The Stimulus Bill Enters the Bizarro World

We’ve been up to our elbows writing Stimulus Bill proposals for a couple of months now with no end in sight and the oddities are beginning to pile up. Here are a few:

* We’re working on a HUD Neighborhood Stabilization Program 2 (NSP 2) proposal for a California city. Nothing is particularly unusual about the 194 page NOFA—except that no budget forms are required. For the last ten years or so, HUD has required a mind numbing coterie of complex budget forms, including SF424A, HUD CB and HUD CBW, along with a detailed budget narrative. While NSP2 provides grant awards with a minimum of $5,000,000, a simple “blob” table, with no line item detail or justification, is the only required budget document. Better still, HUD is allowing applicants to take a 10% administrative rake off the top, so a grantee can pocket $500,000 on a $5,000,000 grant without any explanation. When we couldn’t find budget instructions or forms in the NOFA, we sent an inquiry to the NSP2 Program Officer, Jessi Molinengo, and received the following response:

On page 24, IV.3.a, The NOFA states that you will indicate how you will use NSP2 funds by providing a list or table showing the amount of funds budgeted for each eligible use and CDBG eligible activity.

Duh. We’d already figured that out and were incredulous that HUD would give up on any pretense of accountability and transparency, but apparently HUD has contracted ARRA-flu and entered the Bizarro World.* But if that’s all they want, that’s all we’ll give them. After all, one of Seliger + Associates’ grant writing rules is the Golden Rule: “The folks with gold make the rules.”

* We just finished a proposal for the Tribal Title IV-E Plan Development Grant Program on behalf of an Indian Tribe. Through a series of mishaps, our client, who had decided to send in the finished proposal themselves, wanted to FedEx the submission package on the day it was due in D.C. We told them to save the cost, as the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) would reject it for being late. Our contact person was very unhappy, so I told him to try calling ACF. He did, and they agreed to take the proposal late. Once again, we’re in the Bizarro World, as I have never seen this happen in 37 years of grant writing.

* We wrote four funded Department of Labor YouthBuild proposals for the most recent RPF cycle that completed last January. This is nothing new, as we’ve written lots of funded YouthBuild proposals over the years. What is surprising is that one of our clients sent us a email blast he received from the DOL YouthBuild Program Officer, Anne Stom, breathlessly announcing an avalanche of new Stimulus Bill grants pouring out of D.C.:

Today, the US Department of Labor – Employment and Training Administration announced an exciting new grant opportunity – five distinct Green Jobs Workforce Development grant solicitations. As a current or new Youthbuild grantee, you are eligible to seek funding for green jobs training, capacity building, and other programs under these SGAs, and we encourage you to go for it!

Note Anne’s giddy enthusiasm. Communiques from federal officials are usually written in the droll style of Ben Stein, but this one could have been delivered by Vince Shlomi, the ShamWow Guy.**

The Stimulus Bill is distorting the Federal grant making process and is apparently also taking its toll on grant writers. I received the following email from a faithful GWC reader who wishes to remain anonymous:

I was wondering if you would consider writing about how to handle the increased load and stress of the grant writing related to the stimulus funding, and people’s desire for grant writers to go after every available prospect no matter the health and well being of their staff. What have you found over the years about this issue? I am working at a Settlement House and my staff is dropping like flies, and I recently had a doc tell me I have to reduce the stress. I am not sure how that is even possible in this career.

The short answer to the problem of stress and grant writing is that there is no answer. If one cannot handle the stress of endlessly recurring deadlines, then this is the wrong career choice. Personally, endless deadlines are what I like most about grant writing, because there is a finite aspect to completing grant proposals. When we’ve finished yet another proposal and the deadline has arrived, we can turn off the proposal extruding machine, leave the office, go home and retire to the pool to gaze at ever-changing Catalina Mountains and enjoy an Aviation cocktail or three.***

On the serious side, an agency shouldn’t wildly apply for grants just because the money is there, since you might get funded and actually have to run the program. Although the Stimulus Bill is like a smorgasbord for applicants, try not to overload your plate, even if Program Officers like Anne Stom are screaming at you, “Eat, eat, you’re so thin!”

Last February, I predicted this Stimulus madness in Stimulus Bill Passes: Time for Fast and Furious Grant Writing. At Seliger + Associates, we are writing faster and furiouser, but we handle the stress by not accepting assignments we cannot complete, even if it means we turn down work. At the moment we’re not taking assignments with deadlines before early to mid August and it has been that way for months. We keep our eye on the prize, which is to prepare well written, technically correct proposals that put our clients in the running to be funded. If you’re an applicant, remember that it is better to submit one or two carefully crafted proposals than a dozen half-baked ones. You’ll get more grant funds and your grant writer will not run away to become a circus clown.


* Like Jerry Seinfeld, I was a big fan of Superman comics (Batman who?) when I was a kid and loved that he resurrected the Bizarro World in his TV series.

** My daughter bought me a box of ShamWows for my birthday and they work great. Now, if one of the kids will buy me a Slap Chop, I’ll have it all. To quote Vince, “Are you following me, camera guy?” [Editor Jake’s note: this is not going to come from me.]

*** To make serious cocktails like The Aviation, one needs exotic ingredients like Maraschino Liqueur and Creme de Violette, which means one needs a great liquor store. After years of putting up with state owned liquor stores in the hopelessly provincial Washington, I was delighted to be introduced to the exceptional Rum Runner by Jake after arriving in Tucson, which is well-stocked and run by pros who will track down any spirit you need to lift your spirits after a hard day slaving over hot proposals.

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