OMB’s Director has issued a memo instructing federal agencies to “submit recommended alternatives [to Grants.gov for receiving grant applications] … for review and approval by March 13, 2009” because a system review has revealed that Grants.gov has “significant risk of failure” and could hamper the implementation of the $787 billion Recovery Act. The Washington Post is covering this emerging story on their blog, and there is much chatter about it around the government agencies, too.
I think it’s important to note that Grants.gov has been doing a good job, despite having very few government staff available to manage the system. Considering the extent of their responsibilities, they’ve done an outstanding job. But persistent performance problems have plagued the system, and these are the root of OMB’s rather alarming finding of “significant risk” (in my opinion).
The Recovery Act funding is a once-in-a-blue-moon event; there’s no way Grants.gov could have been reasonably expected to forecast or plan for it. My big fear is that someone will be tempted to discard Grants.gov as a result of this. Given that the Recovery Act is a short-term challenge, the long-term viability and importance of Grants.gov isn’t diminished. Certainly I’d argue that its technical architecture should be changed, however, and this could be done relatively inexpensively (compared to the costs for maintaining what exists today, and relative to the costs of each agency having “its own Grants.gov”). So while this news makes headlines, we shouldn’t lose sight of the end goal of a single point for government grants for all grantees.
In the meantime, agencies must quickly discover alternative grant application receipt mechanisms. They exist, here and there, although many were mothballed as agencies transitioned to Grants.gov. Some people (including some of our customers) have already taken action to mitigate the risks posted by Grants.gov’s performance problems. I’d be surprised if others hadn’t done the same.
[Updated 3/12/09 9:08 EST; and 3/13/09 8:35 EST] Related links:
- Federal News Radio: Audio story / OMB calls for a review of grant application systems
- FederalTimes.com: Gearing up for grants
- Nextgov: OMB directs agencies to review grants management systems immediately
- Information Week: At-Risk Government IT Systems Require Immediate Action / Feds Add Servers to Handle Stimulus Funds
- FCW: Stimulus grant applications may overwhelm portal
- Washington Post: Grants.gov Strains Under New Demand
- CNN: Orszag: Interest in stimulus $$$ could overwhelm govt site
2 responses to “Grants.gov has “significant risk of failure” says OMB”
Dave, you’re right they should avoid the temptation to discard Grants.gov. Much progress has been made in the name of centralizing and standardizing. And the staff there has been doing the best they can. They inherited a series of unfortunate decisions and specifications, all based on a somewhat archaic approach to electronic commerce. Grants.gov should get an overhaul into a modern web-based application. But that will likely take a while. In the meantime, organizations can use the S2S (system-to-system) interface available from a commercial vendor like Cayuse! Much faster and more reliable.
Hear, hear. I completely agree. It would be awful to walk away from http://www.grants.gov/ in the face of a temporary challenge like this one. Better to back away from the alarmist headline and try to figure out how to scale up what is already a proven success.