Some Positive Changes in Federal Grant Grants.Gov Submission Requirements Emerge

Faithful readers know that I’ve been writing federal grant proposals since the last ice age.* For most of the last four decades, federal grant writing has changed little, other than in obvious tech-related ways—computers, online databases, quick and reliable digital literature/data searches, easy access to applicant background info and so on. I recently realized that incremental changes, glacial in speed though they may be, have begun to have a cumulative impact on the way in which proposals, and especially federal grant proposals, are prepared.

The biggest change in federal proposal preparation was the switch from hard copy to digital submissions, starting around 12 years ago. While at first there were a number of portals developed by various federal agencies, over the years most, but not all, have switched to Grants.Gov. For the first five or so years, Grants.Gov was incredibly badly coded, and the upload process was often uncertain and dicey. In recent years, the reliability of Grants.Gov has improved dramatically and the required attachments mercifully streamlined.

In the bad old days of paper submissions, federal agencies usually required a zoo of attachments, like target area maps, evaluator CVs, key staff resumes, job descriptions, organization charts, evidence of 501(c)3) status, bylaws, financial statements, letters of support, MOUs, and the dreaded logic model. The narratives themselves were long, like attention spans back in those days, with maximums sometimes reaching 50 single-spaced pages. It was not uncommon to end up with a 150-page grant application, which usually had be submitted with a “wet-signed” original and up to ten copies. Sometimes the FedEx boxes we shipped to HUD or the Department of Education weighed over ten pounds.

In the early days of Grants.Gov, these attachment requirements continued, making the upload process very complicated (try uploading a 10 megabyte financial statement attached to a Grants.Gov kit file for example) and sometimes impossible, as there might not be an attachment slot for a given required attachment. As time passed, federal RFPs began to strip away attachments or even require only a couple of consolidated attached files. This is much simpler and makes the grants.gov kit file preparation easier and significantly more reliable.

Most federal agencies have also reduced the maximum length of the narrative and settled on a double-spaced, single-sided page formatting convention. For example, Department of Labor proposals now usually have 20 double-spaced page maximums for narratives. Before you say “hallelujah,” however, keep in mind that the RFPs themselves have not gotten any shorter–an RFP could easily be 150 pages, with the questions to be answered in the 20-page narrative actually being many pages longer than the maximum allowed response. It is often harder to write a shorter narrative of, say, 20 pages, than 40 pages, because the writer faces the “building-a-ship-in-a-bottle” problem. Furthermore, despite severe page limitations, all of the headers/sub-headers must be included to enable reviewers to easily find your responses.

Other interesting RFP changes involve the objective and evaluation sections, which are sometimes combined and always intertwined. Until recently, most RFPs let the grant writer essentially make up the objectives. Now, however, many ED programs like Student Supportive Services and HRSA programs like New Access Points provide more or less fill-in-the-blank objectives. I’m fairly sure this trend is to facilitate “apples-to-apples” comparisons by reviewers, but whatever the reason, it makes it easier to stay within the page limit. While evaluation section requirements used to be astoundingly complex, these days, RFP evaluation instructions tend to be much more straightforward and linked to specified objectives.

Now for the bad news. The budget and budget narratives sections have changed little. Grants.Gov kit files still use a variation of the venerable SF-424A budget form, which is actually a summary of federal object cost categories. To create the 424A, any sane person would use an Excel template. The only people in the US who do not seem to grasp the concept of a spreadsheet are federal RFP writers. There is still no federal Excel SF-424A template provided, although we use versions that we’ve developed over the years.** A well-laid-out Excel line-item budget not only displays each line item within each cost category, but it can also double as the budget narrative. See further in “Seliger’s Quick Guide to Developing Federal Grant Budgets.”

The budget narrative instructions in almost all federal RFPs are written as if the response is to be done on a typewriter, circa 1975. The budget narrative is also often excluded from the narrative page limit, with no page limit on the budget narrative. Although we would never do this, we’ve seen proposals from our clients in which the budget narrative is longer than the program narrative. Don’t do this—unless you think the tail wagging the dog is a good approach to life.


* Forty-four years to be exact, but who’s counting?

