to apply. This information includes overviews of federal programs, application guidance, and electronic application packages.
However, according to the GAO’s report, many individuals have had trouble registering for Grants.gov, which sometimes has resulted in late submissions. The registration process can be time consuming, in some cases taking up to three weeks to be completed. In my grants workshops, I always advise potential applicants to register for Grants.gov immediately, even if they are not currently planning to apply for a federal grant. There’s no fee involved, and registration does not expire or need to be renewed. It’s far easier to register now, without the added stress of a looming application deadline!
It is interesting, and somewhat disconcerting, to read the section of the report that outlines the range of agency policies for processing Grants.gov applications. Apparently, some agencies give applicants a "grace period" when submitting their application; however, they don’t advertise this fact to applicants. In other words, although the program guidelines might specify a deadline time of 8:00 p.m. EST, for example, some agency will consider applications timely if they are submitted by midnight–while other agencies will not review an application submitted at 8:01 p.m. This also can create problems because Grants.gov officials tell applicants to submit their applications after peak hours, which is after 8:00 p.m. EST.
The report also states that agencies have different policies for determining the completeness of applications. An applicant can receive a confirmation from Grants.gov that its application was successfully submitted and then discover later that its application was deemed incomplete by an agency.
The GAO is making four recommendations to the Office of Management and Budget as a result of this study. They are (1) to develop performance measures for the Grants.gov system, (2) to develop guidance that clarifies the Grants.gov governance structure, (3) to put into place a structured means for applicant input, and (4) to develop uniform policies for processing grant applications.
The report does not contain much information about feedback from individual users, but it does indicate that some grantee associations have shared their concerns about Grants.gov. I would suggest that readers review this online report, and if they choose to share their own frustrations, contact Stanley Czerwinski at (202) 512-6806 or via eMail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copies of the report are available at www.gao.gov.