Case Study

United States Department of Agriculture: USDA CSREES E-Grants

Customer

USDA’s largest grantmaking agency needed e-grants systems that would interface with the government-wide E-Grants Store Front. TCG was selected to create the interface systems to the internal e-grants systems above seven other bidders, and were rated highest on technical and business proposal as a consequence of our understanding of e-grants, the technology, and our grants-management experience. Our work integrated the agency’s internal grants database with new functionality and extensions using a J2EE framework, XML, and SOAP transactions.

CSREES, the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service at the U. S. Department of Agriculture, is the largest grant-making agency within the department. For the previous 10 years CSREES has been building and consolidating internal systems to make the management of grants easier and more effective. With the advent of what was to become Grants.gov, designed to be a central broker for all grant applications within the Federal government, CSREES saw the opportunity to connect its internal systems to its applicant community, and finish the process of going beyond paper. CSREES determined that to accept grants electronically through the Store Front, it had to rethink and make electronic more of its own processes. The project included a peer review system, a communication and distribution system, integration with document management and internal management systems, and Web services between legacy applications and the e-grants modules. TCG continued to work with CSREES as it created a communication and distribution system that allowed all parts of the agency to share grants information and to accept data from the E-Grants Store Front, both as part of the pilot and when the system was finally implemented. That work involved a re-assessment of CSREES’s internal systems, and building or reworking systems to make the process smooth and responsive.

Challenge

Prepare USDA’s largest grantmaking agency to receive and process grant applications from Grants.gov, which was then called the E-Grants Store Front, while implementing a new technology framework and modernizing legacy systems.

Solution

Using our experience in grants and e-grants at other Federal agencies, TCG designed a project plan that fully addressed all of the business objectives and timelines. We built upon the management systems and databases at CSREES and extended them. The project was, to some degree, predicated on the E-Grants Store Front. We decided to scale and use the Rational Unified Process (RUP), and develop iteratively, to accommodate changes in the Store Front as it is developed. Tools and procedures for configuration and change management were implemented. A J2EE architecture was developed in response to the business requirements. During the planning stages, TCG architects maintained visibility of business needs outside the e-grants project, to enable future integration and sharing of code we developed. The project had four phases, focused on the October 2003 rollout of E-Grants Storefront capabilities. These phases capture peer review, communication and distribution, J2EE framework implementation, data modeling, documentation and formalization of system requirements (past, present, and future), and project infrastructure support (change management, configuration management, and so on). All requirements were gathered, managed, documented, validated, and ratified by TCG staff in cooperation with the domain experts at USDA, using RUP throughout for information sharing and modeling. Requirements were refined and validated through the use of prototypes, screen designs and system wireframes, and storyboarding. The e-grants project integrated tightly with in-house grants and document management systems. Data was exchanged and shared between these systems using Web services and Java servlets, so that agency users could most easily retrieve and review required data for their specific functions. These systems were on a variety of platforms, utilizing Oracle databases and client-server as well as browser interfaces.

Results

The first component of the E-Grants project was deployed on budget and on time in March 2003. USDA CSREES was now poised to further its electronic grants processes, and the organization could take advantage of the J2EE architecture implemented, resulting in significant cost and efficiency savings. Experience and knowledge of RUP helped reduce overhead and overruns in future projects. Grantees could apply to USDA electronically, and proposal turnaround time was significantly reduced.