NIH to try e-grant applications

In the coming year, the National Institutes of Health expects to streamline the way researchers apply for grants by letting them apply electronically using a digital certificate.

NIH's Office of Extramural Research this week selected Digital Signature Trust Co. to integrate digital certificates into two pilot electronic grant projects.

Under the first pilot project, the Office of Extramural Research will let colleges and universities apply for federal grants electronically. The pilot will create an electronic version of NIH's Public Health Service 398 grant application form. Currently researchers must complete forms on paper.

Since researchers are spending federal dollars, they must verify that they meet certain statutory and regulatory requirements, said Peter Alterman, director of operations at the Office of Extramural Research. "[A] signature verifies to NIH that all of those requirements have been filled."

The digital signature that will be used will be equivalent to a pen-and-paper signature, he said.

Deb Blanchard, professional services consultant for DST, said that the pilot project will create 250 digital certificates.

The second pilot will streamline NIH's internal process for selecting the independent board that reviews grant applications. Alterman said that the process is currently paper based. NIH compiles a slate of candidates and then vets those candidates for potential conflicts. Right now, the information is printed on paper and circulated by inter-office mail. Under the pilot program, the lists would be circulated electronically, and NIH personnel would use a digital signature to electronically sign the list.

Alterman said the process that will be used is under development. The contract will bring DST into the development process early on so the public-key infrastructure can be designed at an early stage.

The task order was conducted under the General Services Administration's Access Certificates for Electronic Services (ACES) contract. In November, the Education Department used the ACES contract to allow students to use digital certificates to make online transactions under its Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

Agencies are being pushed to do more business online under the Government Paperwork Elimination Act, which requires agencies to do business online, whenever possible, by October 2003. Last year, President Clinton signed the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act, which made digital signatures equal to paper-based signatures.

About the Author

Christopher J. Dorobek is the co-anchor of Federal News Radio’s afternoon drive program, The Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris, and the founder, publisher and editor of the DorobekInsider.com, a leading blog for the Federal IT community.

Dorobek joined Federal News Radio in 2008 with 16 years of experience covering government issues with an emphasis on government information technology. Prior to joining Federal News Radio, Dorobek was editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week, the leading news magazine for government IT decision-makers and the flagship of the 1105 Government Information Group portfolio of publications. As editor-in-chief, Dorobek served as a member of the senior leadership team at 1105 Government Information Group, providing daily editorial direction and management for FCW magazine, FCW.com, Government Health IT and its other editorial products.

Dorobek joined FCW in 2001 as a senior reporter and assumed increasing responsibilities, becoming managing editor and executive editor before being named editor-in-chief in 2006. Prior to joining FCW, Dorobek was a technology reporter at PlanetGov.com, one of the first online community centers for current and former government employees. He also spent five years at Government Computer News, another leading industry publication, covering a variety of federal IT-related issues.

Dorobek is a frequent speaker on issues involving the government IT industry, and has appeared as a frequent contributor to NewsChannel 8’s Federal News Today program. He began his career as a reporter at the Foster’s Daily Democrat, a daily newspaper in Dover, N.H. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California. He lives in Washington, DC.


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