** We always provide clients with a draft budget in a handy reusable Excel template—which is one good reason to hire us!

Don’t Trust What You Read in Grants.gov: Personnel Development To Improve Services and Results for Children With Disabilities

This week’s e-mail grant newsletter includes an RFP called “Personnel Development To Improve Services and Results for Children With Disabilities–Personnel Preparation in Special Education, Early Intervention, and Related Services.” Click the link and you’ll notice that there are nine grants available and $250,000 in “Estimated Total Program Funding;” those of us who can do simple math will think, “Gee, a little over $25,000 per grant: that’s not much money and consequently not a very interesting program.”*

But read the RFP itself and you’ll see there is actually $12,500,000 available, spread across 50 grants and four different sub-awards. The program suddenly got a lot more interesting and the maximum award amount is $250,000 per year, for up to five years. Now things have gotten really interesting. A lot of organizations that would pass on $25,000 now want to apply.

The topic of “don’t trust grants.gov” is becoming part of a continuing series, since these mistakes are shockingly common. If you see a program that looks appealing, always read the RFP. Not doing so could be a million-dollar mistake.


* Isaac is fond of quoting the Grandmaster Flash song, “White Lines,” which sits at an unusual intersection between rap and disco and contains the astute observation that “The money gets divided / The women get excited.” Note that the next couplet reminds us of the likely consequences: “Now I’m broke and it’s no joke / It’s hard as hell to fight it, don’t buy it!”

Without much money to be divided, no one gets excited.

Don’t Trust Grants.Gov, Which Makes a $200,000,000 Mistake: An Example from the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education (THCGME) Program

I’m preparing our weekly e-mail grant newsletter and see the Affordable Care Act – Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education (THCGME) Program, which, according to Grants.gov, has $20,250,000 available. Twenty million: that’s not bad but isn’t spectacular either. Good enough to include in the newsletter, especially since it appears that community health centers (CHCs) and organizations that partner with CHCs are good applicants.

Then I hunt down the RFP, which is located at an inconvenient, non-obvious spot.* The second page of the RFP says there is $230,000,000 available—about ten times as much as the Grants.gov listing. That’s a huge difference. So huge that I’m using bold, which we normally eschew because it’s primarily hacks who have to resort to typographical tricks to create impact. But in this case, the magnitude of the difference necessitates extreme measures.

If you see an RFP that looks interesting, always track down the source, even if the amount of money available or number of grants available doesn’t entice you. Don’t trust grants.gov. As with chatting up strangers in a bar, you never know what you’ll find when you look deeper.


* This is why subscribing to our newsletter is a good idea: I do this kind of tedious crap so you don’t have to.

Build an App for the Animals, but First the Feds should get Grants.gov to Work as well as Amazon

Grants.gov has undergone another re-design that, like its previous re-designs, makes it slightly more functional and slightly less functional. It’s more functional in the sense that new grant opportunities are conveniently listed on the front page. It’s less functional for two reasons: getting a firm, permanent URL is difficult, and the new design breaks every link anyone has ever made to any RFP listed in grants.gov.

For example, I wanted to post about a funny RFP: the Discover Wildlife Refuges Smartphone App. But I couldn’t right click and save the link from the front page, because of the bizarre JavaScript programming on Grants.gov itself. I clicked through through, but there was no link to the actual RFP within that page. So instead of writing the post about the humor of putting out an RFP for such a tiny, bizarre subject, I wrote this post instead. The joke is on me (and you), through the “Link to additional information” at Grants.gov, which says:

The application package for Funding Opportunity Number F13AS00375 and Owning Agency DOI-FWS has not been posted by the awarding agency for submission through Grants.gov. See the Full Funding Opportunity for application instructions.

Are you cracking up yet?

Anyway, not being able to access the RFP is like Amazon saying, “How do we make it hard to order?” Granted, a lot of funders do this, so it might be unfair to single out the feds.

The Aetna Foundation, for example, published an RFP on a website that’s incredibly hard to navigate—and then they hid the RFP behind a registration barrier. So nonprofits have to drill into the site to get to the RFP. Instead, Aetna could have posted a PDF of the RFP on the welcome screen, but where’s the fun in that? Aetna—coincidentally or not—is an insurance company. Why would they do this? They don’t want you to apply or, at best, they don’t want to make it easy for you to apply.

