Federal Grant Applications Migrate to World Wide Web

The federal government is experimenting with a process that would put grant applications on the Net.

by / November 30, 1997
Federal grant funding is often the lifeblood of many state and local government programs. The grant application process consists of a myriad of standard federal forms and a rigid process that is known only too well by state and local governments. This may change with the launch of a pilot grant application program on the World Wide Web, spurred by a National Performance Review (NPR) Innovation Grant to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).

The goal of the project is to develop a fast, paperless, low-cost and easy-to-use grant application process that can be used by many federal agencies, according to Brad Smith, the WWW Electronic Grants project manager with the Federal Railroad Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation. The Electronic Grants project is a fully developed Java application designed for Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) compliance, with a common user interface that streamlines the grant application process for state and local governments, universities and nonprofit organizations that rely on federal grant funding.

"The old process used to drive us in the states crazy," said Smith, who worked for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Quality before coming to DOT. "After having gone through that for a couple of years and being frustrated by it, I was lucky enough to get into a position with the federal government where I could do something about it.

Working Better, Costing Less

Another key element in the program was the financial and philosophical support of Vice President Gore's National Performance Review, which advocates a government that "works better and costs less." The job of implementing the technology recommendations of the NPR belonged to the Government Information Technology Services Board (GITSB). GITSB established a grant process to help agencies implement its action plan. One of the NPR recommendations was implementing electronic government to serve the public on its own terms, also known as Access America. One of the action items was to use electronic government to streamline government business processes. The electronic grants project is one of the ways to implement electronic government. (For more information on the National Performance Review and the GITSB recommendations, visit the GITSB World Wide Web site at www.gits.fed.gov>).


It was this recommendation that DOT used to apply to GTISB for funding for its project. DOT received its grant for $155,000 for software development, design and implementation in September 1996. Development of the project by DOT contractor Advanced Management Technology Inc. started in December, and the pilot went online April 4. The next phase of the project is to implement public key encryption and digital signature capability using smart card technology for security purposes. This phase of the project will cost an additional $350,000 and is funded by the GITSB Federal Public Key Infrastructure Committee, according to Smith. "We have promised to have the security feature completed by October and hope to begin awarding grants with test participants by the end of 1997," he said. "It depends on the success of the test and user acceptance of the pilot system."

DOT believes that up to $26 billion of its funds can be distributed using the Electronic Grants Application process, up to $250 billion governmentwide. Use of the application is voluntary, not required, according to Smith, who has talked to twelve other federal agencies about participation in the project. So far, DOT has enlisted the Departments of Education, Energy, Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Small Business Administration and the Office of Naval Research. Participating DOT agencies include the federal Railroad, Highway, Transit and Aviation Administrations, and the U.S. Coast Guard. DOT also spoke with the General Services Administration, the Department of Commerce and the National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA) about participating in the pilot.

While DOT has not estimated the potential cost savings to either the applicants or the federal agencies, Smith said one agency has estimated the time from application to approval could be cut from 90 days to 30 days. Saving time is important to many grantees, and considerable cost savings are possible in construction projects that can go to bid more quickly. The amount of information available through the system to the general public will be up to each agency. Other plans for the system include adding solicitations, requests for payment, grant award, Financial Status Reports (FSRs), project reporting, project closeout and program data reporting.

The system is designed for use with an IBM-compatible personal computer with 100MHz Pentium class processor, 16MB of RAM, a 28.8bps modem, Microsoft Windows 95 and Netscape Navigator version 3.01.

The grants application system is written entirely in Java and uses Active Software's Information Broker middleware application. The fields in the system are designed using the EDI transaction set 194 to promote data sharing.

The project is currently in its pilot phase to provide test information to DOT and to foster feedback from potential users to DOT, which has high hopes for the system. To access the system via the Web, go to .

For additional information, contact Brad Smith at FRA via e-mail at or call 202/632-3276.

Milford Sprecher is a program director for IDC Government of Falls Church, Va, where he tracks technology use in the public sector.

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