Standards proposed for grants portal

Federal Financial Assistance Management Improvement Act of 1999

The Office of Federal Financial Management has issued an initial draft of proposed data standards for agencies posting grant opportunities on FedBizOpps, a central Web site where government agencies post information about existing and potential contracts.

The draft proposes establishing "a standard format for federal agency announcements" for grants, according to an Aug. 12 notice in the Federal Register. "The purpose of the standard format is to have information organized in a consistent way," so users can find information easily and quickly, the notice says.

The 20 proposed standard data elements include such basic details as grant and contact information, the due date, a description of the funding opportunity and information about whether it is necessary to share costs with the agency.

The government awards $325 billion in grants each year. The goal of one of the Bush administration's e-government initiatives is to move more of that process online, using FedBizOpps (fedbizopps. gov) as the federal grant portal.

Proposing a standard format is an initial step, said Sandra Swab, a member of the Federal Grant Streamlining Program.

The standard format will be the basis for a pilot project in which synopses of federal grant opportunities from 26 agencies will be posted on FedBizOpps, Swab said. The pilot project will continue for several months, at which point the participating agencies will assess how the project went and determine the next step, Swab said.

Eventually, the government intends to create a central repository, dubbed Federal Commons, for information on all federal agency grants.

The grants project is part of an effort to comply with the Federal Financial Assistance Management Improvement Act of 1999.

The law requires agencies to develop a plan for streamlining grants management and criticized them for maintaining federal grants systems that are "duplicative, burdensome or conflicting, thus impeding cost-effective delivery of services at the local level."

The Department of Health and Human Services, which awards nearly half of all federal grants, including tens of millions of dollars to states for Medicaid, is spearheading the project. Other agencies also provide grants for everything from arts projects funded by the National Endowment for the Arts to homeland security initiatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The e-Grants initiative is one of 24 e-government projects proposed in October 2001 by the Office of Management and Budget to bring electronic services to the public.

The project is in line with recommendations from a June 2001 report from the interagency Grants Management Committee, which is an arm of the Chief Financial Officers Council.

That report concluded that technology can help improve the way the government delivers its grants and that by improving the process the government would improve customer satisfaction and boost cost-effectiveness.

The council said that streamlining the specific information each agency requests from organizations applying for grants was an important first step.

"One of the substantive areas that the agencies identified in the plan was the form and content of program announcements," the Federal Register announcement says. Preliminary analysis suggested a potential for developing a more consistent announcement format across the government.

"A standard announcement format with information content organized in a consistent way will let applicants decide whether a particular funding opportunity is of interest," the notice says.

The committee found that agencies collect data that seemed to be unnecessary. Agencies were asked to justify why they collect such data.

The notice seeks comments from potential grant applicants about whether the data elements will provide enough information to determine whether a funding opportunity is of interest and therefore deserves further investigation. The notice also asks whether the terms used are easily understood.

The notice asks agencies whether there is a need to add or delete any categories. Comments are due by Oct. 11.


Streamlining grants

The government is seeking to streamline the process for getting information about federal grants. The goal is to provide a synopsis of the grants so applicants can decide whether they want to read the full announcement.

Some of the 20 proposed data elements include:

* Agency name.

* Grant name.

* Contact information.

* Funding type — Grant, cooperative agreement, procurement contract, etc.

* Funding category — Agriculture, arts, business and commerce, community development, etc.

* Eligible applicants.

* Cost-sharing requirements.

* Deadlines.

* How to get the full announcement.

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, 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,, 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, 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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