Tag Archives: Stimulus

August Grant Writing Links: Abstinence and Comprehensive Sex Education, the Stimulus Bill, Charter Schools, Entitlements, and More

* Parents Just Don’t Understand: A sociologist says American moms and dads are in denial about their kids’ sexual lives. See also: Why Have Teen Pregnancy Rates Dropped? A new study shows how to reduce them even more. Both could fit in your next Competitive Abstinence Education Grant Program proposal. Notice especially this, from the first link: “You argue that both abstinence-only and comprehensive sex ed camps treat teenage sexuality in a similar way. How so?” Sinikka Elliott responds:

One side is saying, ”Well, they need to abstain. That’s a surefire way that they’re gonna be safe,” and the other side is saying, “They’re not gonna abstain and so they need contraceptive information.” They were basing their argument on the same things: the teen pregnancy rates, the STI rates.

* Along similar lines, it’s useful to remember that contemporary problems have historical roots: in The Origins of Sex: A History of the First Sexual Revolution, Faramerz Dabhoiwala says that “by 1650 only about 1 per cent of all births were illegitimate. Thereafter it increased steadily, to unprecedented levels. By 1800, about a quarter of all women who gave birth for the first time were unmarried.” And: “by 1800, almost 40 per cent of women who did marry were also already pregnant.” In other words, many challenges you’re dealing with today, as a nonprofit or public agency services provider, go back at least a couple centuries.

* In the U.S., “Entitlements are squeezing out public investments. In 1962, spending on investments was two and a half times that of entitlements. But today, as a result of this Great Inversion, entitlement spending is three times that of investments. And this trend will only accelerate in time as the Baby Boomers retire and their benefits grow faster than inflation and wages.”

* “President Obama’s stimulus has been an astonishing, and unrecognized, success, argues Michael Grunwald” in his book The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era.

* “Charter schools raise educational standards for vulnerable children.” If you’re working in a charter school, you should be thinking about the Charter Schools Program (CSP) Seven Grant Competitions, some of which are state pass-through funds and some of which charter schools can apply for directly.

* James Fallows: “The Certainty of More Shootings.” Also, on the subject of personal technology and the news, see ‘Denver Resident Here. Reddit, I’m Doing My Best to Update This.’ The real story here is the tragedy, but the way the news spread is also a sign of the times.

* Zoe Williams: No time for novels – should we ditch fiction in times of crisis? When our daily news is apocalyptic, it’s irresponsible to read made-up stories. It’s time to start reading the serious stuff instead. Fortunately, people have been castigating fiction for as long as there has been fiction in any meaningful sense of the word.

* University of Virginia President Teresa “Sullivan has an ambitious plan to retool introductory courses as ‘hybrids,’ replacing much of the human labor with technology and freeing professors to focus on higher-level classes. Her initiative would go further than most elite universities have dared in replacing human instructors with software.” Having both listened to my students talk about what intro-level courses are like at the University of Arizona and having experienced the distinctly not useful aspects of many of the intro-level courses at Clark University, I can’t see a huge problem with trying these ideas: at the moment, such courses appear to largely be a way of collecting tuition, rather than imparting real knowledge. Many of my students say intro math and science courses at the U of A are so bad that the students prefer taking them at community colleges, if possible, and the intro humanities courses are often “taught” in lecture halls with hundreds or more than a thousand students nominally taking them at once.

(Hat tip Marginal Revolution.)

* “The Frisson of Friction: An undergraduate tries a challenging introductory programming course.” I find this especially poignant, given what I do: “Last I checked, there are just over 100 users of my extension. This is far fewer than the number of people using the most popular extension (AdBlock, with 1,626,216 users at that point), but also far more than the number of people who usually read my papers (my TF, 1).”

* Where do sentences come from? My one-line answer: from other sentences.

* “China’s New Target: Batteries” tells the story of A123 Systems, which got a bunch of federal loan guarantees and grants before going belly-up.

* No matter what changes we make to healthcare, in rural America, simply getting to the doctor is a big problem. We often use real or imagined Appalachia similarities in proposals with rural target areas (free grant tip here).

* Scott Atlas on health care; he also discusses access to care, and especially to doctors, which is widely ignored in the political debates yet absolutely essential for CHC / Section 330 providers.

Why Did the City of Los Angeles Really Lose Out on Stimulus Money?

I find it grimly hilarious, in a Catch-22 way, the City of Los Angeles’ City Controller, Wendy Greuel, realized that a “lack of oversight” cost the City an estimated $125,000,000 in stimulus money because the City failed to pursue all the funding it was eligible to receive.

This isn’t a surprise to Seliger + Associates, as we’re on the pre-approved grant writing vendor list for the City and didn’t receive any calls or RFPs from the City inquiring if we had the capacity to prepare one or more grant applications, as we have in the past. And if we had, this is the daunting gantlet we would have faced before writing a single word in the grant proposal:

  • the City has separate pre-approved lists for almost every City department;
  • apparently none are in a database easily accessed by departments that need grant writing assistance;
  • just because you have been approved by one department of the City, does not mean that you will not have to prepare and submit, almost, if not exactly the same paperwork for each and every department you want to work for.

