GAO auditors echo concerns about Grants.gov

The federal Web site receiving grant applications for economic stimulus law funding is being overwhelmed by a huge volume of applications and is not offering effective alternatives at this time, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

Furthermore, applicants for grants on Grants.gov are experiencing “confusion and uncertainty” about grant deadlines and how late applications will be treated, which may result in some applications receiving different treatment based on how they are submitted, the GAO states in the report, which was published on April 29.

Grants.gov has been flooded by new registrations and applications in response to the availability of stimulus funds approved by Congress in February. The volume of activity on Grants.gov has hampered system performance, including registration.

The Office of Management and Budget asked federal agencies in March to develop and publicize alternative methods for accepting grant applications, including agency electronic systems, e-mail and fax. On April 8, OMB said Grants.gov would not be able to handle the anticipated influx of applications and was initiating urgent improvements.

Despite those efforts, applicants still have difficulties in identifying alternative means of submitting grants applications for stimulus funding, the GAO states. There also is confusion about how agencies will handle applications that are submitted late in part because of difficulties with Grants.gov.

“Inconsistent agency policies for grant closing times, what constitutes a timely application, when and whether applicants are notified of the status of their applications, and the basis on which applicants can appeal a late application create confusion and uncertainty for applicants and could result in an application being treated differently depending on how it is submitted,” the report states.

The GAO recommended that the OMB ensure that Grants.gov and Recovery.gov prominently display information on alternative grant application methods.

In addition, the GAO recommended to OMB to implement three policies, effective immediately:
  • To the extent permissible by law, applications received at any point on the stated grant opportunity closing date should be considered timely.
  • Agencies must notify an applicant when an application submission has been received and if the application has been deemed late. An applicant that submits electronically (including by e-mail or fax) should receive automatic confirmation with a date and time stamp.
  • Applicants whose applications have been deemed late should be given an opportunity to provide supporting documentation to demonstrate that they attempted to submit an application on time (such as e-mail confirmations, electronic time stamps, U.S. Postal Service or commercial postmarks, etc.)
OMB said it agreed with the general objectives of the suggested policies.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

Reader comments

Mon, May 4, 2009

The problem with Grants.gov is not confined to the increase in the number of applications submitted. Grants.gov started 2009 by switching their applications from a Windows-based form (PureEdge) to Adobe Reader PDFs. These forms can be used with Windows AND Macintosh computers. More people can use these forms but the PDFs are 3 times bigger (file size) than the previous forms. In addition, the new forms are easily corrupted depending on the version of Adobe Reader that is being used. Add those things to the surge in applications submitted and you have the current "situation".

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