New Federal Grants System to Eliminate Confusion, Bureaucracy For State and Locals

Officials from the Transportation Department, in cooperation with nine other federal agencies, have begun full-scale development of a project that will provide a single interface to state and local governments and academic institutions applying for grants from any federal agency.

The U.S. Electronic Grants System this year received $300,000 fromthe Government Information Technology Services Board to proceed with development of the system, said Ann Fisher, intergovernmental coordinator for EGS. Two years ago, GITSB provided $150,000 to test the concept of the Web-based grants project and donated an additional $350,000 last year to develop a more secure approach, she said.

EGS, which won an award last week from the Federation of Government Information Processing Councils for promoting intergovernmental efficiency, will help the government award billions of dollars worth of grants. Fisher said state and local governments as well as universities requested the system because of the confusion and bureaucracy involved in applying for grants from multiple federal agencies. She said applicants had been frustrated by having to provide the same information multiple times to different agencies.

EGS will be operational this fall. Fisher said the Web-based approach, based on a Java applet, allows applicants to "upload" their information once, and it will be sent to all participating federal agencies that provide grants. She said agencies only see the information that is pertinent to their grant program.

"It saves all kinds of effort as far as customers not having to duplicate information," Fisher said. "And it gives them a common interface while allowing federal agencies to use different database technologies."

She said users will be able to use the system to apply for grants from five DOT agencies. Other grant-providing agencies who will participate include the departments of Education, Energy, Interior and Labor, and the Office of Naval Research and the Environmental Protection Agency. The General Services Administration will provide assistance in the area of information security.

Brad Smith, the EGS project manager at DOT, said the project office will improve EGS over time, eventually incorporating digital signature technology. "Digital signature is the most complex piece," Smith said. "The technology works fine, but we need improvements on the user interface." Smith added it will take some time before all of the agencies offering federal grants through the system will come online."We are developing software that can be used by multiple agencies," he said. "So our federal partners have to set it up, too. It will come upgradually."

Art Chantker, director of strategic programs at Federal Data Corp., said the system can be most successful if federal agencies first re-design their grants award procedures. "The key is to re-engineer the process and then apply the automated tools," he said.

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