Tag Archives: GAO

Late August Links: Unintended Consequences, Multitasking, Government, Stimulus Madness, and More

* Isaac predicted that YouthBuild will run a new competition rather than use earlier grants; it looks like other parts of the federal government have done the same in response to the Stimulus Bill, with the Teacher Quality Partnership Grants Program Recovery Act (ARRA) coming for another round of action.

* Speaking of schools, Steven Brill’s The Rubber Room: The battle over New York City’s worst teachers should be required for anyone interested in schools, teachers, charter schools, or grants related to education; it also describes one of many reasons I’m not a teacher.

* Telecom companies were rushing to meet the Aug. 14 BIP and BTOP deadlines, according to Business Week. This means they didn’t plan ahead: Seliger + Associates was not rushing to meet those deadlines for our clients.

* Speaking of fiber, Ars Technica says rural telcos are rolling out fiber to the home (ftth) while their urban counterparts languish with cable and DSL.

* I sent an e-mail to GAO report author Stanley Czerwinski on the subject of Grants.gov and our many writings about it over the past three years, figuring that he might be interested in people who actually use Grants.gov regularly and therefore probably know more about its flaws than anyone else. A guy named David Fox, who is a “Senior Analyst, Strategic Issues,” wrote back to say:

Thank you for contacting us about our recent report on Grants.gov. My director, Stanley Czerwinski, asked that I respond to your inquiry. We appreciate that you took the time to comment on our report and make us aware of your blog. As you may already know, we have issued several reports on Grants.gov and e-Government over the last few years. We will add your name and contact information to our distribution system so that you receive notice of any future work on Grants.gov.

Thank you again for your interest in our work.

This is an improvement over the e-mail I got from Tom Harrington of FEMA regarding the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program, but in terms of form it still reminds me of Roger Shuy’s book, Bureaucratic Language in Government and Business.

* More from the busy department of unintended consequences: “The New Book Banning: Children’s books burn, courtesy of the federal government.” This is because the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA) stops the selling of used children’s good produced before 1985, when lead was banned, unless those products conform to the post-1985 standards. Although lead in children’s books hasn’t been shown to be harmful, the books don’t pass muster anyway.

I am generally not an organized political person who writes angry letters to Congresspersons and such, but this might be worth an exception. Furthermore, see this post regulatory processes at their worst regarding the legislation in question. It’s hard not to admire Mattel’s Machiavellian expertise even as one abhors their ethics or lack thereof.

(Hat tip to Megan McArdle.)

* William Easterly on How it helps to teach NGOs as selfish. One might replace “NGOs” with “nonprofits” and make the same argument.

* No one actually multitasks. I agree.

* The Wall Street Journal warns of unintentional consequences from the Treasury Department’s efforts to regulate financial institutions:

Here’s a stumper: In the Treasury financial reform proposal, who comes in for more regulatory retooling: Fannie Mae, or your average 14-man venture capital shop? If you said venture capital, you understand why one of America’s greatest competitive advantages is now at risk in Washington.

(Compare this to Paul Graham’s comment in The Venture Capital Squeeze, when he says that venture capitalists should “lobby to get Sarbanes-Oxley loosened. This law was created to prevent future Enrons, not to destroy the IPO market. Since the IPO market was practically dead when it passed, few saw what bad effects it would have. But now that technology has recovered from the last bust, we can see clearly what a bottleneck Sarbanes-Oxley has become.”)

* The criminalization of poverty.

* Read Lev Grossman’s novel The Magicians, which is excellent, as further described at the link.

* On criminals and signaling.

* Needle exchanges are effective—and the politics of “ick.”

* It was once a rule of demography that people have fewer children as their countries get richer. That rule no longer holds true.

* Cash for Clunkers is a clunker, says CNN commentator and painfully bad headline.

* Can Jazz Be Saved? The audience for America’s great art form is withering away.

* Stimulus Slow to Flow to Infrastructure, says the Wall Street Journal. The subhead could also say, “Duh.”

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.