Justice reworks e-grants system

Office of Justice Programs

When David Zeppieri arrived as the new chief information officer at the Justice Department's Office of Justice Programs (OJP) 15 months ago, he had to evaluate whether the problematic electronic grants system was worth salvaging.

"The system had numerous problems based on limited capacity," he said. "It had difficulties in navigating, and frequent unexpected outages.... So it really wasn't stable, nor was it deployed throughout the enterprise as of yet."

After analyzing the electronic Grants Management System (GMS), his team decided that it had value and, in August 2002, redesigned the system and implemented a standards-based Oracle Corp. back end. "So by January 2003, the system's performance and usability was vastly improved to the point where the assistant attorney general mandated its use for all grant programs within OJP," said Zeppieri, who came from the Defense Department with 20 years of information technology experience.

The Web-based GMS now supports the grant activities for OJP's 13 bureaus and program offices, processing about 10,000 applications and providing 6,000 awards annually to grantees such as state, local and tribal governments and private, nonprofit, and law enforcement agencies as well as universities — totaling more than $6 billion.

Next week, at the E-Gov 2003 Conference and Exposition in Washington, D.C., GMS will receive the conference's Explorer Award, honoring innovative e-government initiatives. OJP is among 50 government agencies — out of 250 applications — this year to receive awards at the conference. (E-Gov is owned by 101 Communications LLC, which also owns Federal Computer Week.)

Although its archetype still incorporated many paper processes, the current GMS incarnation is an electronic "cradle to grave" process, Zeppieri said. That has attracted the attention of other federal departments and agencies — such as the departments of Energy, Housing and Urban Development, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — that seek to leverage GMS's back-end systems, he said.

By standardizing the back-end system, enhancing interoperability, and even gaining additional participation, he said the government could save significant money. By developing a modular component-based architecture, agencies don't have to take an entire system, but can reuse code for significant savings, he added.

The CIO Council and the Office of Management and Budget are also examining the system, he said. OMB has been spearheading an enterprise one-stop shop e-grants initiative that's expected to be more customer-friendly. "I'm doing almost the same thing here on a smaller scale within Justice," said Zeppieri, who is the Justice Department representative on the government-wide initiative. "So we have single sign on, single point of entry that's integrated through a portal."

Zeppieri said OJP is still adding functionality to the system from a customer relationship management perspective. It's also ensuring that grant progress reports will be accepted online as well as focusing on improving the monitoring of grants. "So if there's a grant awarded for violence against women, how do we actually know that the money spent actually helped reduce violence against women?" he asked.

Providing an easier conduit for state and local officials and others to apply and exchange information regarding grants has been a federal priority since the 2001 terrorist attacks. For example, Zeppieri said when the anthrax incidents occurred, the post office that processes all of OJP's mail was closed, severely impacting its ability to receive applications and make awards.

"But now due to the 2002 re-architecture...we're receiving all these grant applications through electronic means. And we're postured in terms of continuity of operations. So whatever stand-still problems we had associated with the dependency on the post office, we don't have anymore," he said.

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