(Problems like the one with the Aetna RFP are a tiny part of the reason people hate insurance companies, which run their charitable and for-profit arms along similar lines.)

This issue probably wouldn’t be in the forefront of my mind if there were more hot RFPs on the street. Unfortunately, Washington’s traditional August slumber seems to have extended into September, perhaps because of the continuing Continuing Resolution (CR), which Isaac last wrote about on New Year’s Eve. These ongoing problems mean this week’s newsletter is thin.

We can’t send fat, happy newsletters without RFPs that are fat and happy too. We’re waiting on them, and we know that the feds can do better, from a social and human services perspective, than “Discover Wildlife Refuges Smartphone App.”

Grants.gov Dies Again: The Race to the Top-District (RTTT-D) Competition Eschews the Feds’s Main Grant Portal

Last year, Isaac noted this about the vaunted Race to the Top-District competition:

Perhaps the strangest aspect of this oddball RFP process were the submission requirements. For reasons obscured by the fog of government ineptitude, the Department of Education chose not to use its G5 system, which recently replaced their “eGrants” digital submission portal, or our old pal, grants.gov.

Instead, we were suddenly back in 1997, with a requirement for an original and two hard copies, along with the proposal files on a CD! I guess the Department of Education has not read the digital memo about saving paper. One proposal we completed was 270 pages, with appendices. Another was 170 pages.

This year, page 5 of the RFP (as paginated at the footer; as paginated by Word, it’s page 6) says:

Applications for grants under this competition must be submitted in electronic format on a CD or DVD, with CD-ROM or DVD-ROM preferred, by mail or hand delivery. The Department strongly recommends the use of overnight mail.

We’ve had Grants.gov for about a decade. Every time we hear about government interest in technology and transparency and environmentalism, we think about putting a plastic disk in a FedEx envelop and launching it by truck/jet/truck to the Department of Education, where it is printed.

A lot of carbon emissions and folderol could be eliminated by a Grants.gov upload. The Department of Education also warns that, if they can’t open the files on your CD and print your application, they’ll simply throw it out.

Last year, by the way, it took us—people who do this all the time—hours to figure out how to create a technically correct submission package. We’ve learned, through blood and tears, the challenges of Grants.gov. Now we’ve got yet another weird system, courtesy of Arne Duncan’s bureaucratic brain trust, to slay.

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?

Google Faster than Grants.Gov — Finding the Capital Fund Education and Training Community Facilities Program and the FY 2011 Recovery Implementation Fund

Here's what real search looks likeWhile researching this week’s e-mail Grant Alert newsletter, I needed to find out more about the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) FY 2011 Recovery Implementation Fund. I searched for it on Grants.gov, which kept hanging instead of returning information.

But there’s a way around this: you can restrict Google searches to a single domain. If you want to search for a term, just type in the search term followed by site:http://grants.gov, or whatever site you need. So I tried “Recovery Implementation Fund site:grants.gov,” which immediately found the funding announcement.

If whoever is running Grants.gov had half a brain, they’d use a Google custom search (or one from Bing, Yahoo, or the other major search engine) instead of whatever lousy in-house search tool they’re using. But this presupposes that the brain trust at Grants.gov would care. They don’t because they publish RFPs but don’t respond to RFPs, so why would they care about those of us who are looking for RFPs? Customer service doesn’t matter if customers don’t matter.

The same thing happened with the the Capital Fund Education and Training Community Facilities Program, and Google again came to the rescue. If you’re struggling with a Grants.gov search—or a search of any janky site—use this technique to get around it. It’s also helpful at local or state government sites that contain useful data that you can’t easily otherwise find; Google is often smarter than the designers of such government websites.

Grants.gov and the GAO, Volunteer Broadband Reviewers for BTOP and BIP, Job Retraining, Grant Writers, and More

* More news on Grants.gov and the Government Accountability Office: Grants.gov Has Systemic Weaknesses That Require Attention. Glad someone in Washington is finally paying attention; Stanley J. Czerwinski is the contact person, so I sent him an e-mail pointing out our earlier posts on the subject, but he hasn’t responded.

