I’ve Got Those End of the Year, Grants.gov, Don’t Work So Good Subterranean Homesick Blues Again

As 2010 proposals slide into the archives, I find myself reflecting on the inadequacy of Grants.gov and other federal electronic grant submission portals. After about seven years of electronic submissions, why is the federal government so incredibly incompetent at this? After all, Amazon.com can take hundreds of thousands of orders a day and Apple can ship tens of thousands products a day, but Grants.gov is overwhelmed by a few hundred or thousand grant submissions. In essence, Grants.gov goes “biddle-up,”* like our puppy after a hard day of watching us write proposals:

YouthBuild hunting season ended with a December 3 submission deadline. We caught our limit of YouthBuilds this year, which we usually do, and met the deadline, which we always do. Since submitting an electronic proposal involves what is essentially an electronic signature, Seliger + Associates does does not actually submit them. Instead, we complete the submission package and email the files to our clients, who actually hit the submit button. In the good old days of hard copy submissions, our clients would FedEx their signature pages and we’d copy and submit the applications.

One of our YouthBuild clients was trying to upload her application through Grants.gov on December 1, two days before the deadline, which is ordinarily enough time. But I received this startling email from her:

I have tried to submit it [YouthBuild] one hour and 20 minutes ago. It’s still “processing.” And I don’t want to try to submit again until I get a go ahead from someone. We also found out more than 25 other grants have Dec. 1 as deadline.

The entire Grants.gov system is apparently not robust enough to handle 25 deadlines on a given day. Maybe the whole grant submission process should be turned over to WikiLeaks, which seems to have unlimited bandwidth.

A few hours later, she sent the following email:

Right now, at this minute, it is 4 hours and 22 minutes ago, and my screen says “Processing, please don’t close the window until you receive a confirmation.

I called our client and told her to call Grants.gov tech support (800-518-4726). When she finally got a live person on the line, the tech deleted her application and told her to re-submit. She did and it took another four hours to complete the submission process. In the age of instant everything, uploading a 4 MB Grants.gov *.pdf file took over eight hours! At least it got submitted. I’ve written about the perils of Grants.gov in Now, It’s Time for the Rest of the Story, but that was over two years ago. One would think Grants.gov would have been improved in two years, but apparently not so much that you’d notice.

One change is that Grants.gov tech support is now open 24 x 7 now, instead of being closed on weekends. Of course in the federal world 24 X 7 doesn’t exactly mean every day, since the Grants.gov support describes its hours as follows: Hours of Operation: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We are closed on federal holidays. This year, they’re closed on Saturday, December 25 and 31.

In addition to YouthBuild, this has also been hunting season for the Department of Education’s Talent Search Program. The Talent Search deadline is December 28, as I pointed out in Talent Search RFP Finally Published — But What A Stupid Deadline. If you were trying to avoid working on Christmas weekend and hoped to upload on Friday (as one of our clients tried to) but ran into a problem, Grants.gov would likely be closed just when you needed them. This would mean trying to contact them on a Sunday (good luck finding a live person on a holiday weekend) or waiting until Monday. Since Grants.gov gives itself 48 hours after the submission button is pushed to send a series of confirming emails, one can see the disaster potential. I expect many Talent Search application submissions are going to get screwed up. Because of this possible perfect storm we finished our work on Talent Search proposals last week. If anyone out there in blog-reader land ran into this problem with Talent Search, leave a comment.

Before you think I’m picking on Grants.gov, here’s another tale from the darkside of electronic grant writing portals. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) mostly disdains Grants.gov for a little gem called (warning .pdf alert) Electronic Handbooks (EHBs). Leaving aside the fact that the EHB system is intertwined with Grants.gov (which is too complicated a story for this post, but another example of unnecessary complexity in the grant submission process), EHBs is also notorious for submission problems. In addition to YouthBuild and Talent Search, this has also been hunting season for HRSA’s New Access Points (NAP) Program, which had a Grants.gov deadline of November 17 and EHBs deadline of December 15 (don’t ask). We received the following email from one our NAP clients on December 21:

I don’t know if I told you or not, but I did push the button on the NAP before the deadline and was successful in getting the application through to HRSA. I got an email last night from HRSA extending the deadline to December 23rd, this Thursday. Due to the high request for waivers for getting the application in, they decided to extend the deadline. Apparently, HRSA servers couldn’t handle the massive NAP applications that were trying to get in by the deadline of the 15th.

HRSA’s servers couldn’t handle the “massive NAP applications” and went biddle-up, like our golden retriever. I have a feeling Google could have easily handled these uploads, which are hardly massive. Condolences to all of you NAP applicants out there who sweated blood to meet the December 15 deadline only to learn after the deadline passed that it had been extended by a week. Apparently, HRSA has a practical joke department.

With all due respect to hard working GS 11s at grants.gov and EHBs, who are toiling this holiday season over vats of simmering grant proposals, and to paraphrase B. Dylan, I’ve got those end of the year, Grants.gov don’t work so good Subterranean Homesick Blues again. At this point, “I’m on the pavement, thinking about the government.”


* When the Notorious D.O.G. was actually a puppy, she liked to roll over to show us her belly (“biddle”), so she could be scratched (“biddled”). She still goes biddle-up and likes to be biddled, but then again, who doesn’t?

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