If you bill by the hour, you could go out of business just preparing paperwork.

Then, if you’re chosen to bid on the specific job, you have to again fill out the same/similar paperwork again to turn in with your bid documents.
These problems, combined with the incompetence or laziness cited in the article, are the real reason the City lost out on more than $125,000,000 in stimulus funds. The City hasn’t realized that every check has a cost.

Nonprofits, however, can learn something important from this: pursue every opportunity you can. Be nimble, like a small business, instead of sclerotic, like the City of Los Angeles.

Seliger + Associates writes a $2.5 million, funded Department of Energy (DOE) Smart Grid Investment Grant (SGIG) proposal

A $2.5 million Department of Energy Smart Grid Investment Grant (SGIG) proposal we wrote for an electric utility company was funded last week, and, while we write lots of funded proposals, this one was especially gratifying. Faithful readers will remember that last April I wrote No Experience, No Problem: Why Writing a Department of Energy (DOE) Proposal Is Not Hard For A Good Grant Writer; I wrote it because I was constantly explaining to callers who’d been overcome with Stimulus Bill Fever that Seliger + Associates can write almost any DOE proposal, even though we’d never written one and didn’t have any technical background in energy-related project concepts.

The SGIG program came along with $4 billion to enable electric utilities to add whiz bang features to their distribution systems. The enormous amount of money, along with the the media Stimulus Bill hype, produced a flood of callers. Most were inventors, start-up companies, quick-buck artists and dreamers, but among the assorted flotsam and jetsam were calls from three qualified SGIG applicants—electric utility companies.

All three had more or less the same reaction to my pitch: “Since you’re just a general purpose grant writing firm and don’t have electrical engineers on staff, what makes you think you can write a SGIG proposal?” My response became: read the above blog post and accept at face value my observation that, in almost 17 years of being in business, we’d never run across a topic we couldn’t write to, assuming we’re provided with technical content, fava beans* and a fine Chianti (the last two are a test to see if you’re paying attention: they actually come from Hannibal Lector discussing how to enjoy liver). Basically, I said the same thing I often tell potential clients: hiring us is a lot like Demi Moore in Ghost being advised by Whoopi Goldberg—if you want to see Patrick Swayze again, you’re going to have to believe. Similarly, the client has to suspend their own preconceptions, which are usually misconceptions, about grant writing, to believe we can write on any topic for any funder.

Two of the qualified SGIG callers did not “believe” and presumably kept searching in the forest for the perfect, but ephemeral, grant writing “unicorn” I described in my original post. One caller became our sole SGIG client for this funding round. The application process culminated in a finely crafted proposal that went in on the deadline day. Flash forward to this week, when I took a small break from toiling over a hot Los Angeles County Area Agency on Aging Supportive Services Program (SSP) proposal to check Cnn.com to see if space aliens had landed on the White House lawn or what have you. President Obama was off somewhere announcing the SGIG awards, so I immediately found the DOE press release to see which applications were funded and saw the proposal we wrote.** I also checked for the other two utility companies, which were not on the list. Perhaps they never found their unicorn, or the unicorn they found turned out be be just a pony with a party hat.

Score one for our general purpose grant writing approach. Still, the writing process for the SGIG was complicated by the fact our client, an electric utility, had never submitted a federal proposal but had lots of bright and talented staff and consultants, so we were endlessly explaining and defending the “Seliger method” for writing proposals. Fortunately for the client, who paid us on hourly basis, we could simply say, read blog post x, rather than forcing us to tediously explaining why we were doing what we were doing or not doing at $200/hour.

I would like to share more about the proposal, but I can’t because we signed a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). I think, however, that the proposal was funded because of a “national security” argument we developed that the client had not considered. Once again, to paraphrase what I wrote last May in another post on writing DOE and similar high-tech proposals, Professional Grant Writer at Work: Don’t Try This At Home, Seliger + Associates is tanned, fit, relaxed and ready. Now that a DOE proposal we wrote has been funded, we could always claim to be “experts,” but we’ll just keep on keepin’ on as general purpose grant writers to get our clients “tangled up in green.”


* I love to cook, and when Jake and his siblings were little kids, I got it in my head to make fresh fava beans a few times. This exhausting process involves shelling, blanching, and peeling before one gets around to the actual cooking. Like other tasty but enervating recipes I’ve tried over the years (e.g., mousaaka, chili rellenos, etc.), if you get in the mood to make fava beans, lie down until the feeling passes and take yourself to a fine Italian restaurant, like Angelini Osteria in West Hollywood or Vivace and its sister Vivace Pizzeria in Tucson.

** As is often the case, our client forgot to let us know that the SGIG proposal we wrote was funded, so I had to dig around to find out. I know the client knew because federal funding agencies always send an award letter to the applicant and almost always lets their congressperson know about the grant before the press release is sent out. This is why the applicant’s congressional district number is required on the SF424. I am used to clients forgetting who wrote their funded proposals and, as pros, we do not need “attaboys.”

