I was unable to attend the FDP meeting last week but colleagues tell me that some mention was made of OMB’s plan to once again mandate agency use of Grants.gov for all incoming grant applications.
OMB allowed agencies to use alternative methods of receiving applications for Recovery Act funding, as we reported in March. That will now need to stop, according to the reports I received of some presentations at the FDP meeting.
Since OMB’s March memo, in which Grants.gov’s frailties were highlighted, the system has changed program manager and undergone significant technical enhancements. As I understand it, more hardware has been installed to handle increased load, and five new builds of the Grants.gov software have been deployed (see the Grants.gov Technical Alerts page). Clearly the intention is to ensure that agencies don’t need to turn to alternative solutions.
During the Recovery Act maelstrom, several agencies employed other application receipt systems and, in many cases, were thoroughly delighted with them. Will they be easily persuaded to move back to a system in which they had so little confidence even prior to the Recovery Act? I really don’t know.
In my opinion, the argument for a centralized grant application receipt system is still strong and vital to the health of federal grant-making. But I think that mandating the use of a system that many see as fundamentally flawed (regardless of the amount of hardware powering it) is only going to slow down the improvement of federal grant-making business performance.
Rather, I believe that OMB should (and could) develop a funding model for Grants.gov that relies on voluntary adoption. They should put Grants.gov in the position of having to earn agency business, rather than be handed all of it, forcing them to swallow it whole. By earning agency business, Grants.gov could iteratively improve its service and respond to each agency’s requirements, rather than try to be all things to all people, and fail to completely satisfy the majority of the customers who pay its bills.
What do you think?