Part of the report’s introductory sentence is particularly amusing: “Grants.gov has made it easier for applicants to find grant opportunities and grantors to process applications faster, applicants continue to describe difficulties registering with and using Grants.gov, which sometimes result in late submissions.” It’s true, but I’d note regarding the first part that while it’s easier to find grant opportunities, it’s still often not easy; for example, searching using Google’s restricted site feature is often faster and better than using Grants.gov’s built-in search function.

* Speaking of which, I like this headline: Contract to Upgrade Recovery.gov Stimulates Criticism.

* William Easterly explains Sachs Ironies: Why Critics are Better for Foreign Aid than Apologists:

Official foreign aid agencies delivering aid to Africa are used to operating with nobody holding them accountable for aid dollars actually reaching poor people. Now that establishment is running scared with the emergence of independent African voices critical of aid, such as that of Dambisa Moyo.

* The Dept. of Commerce and USDA must be really desperate if they’re requesting volunteers to review applications. We’re writing a Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP) and a Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) application, which makes this announcement salient to us.

* The Services for Victims of Human Trafficking program (warning: .pdf) has an unusual deadline feature: it gives 7/13/2009 as the deadline for “Online Registration,” and 7/16/09 for the application itself. But smart applicants should move both those back by at least two days to avoid the inevitable rush.

* Now here’s a great idea for a government requirement: New bill wants fiber conduit built into every road project:

The bill would require new federal road projects to include plastic conduits buried along the side of the roadway, and enough of them to “accommodate multiple broadband providers.” Conduits must meet industry best practices for size and depth, and road builders must include hand holes and manholes along the route to gain access to the conduit. Each conduit will also include a pull tape for fishing new fiber through the line.

Most of the cost to deploy new fiber is the digging and repaving work, so putting in conduit when the ground is already torn up has a certain logic to it. It’s a relatively cheap idea, but one that Eshoo hopes will help US broadband.

Given the lousy shape of U.S. broadband deployment, which Ars Technica has covered in depth, that help would be much appreciated.

* Job Retraining May Fall Short of High Hopes, says the New York Times. This is the kind of article you would never cite in a job training proposal, unless it’s to knock it down, in which case you shouldn’t cite it in the first place. Nonetheless, those of you running job training programs ought to read it.

* Uber-geek publisher and all star Tim O’Reilly (I own a few of his technical books) on The Benefits of a Classical Education.

* Ars Technica reports that GE is throwing its weight behind smart grids. That’s probably good news for Smart Grid Investment Grant Program (SGIG) applicants.

* Ed Glaeser encourages us to put trains where the people are. That this isn’t self-evident is indicative of federal involvement.

* I hadn’t realized it till now, but two years ago the Wall Street Journal published “A Passion for the Keys: Particular About What You Type On? Relax — You’re Not Alone” regarding the fanaticism certain people feel for their keyboards. As writing a review of the Model M-inspired Unicomp Customizer taught me, I am very much note alone. Anyone who spends a lot of time typing should read both articles; even better, they might like this review of the Kinesis Advantage ergonomic keyboard.

* According to “Tax Breaks Under the Microscope” in Slate, nonprofit hospitals are much like their regular counterparts:

But research shows that nonprofit hospitals behave no differently from for-profit ones. And in some cases, nonprofits have been caught mistreating the poor for the sake of financial gains. One example: A nonprofit academic hospital in Connecticut aggressively pursued “deadbeat” elderly patients by placing liens on their homes. More recently, several nonprofit Chicago hospitals were reportedly transferring uninsured patients to the county emergency room.

* State governments are behaving with even less foresight than usual; according to a Salon post quoting the San Jose Mercury News, “In 1980, 17 percent of the state budget went to higher education. By 2007, that had fallen to 10 percent — the same as prisons and parole.” And 2007 predated the current crisis, showing that the trend away from higher education funding is accelerating.

* In one of many bizarre twists surrounding stimulus funding, California’s El Dorado County has rejected $1.6 million in stimulus funding:

The Board of Supervisors last week twice rejected what staff members described as no-strings-attached funding.

