Grants.gov to serve $360 billion
New portal provides organizations with one-stop shopping
- By Gail Repsher Emery
- Jul 17, 2003
Charles Havekost is program manager for Grants.gov and acting director of the Office of Grants Management and Policy at the Department of Health and Human Services.
For Ken Forstmeier, the new Grants.gov Web site can't come soon enough.
Forstmeier is responsible for IT systems for the Office of the Vice President for Research at the Pennsylvania State University, which helps faculty obtain research dollars from outside sources. In fiscal 2002, the university submitted thousands of proposals, which netted $507 million in research grants.
But managing applications for federal grants is a huge task, because it requires dealing with about 24 different federal application systems. Forstmeier's organization has a person devoted almost full time to reviewing the systems.
"The proliferation of agency systems has killed us," said Forstmeier, director of the Office of Research Information Systems.
Grants.gov aims to solve Forstmeier's problem by creating a one-stop portal to apply for federal grants. In theory, organizations seeking grants no longer will have to negotiate a maze of programs and systems.
"If we did not do Grants.gov, we could easily end up with 100 systems," said Charles Havekost, program manager for Grants.gov and acting director of the Office of Grants Management and Policy at the Department of Health and Human Services.
A pilot governmentwide grant application system went live June 30. The completed Grants.gov system slated for rollout to the public in October, Havekost said.
The initial budget for Grants.gov is $20 million, Havekost said. The payoff will be millions of dollars in savings: in system development and maintenance costs for federal agencies, and in staff time for organizations applying for grants, according to project participants.
Eventually, applicants won't have to search print and online publications for grant opportunities or master multiple application processes. Agencies won't have to develop their own grants management systems. Their existing systems will be connected to Grants.gov.
Grants.gov, formerly called E-Grants, is one of 25 cross-agency electronic government initiatives launched by the Office of Management and Budget in fall 2001. The initiatives each require several agencies to work together to develop governmentwide systems that improve efficiency and effectiveness of operations.
Havekost coordinates development of Grants.gov, making sure the project meets development deadlines set by OMB, gets contributions from its 11 agency partners and meets the needs of grant-making agencies and grant-seeking organizations.
The agency partners are the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, Labor and Transportation, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and National Science Foundation.
"It's a challenge to ensure that the agencies feel like they are equal partners," Havekost said. "The way to overcome it is to get those agencies as involved as possible."
The Grants.gov Web site details the partner agencies' financial and staff contributions, which has helped spur agency involvement.
"Sharing that information creates a focus on agencies that have lived up to their obligations. Many agencies have been motivated to do so once they see how public the information is," said John Druitt, a program manager with Booz Allen Hamilton Inc., a Grants.gov contractor in McLean, Va.
In addition to Havekost, the project is staffed full time by 10 federal employees on loan from seven of the 11 partner agencies -- the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development and Labor and the National Science Foundation -- as well as OMB.
Havekost has won praise from the grantee community for seeking its input and for containing the scope of the project.
"Many folks in rural areas don't have high-speed Internet access, so they need to be able to download an application and send it back [later]. They [the Grants.gov staff] have adapted their system to enable us," said Bert Jarreau, chief technology officer of the National Association of Counties.
Havekost is working with five teams from four prime contractors: Northrop Grumman Information Technology, Booz Allen, IBM Corp. and Denali Associates.
Booz Allen's contract for program management support is worth up to $3.1 million over five years if all options are exercised, Druitt said. His team supports the Grants.gov program management office, drafting progress reports and financial statements, updating the project business case and tracking progress.
"There is a challenge any time you are working across five major contracting teams," Druitt said. "I believe we are on the same page, which is kind of unusual."
Booz Allen also has a contract to perform data modeling and analysis. That deal will be worth about $2 million over five years if all options are exercised, Druitt said. The company has worked with the partner agencies to define the data included in the standard grant application and other, program-specific information. Booz Allen staff is also working to identify information that must be in the grant synopses posted at the storefront.
IBM of Armonk, N.Y., is providing outreach and communication services under a five-year contract worth $3.2 million if all options are exercised. The company is conducting usability assessments and focus groups among grantors and grantees, promoting the project to potential users and developing a branding campaign.
"This [initiative] reaches out to perhaps the broadest audience I've seen. Literally hundreds of thousands of people could use this," said Morris Zwick, a partner in IBM's Business Consulting Services unit. He said traditional system training is impossible because the number of users is so great and is dispersed nationwide, making it especially important that the system is easy to use.
"Once the system is up and running, we'll look at how many people applied for a given program and how many did it through the site. If we are not getting the adoption rates [we want], we'll get user feedback to discover why," Zwick said.
Denali Associates of Severna Park, Md., is conducting independent validation and verification. The company's first task order under a five-year contract is worth about $1 million, said Patty Kelley, managing partner of the firm. The company is reviewing the Grants.gov management and technology and advising Havekost on mitigating the risks associated with the project.
The largest piece of the job is system integration, said Mike Atassi, a Northrop Grumman IT program manager. The unit of Los Angeles-based Northrop Grumman Corp. is building the grant application system under a contract worth up to $7 million if all options are exercised over five years.
The system is based on an electronic forms submission solution the company implemented at the departments of State and Treasury, Atassi said.
PureEdge Solutions Inc. of Victoria, British Columbia, a subcontractor to Northrop Grumman IT, is providing the secure, XML-based forms interface for applicants.
The system will ensure applications are error-free and submit them to the appropriate agency, Atassi said. When it launches, it will serve the 11 partner agencies; over five years, it will expand to serve all 26 grant-making agencies and up to 900 grant-making programs awarding $360 billion annually to state and local governments and academic and nonprofit institutions.
Support for the effort was so strong that some agencies had to be turned away from participating in the pilot application system, Atassi said. Fifteen agencies and more than 100 applicants are participating in the pilot.
"The e-gov mantra is citizen-centric, simplify and unify," said Greg O'Connell, director of government sales for PureEdge. "I go to the Grants.gov portal, the solution directs me to the appropriate application and provides an easy-to-use interface to submit that grant application." *
Staff Writer Gail Repsher Emery can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.