E-Grants portal preps for launch

After two years of planning, the Health and Human Services Department has three more months to fine-tune its portal automating the federal grants process.

The department, which is leading the E-Grants e-government project, will launch the first version of the Grants.gov portal Oct. 31. E-Grants will standardize how states, universities, nonprofit groups and other nongovernment entities apply online for federal grants.

“It has been a whirlwind,” said Rebecca Spitzgo, E-Grants deputy program manager, who led the application pilot. “We knew it would be like this because we had scoped out what we could do in the time frame.”

Spitzgo said the project team earlier this month finished testing the application with 18 federal agencies and 100 applicant groups, including 35 states, 25 universities and colleges, and 20 nonprofits.

The app will link to the General Services Administration’s www.fedgrants.gov portal. After viewing a list of grant opportunities at FedGrants, users can proceed directly to Grants.gov to apply.

“All agencies will be posting their grants by October, and GSA is shoring up the Fedgrants.gov site,” Spitzgo said. “We know Version 1 will not be perfect, but it will give us value and bring things together that have never been connected before.”

Groups will sign up to use the system by submitting a one-page profile with 10 basic data elements, such as name of the group, contact person and address.

Developers expect the portal, at www.grants.gov, to offer up to 50 grant opportunities when it goes online in October, Spitzgo said. The project team will add more throughout the coming year.

The National Institutes of Health—the largest single grant-making federal agency—participated in the later stages of the pilot and expects to be ready for the October debut, Spitzgo said. Grant opportunities from the Social Security Administration and Education Department also will be available when operation begins.

Submit forms electronically

Over the next six weeks, minor adjustments from user feedback and suggestions will be incorporated, she said.

The portal will let applicants download and fill out forms offline and then submit them electronically with proper authentication. Agencies offering grants will receive e-mail letting them know when applications arrive, and they can pull the applications from the portal through a Web services interface using an Extensible Markup Language schema, or download them manually, Spitzgo said.

During the six-week test, the portal had about 90 percent of the functionality of the full Version 1, she said.

“We’ve done our own testing, but this is an extension so we are ready by October,” Spitzgo said. “We want to test out the process before going live with our customers.”

GSA plans to award a contract for a personal identification number and password provider before the October launch. Applicants must obtain a PIN and password so that their forms can be authenticated.

The portal will send them to the E-Authentication Gateway to have their identities validated before it accepts their submissions, Spitzgo said.

The portal uses e-forms software from PureEdge Solutions Inc. of Victoria, British Columbia. It resides on servers running Sun Solaris, and data is stored in an Oracle9i database. The Web services front end uses WebLogic from BEA Systems Inc. of San Jose, Calif.

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