GAO: Grants.gov has serious weaknesses

A new study says that management of the Web portal for federal grants needs improvement

The government’s central Web portal that people use to apply to more than 1,000 federal grant programs and that provides access to about $500 billion in annual awards has “systemic weaknesses that require attention," according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

A recent study from GAO found that management of the the portal, Grants.gov,, needs to be improved and that measures currently used don’t give a clear picture of system performance or how well applicants are being served. The study, conducted from May 2008 to this month and released July 15, cited difficulty that applicants have using Grants.gov that sometimes causes late grant submissions.

In addition, the study found the organizations responsible for managing the program had inconsistent coordination, unclear lines of authority, and confusion over roles and responsibilities that put the system’s long-term performance at risk.

GAO said that management responsibilities were dispersed between the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), officials from the Health and Human Services Department (HHS) that is the managing partner agency, and the Grants Executive Board (GEB) comprised of officials from 26 grant-making agencies. The study also found that grant-making agencies whose donations support the site didn’t pay in a timely manner, negatively affecting system performance.

To correct the problems, GAO recommended that OMB work with HHS to develop performance measures related to system availability, usability, and data integrity and direct HHS to regularly review performance results. The report also said OMB should work with HHS to define the roles and responsibilities of the GEB and HHS entities involved in managing the programs. In addition, GAO recommended that OMB work with other interested parties to come up with governmentwide policies for processing grant applications.

OMB and HHS generally concurred with the recommendations, the report said. 

In response to the report, Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and George Voinovich (R-Ohio) said they were disappointed by the findings and urged support for a bill they authored and that passed the Senate in March designed to improve the portal. That measure has been sent to the House,

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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