“It’s as close to a no-brainer as I’ve ever seen come before this board,” Richard Meagher of the Affordable Housing Coalition of El Dorado said of a grant application that could have put local contractors to work rehabilitating foreclosed houses and made the dwellings available to moderate and low-income homebuyers.

But Supervisor Jack Sweeney characterized himself as a “free-market person” and argued that many current economic ills are a result of government’s intrusion into society.

This seems bizarre even by the standards of local government. I’d bet that Sacramento Bee reporter Cathy Locke either knows something she couldn’t write about or that there’s otherwise something deeper beneath this story.

* Fascinating: Japan and Korea’s hidden protectionist measures prevented U.S. companies from competing in their home markets, and the English-language press largely ignored the story. Compare this to the story told in David Halberstam’s The Reckoning.

* Gas and the suburbs.

* New York remains rich in the ultimate resource: human capital. But the high cost of housing and high taxation levels remain threats. This is by one of my favorite economists, Edward Glaeser.

* Self-esteem has gone up in the United States; achievement has not.

* If The Onion wrote stories about grant titles, I wouldn’t know whether to believe Grants to Manufacturers of Certain Worsted Wool Fabrics is a real program or something dreamt up by satire writers.

* More porn means less rape? Maybe, and the writer cites some experiments that exploit natural variations, a lá Freakonomics, to get there. Expect to hear more on this subject in the coming years.

* I found Developing And Writing Grant Proposals while searching the other day, and love the sometimes-comical advice they give. It starts in the second paragraph, which says “Individuals without prior grant proposal writing experience may find it useful to attend a grantsmanship workshop,” a topic Isaac has dealt with, as have I.

* Megan McArdle writes about When Blogs Were Young. Compare that to my post, “You’re Not Going to be a Professional Blogger, Regardless of What the Wall Street Journal Tells You,” which is by far the most visited of any we’ve published.

Late May Links: Stimulus and American Recovery and Relief Act (ARRA) Madness, Free Money Wannabes, Economic Recovery, Grants.gov and the Government Accountability Office (GAO), and More

* The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report stating that “Consistent Policies [Are] Needed to Ensure Equal Consideration of Grant Applications.” No? Really? It goes on:

[A]pplicants lack a centralized source of information on how and when to use [Grants.gov] alternatives, rendering them less effective than they otherwise might be in reducing the strain on a system already suffering from seriously degraded performance. Moreover, inconsistent agency policies for grant closing times, what constitutes a timely application, when and whether applicants are notified of the status of their applications, and the basis on which applicants can appeal a late application create confusion and uncertainty for applicants […]

The primary question I have is, “How does this differ from business-as-usual?”

(Hat tip to the WSJ’s Washington Wire Blog, where I also get a shout-out. See also Isaac’s quote in “Economic-Stimulus Cash Is Moving Slowly“)

* Texas released the first stimulus bill pass-through RFP we’ve seen in the form of the Target Tech in Texas (T3) Collaborative Grant. This is an example of the long delays between allocation and implementation that Isaac wrote about in Stimulus Bill Passes: Time for Fast and Furious Grant Writing. If you’ve seen other stimulus bill pass-through funds in genuine RFP form, let us know!

* If you’re wondering why California’s legislature and bureaucracy is so dysfunctional, the Economist has some answers in “The ungovernable state.” It probably understates the importance of Prop 13 but still offers a better overview of the situation than most of the reporting we’ve seen so far. This story explains Schwarzenegger Puts Legacy on the Line With Budget Vote better than the Schwarzenegger story itself, which has this money quote: “For Mr. Schwarzenegger, a defeat would mark a repeat of the hard lesson learned by many of his predecessors: California is essentially ungovernable, especially during an economic crisis.”

* A page one Wall Street Article called “Crazy-Quilt Jobless Programs Help Some More Than Others” notes some of the bizarre disparities that arise in jobless programs; apparently, if a Department of Labor office decides that you’ve been laid off because you’re one of the “manufacturing and farm workers who lose jobs due to imports or production shifts out of the country,” you get two years of extra assistance.

