Back in March NIH released a sources sought notice for “Electronic Grant Applications.” You can review it here. This notice asked industry to submit capability statements for the analysis and development of a system that would enable grantees to submit grant applications for complex programs (such as P01, U54, and P30) using the Web. This is a very interesting requirement because it would effectively implement a Web interface for submitting grant applications, running parallel to Grants.gov’s e‑forms/system-to-system interface and, indeed, utilizing that system-to-system interface. (Full disclosure: TCG submitted a response to this notice.)
When HHS first solicited bids to develop Grants.gov in 2001 they did not request development of a Web interface, preferring the e‑form solution for many good reasons. We were part of a team that proposed meeting that requirement and developing a Web interface, because we felt this would be important and useful to grantees and grantors alike. In retrospect, we shouldn’t have done that (I say that for good reason: we didn’t win the work by essentially over-scoping a project with a feature that the government had clearly dismissed), and we repeated the sin in 2006 when the Grants.gov contract was recompeted. However, we’ve always thought that a Web interface would be an essential part of the overall solution.
This sources sought suggests that NIH and (I suspect) Grants.gov agrees with this. In fact, I think they’ve always agreed but have been constrained by politics and funding, not to mention the risks posed by storing grant applicants’ works-in-progress on a government system. (These applications can contain very sensitive data; who would be liable if they were accidentally erased, or lost, or released to the wrong people?) Development of an electronic grant applications system like this would circumvent the complexity of Grants.gov e‑forms solution — although that should be a continuing part of the overall solution because it provides distinct advantages over a Web-based solution, such as offline working — and choosing the NIH’s complex programs as a starting point is a brilliant insight. It demands that we start with the riskiest, most difficult problem, the solution to which will coincidentally “break the back” of all the other programs.
Does this mean Grants.gov is irrelevant? Absolutely not. Does it mean Grants.gov is less important? Again, I’d have to say no, because this solution will use Grants.gov’s system-to-system interface and the technical products they’ve delivered, such as the SF424 schemas, etc.
It does suggest that government intends to take on more responsibility for providing technologies that will support grant applicants, and that can be adopted broadly across government. These are both great end-results.
What do you think about this development? Comments can be submitted (anonymously if you wish) below.