Grants.gov needs to streamline, simplify: GAO

Grants.gov continues to demonstrate a lack of standardization and inefficiencies in grant administration across federal agencies and difficulties with implementing its Web portal, the Government Accountability Office said in a report.

Grants.gov is the Web site where those seeking grant opportunities can find and apply for them electronically. Agencies are to post their grant opportunities or announcements of the grant opportunities on the site. All major agencies now provide this capability.

Grants.gov demonstrated progress since GAO’s evaluation last year but many of the same problems persist.

“Grantees continue to express frustration with having to work with varying systems to apply for and report on the use of grant funds, to respond to different administrative requirements, and to use different payment systems,” said Stanley Czerwinski, GAO’s director of strategic issues in the report [PDF] released Friday.

Grantees reported that they continue to need to use different application, reporting and payment systems, and definitions differ across agencies. Some grant processes do not align with typical grantee business practices, making it difficult for documents to flow between agency and grantee smoothly.

The Grants.gov Program Management Office, however, has taken action already to fix many of the problems, including improving the search capability and a redesign of its Web site. Grants.gov also plans further upgrades to the computer hardware to meet processing requirements as additional grant packages are added to the site, GAO said.

The federal government distributes about one-fifth of its budget, more than $460 billion in fiscal 2004, in grants to state, local and tribal governments, nonprofit organizations, colleges and universities, and other recipients. The Office of Management and Budget is working with agencies to implement common applications, systems and rules for federal grant administration.

Grantees told GAO that the three federal initiatives to streamline grant administration across government—Grants.gov, the Grants Management Line of Business and cross-agency workgroups—contributed to some of the problems, including insufficient communication with grantees before decisions on changes were made and a lack of clear objectives and public timeline.

Congress should reauthorize the Federal Financial Assistance Management Improvement Act, which governs streamlining efforts, beyond its November 2007 sunset to ensure that cross-agency initiatives progress, the GAO said. OMB also should ensure that groups leading the streamlining efforts obtain grantees’ input as they make changes in policies and procedures.

The Grants Management Line of Business aims to provide management over the entire lifecycle of grants and to consolidate grants administration across agencies, with a goal of moving agencies to common systems by 2011.

The Health and Human Services Department and the National Science Foundation are the managing partners. NSF, the Education Department and HHS’ Administration for Children and Families lead groups which are defining requirements around a grants management system, and the three also are the grants Centers of Excellence.

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