Applications are already overwhelming the Labor Department, where just three “certifying officers” sign off on trade-adjustment petitions. In 2007, the most recent year tracked, the trio ruled on 2,222 petitions, approving 1,449. (The Agriculture Department signs off on a smaller number of TAA benefits for fishermen and farmers.) Hundreds are currently pending, including from Georgia-Pacific Corp., Mercedes-Benz, Bobcat Co. and Dell.

“We are drowning,” says Elliott Kushner, a certifying officer who has been inspecting TAA applications for 30 years.

* The risk of Federal debt is a wildly under-appreciated problem that might very rapidly and unpleasantly become extraordinarily appreciated. Consider yourself warned.

* Under the department of “Who knew?”: Tax information for Parents of Kidnapped Children.

* Get your free money! (or not): Slate asks, What’s the deal with those stimulus scams that are all over the Internet? and answers its own question in the headline: they’re scams. Take notice, those of you searching for free grant samples and the like.

* Along similar lines, someone found us by searching for “grants that are actually free.” Perhaps the Costco Samples post linked to above will encourage them to give up.

* I keep being tempted by the Amazon Kindle, despite my many posts on the Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) and other problems with the device. Then I see a post like “Amazon has banned my account – my Kindle is now a (partial) brick” and all those bad feelings return. The poster in question apparently returned too many items to Amazon, causing them to suspend his account and causing his Kindle to stop working.

* Slate reports that efforts are underway to change California state law that effectively prohibits firing bad teachers. The full article is at the L.A. Times: “Firing tenured teachers can be a costly and tortuous task.”

* The New York Times notices that J-Schools are Playing Catchup because of changes in journalism. Strangely enough, the Times seems to imply that journalism might become more like something akin to Grant Writing Confidential: people who find niches and then write the hell out of their subject.

* Wall Street Journal reporter Louise Radnofsky reports that “States Can Use Stimulus Money to Track Their Stimulus Spending.” From our perspective, the most interesting sentence is this one: “Many cash-strapped states had worried that without money upfront, they couldn’t set up offices to coordinate stimulus spending or hire independent auditors” because it implies that states still aren’t spending the money they’ve been passed by Congress, which goes back to the numerous posts we’ve written on the subject of how stimulus funds will be spent and in what sort of timeframe.

* On the value of a liberal arts education:

The great value of a liberal arts education is that it prepares you to be relatively happy even if you find yourself working in a corrugated cardboard factory. Partly because books are cheap, and cultivating the ability to take great pleasure in a well-crafted novel lowers you hedonic costs down the road. But more broadly because the liberal arts might be descibed as a technology for extracting and constructing meaning from the world. If you know your Hamlet, you know that’s all the difference between a prisoner and a king of infinite space.

(Those of you are loyal GWC readers might tie this into One of the Open Secrets of Grant Writing and Grant Writers: Reading.)

* The economic downturn is hitting Mongolia with zud:

Falling demand for cashmere among recession-hit shoppers in the West is cutting into earnings among nomadic herders in Mongolia, whose goats produce the soft fiber used in high-end sweaters, scarves and coats. The result: herder loan defaults.

Mongolians are calling the current situation a financial zud, invoking a local term for unusually harsh winters that devastate herds. After Mr. Sodnomdarjaa couldn’t pay back a $2,700 loan, he says bank officials pressed him to sell his livestock — which he used as collateral. The bank says he misrepresented the number of animals he owned, which he denies. Now a judge has ordered the seizure of Mr. Sodnomdarjaa’s family home — a tent — if he doesn’t come up with the rest of the money soon.

* Speaking of economic downturns, Derek Thompson’s “Can the Oil Shock Alone Explain the Financial Crisis?” is a fascinating post that has relatively little to do with grant writing:

Hamilton went back to 2003, when crude oil was around $30 a gallon and forecast what an oil shock like the one we experienced in 2007-08 (when oil peaked around $140) would do to GDP. He graphed the result through the end of 2008 and, lo and behold, it was damn close to actual GDP. As though there were no such thing as a collaterized debt obgligation in the first place! […]

Perhaps you’ll join me in thinking: Huh? Are we really to believe that this whole thing was caused by oil shocks? I mean, it certainly makes you appreciate the mess Detroit is in, but really. How anti-climactic. It makes this crisis seem so … 1970s.

* Txting and sex ed at the New York Times.

* Mark Cuban writes “A Note to Newspapers:”

I’ve always been a believer that Amazon has excelled not just because they have great customer service and decent prices, but because they have those, PLUS they have my credit card on file. It’s easier to buy from Amazon than it is to go to the store.

* Megan McArdle writes “Economy Ends; Women and Minorities Affected Most.”

* Edward Glaeser, who is perhaps my favorite economist, asks why, if the world is so flat, “Has Globalization Led to Bigger Cities?” His answer:

Globalization and technological change have increased the returns to being smart; human beings are a social species that get smart by hanging around smart people. A programmer could work in the foothills of the Himalayas, but that programmer wouldn’t learn much. If she came to Bangalore, then she would figure out what skills were more valuable, and what firms were growing, and which venture capitalists were open to new ideas in her field…

Knowledge moves more quickly at close quarters, and as a result, cities are often the gateways between continents and civilizations.

This, incidentally, is also why I don’t expect schools to go digital, or universities as they exist to shrivel and die as commentators have implied. If knowledge moves more quickly, one can also expect the relative value of places like universities to grow.

And pay special attention to this bit:

Abundant land hides many sins, including the failures of government. But when people crowd into cities, the costs of governmental failure become painful and obvious.

* I used the delightful word “bogosity” in a recent post, and now Language Log has a whole lot more on that term.

* Although we don’t often cover international grant-related issues, Please Stop Building Schools in Iraq and Afghanistan stands out as an example of the genre:

Here’s a general rule that applies to basically every development program in every poor country in the world, including Iraq and Afghanistan: want to do something nice and useful for these people? Don’t build them a school. Believe it or not, people in poor countries actually have buildings. And they are capable of building more of them. They know how to do it, and it usually, for fairly simple economic reasons, does not cost more in any country to build a building than local people can afford. You know what they don’t know how to do? Teach science and math and English. And often, employing a trained teacher does cost more than they can afford in a small village, because such people are scarce, and it’s hard to spare extra labor in subsistence economies. If you want to spend your money on education, don’t build them a school; pay to train some teachers, and then pay the teachers’ salaries.

From the Department of “No Kidding:” Grants.gov Warns of Outages at High Service Period

Those of you who are working feverishly to finish Federal proposals by Monday should stop surfing the Internet and get back to your assignment, because Grants.gov has finally figured out (or admitted) what Seliger + Associates did five years ago. According to the post “High Submission Volume” from the Grants.gov blog, which is written with a voice somewhere between “press release” and “technical bulletin,”

There are 29 Grant Opportunities closing on Monday, April 27, 2009, including a large Recovery Act opportunity for NIH that is expected to receive an unprecedented number of applications. The submissions for these opportunities have already begun and will continue to grow as we move towards April 27.

(emphasis added).

Imagine Amazon announcing that you can’t buy books a week before Christmas, or Stubhub saying that you should wait until after the Superbowl to look for tickets and telling you to use their services when no one else is. Whoever is running Grants.gov probably don’t see the irony of announcing instability when the largest number of people are likely to use the system and that you can depend on the system when using it isn’t important. In his first post about Grants.gov, Isaac wrote:

[T]he real world deadline for Grants.gov submissions is actually two days in advance of the published deadline, since, unless there is a system meltdown, the funding agency is unlikely to give you any slack. So, if the upload gets screwed up, you’re generally screwed as well.

Now even the Grants.gov administrators have effectively acknowledged this. I wonder if RFP writers will eventually start including this caveat. Regardless, I’ll reiterate what I said in the first paragraph: if you’re working against a Monday deadline, stop shirking your duties and get that proposal uploaded!

EDIT: More entertaining news appeared this weekend. Grants.gov is supposed to be the central repository for all grant-related aspects of the federal government. But we’ve now learned that “[… S]elect programs may choose to use alternate systems to process grant applications during this heightened period of demand.” Remember: everything goes through Grants.gov. Unless it doesn’t.

In addition, Grants.gov must be getting the Santa Claus calls we’ve been getting, which Isaac discussed at the link, because the front page now says that “Grants.gov does not provide personal financial assistance. To learn where you may find personal help, check Government Benefits, Student Loans and Small Business Start-up Loans.”