There’s Something Happening Here, But You Don’t Know What It Is, Do You Mr. Jones?*

I felt like I was living Dylan’s Ballad of a Thin Man as I read the following news stories this week:

  • Thousands mob Detroit center in hopes of free cash. The City of Detroit has a $15 million Stimulus Bill grant to “prevent homelessness” and cluelessly announced that people could come to the Downtown Coho Convention Center to apply for a $3,000 housing assistance voucher. Something got lost in the translation and 35,000 folks showed up expecting to get a $3,000 check on the spot. At most, the City may eventually help up to 5,000 people with this program. Being a typical federal program, however, there’s a means test and lots of rules, so most of the would-be applicants have no hope of getting help. But the rumor on the street was that “Obama money” was there to be had and the stampede started, with the Detroit Police Gang Unit called out to restore order.

    Was any of this necessary? Of course not, but is an example of what I warned about last March in The Stimulus Bill Meets Santa Claus Meets American Idol in Virginia: At best it is disingenuous and, in this case, positively dangerous, to mislead the average Joe into thinking that they are somehow going to directly get a slice of the Stimulus Bill pie. The “official” unemployment rate in Detroit is 28%, which means the actual rate is probably about 40%. Seems more than a little cruel to wave a phantom $3,000 in front of thousands of desperate people, but I am sure the same pattern is unfolding all around the country (email me any examples you’ve come across, or leave a comment). The whole business reminds me of the Federal Free Cheese giveaways of the early 1980s recession, but at least then you got a five-pound block of Velveeta for your troubles. If I had written the City of Detroit proposal that resulted in the $15 million grant that spawned this fiasco, I would have included 5,000 blocks of cheese in the budget just for old times’ sake.

  • Holder, Duncan plan to fight Chicago teen violence: The senseless beating death of 16-year-old honor student Derrion Albert by other teens was captured on cell phone video, unlike the murders of 29 other school kids so far this year in Chicago. I guess the video component woke up Washington. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who was previously the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Superintendent for many years but apparently never noticed the violence in his schools, and Attorney General Eric Holder were dispatched to find out what’s happening in Chicago. But the meeting with city politicos, school officials and parents from Christian Fenger Academy High School (where Derrion was a student) was held at the Four Seasons Hotel in the Loop, not the High School! I have a feeling not too many of the parents had ever been to the Four Seasons.It seems that while Duncan and Holder are concerned, they are not concerned enough to actually set foot on the South Side. Incidentally, at the exact time the croissants were being passed around at the meeting and stern looks exchanged, a violent fight involving dozens of students broke out at Fenger Academy.

    So perhaps it was prudent to keep our Education Secretary and Attorney General out of harm’s way and in the Green Zone while visiting Chicago, like Vice President Biden does when he drops into Baghdad. Not surprisingly, Duncan and Holder have promised “$25 million in next year’s budget for community-based crime prevention programs, Holder said. Duncan said an emergency grant of about $500,000 would go to Fenger for counselors or other programs.”**I guess the message to school principals facing budget shortfalls across America is to make sure all student beatings/murders are videotaped and broadcast around the country. Since we’ve written many funded proposals for youth violence prevention, mentoring, etc. for clients on the South Side of Chicago and frequently churn the very depressing school data from CPS, I looked briefly at the 2008 Fenger Academy High School Report Card. Two percent of students meet or exceed state academic standards (this has actually gone down by 80% from 10% in 2006) and 0% (that’s right: zero) of students exceed the math, science or writing standards. Violence is clearly only one of the school’s many challenges. Statistics like this are what makes writing proposals involving Chicago Public Schools such a mixed pleasure: it’s easy to make a case for the proposal, but it’s hard to imagine the people behind the statistics.

  • New Hampshire prosecutor: Evidence does not support death penalty charge: Four teenagers decided to stab a woman and her daughter to death in what seems to be a random attack in rural New Hampshire, which is apparently not as bucolic as its seems. This incident recalls the Leopold and Loeb thrill killings of 1924 and the Columbine High School massacre of 1999. The four teen suspects apparently admitted the crime, saying more or less that they just wanted to kill somebody. I guess after school recreation opportunities in rural New Hampshire were not challenging enough for this quartet.
  • California’s Zigzag on Welfare Rules Worries Experts: To save $375 million, California has taken the workfare out of its CalWorks “welfare reform” program that replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). California no longer requires welfare recipients to attend training or get a job to get a check. Let’s party like its 1989!While the story is interesting on many levels, reporter Erik Eckholm doesn’t understand one very real impact of this starling change. The $375 million California is “saving” are the vouchers that would have been used by CalWorks participants to pay for participant training, along with child care while they are in training. Over the past ten years, an enormous infrastructure of mostly nonprofit training and child care providers has grown up around the country that are fed by these vouchers. Without the vouchers, these providers will not be able to continue to provide services and will have to lay off hundreds, if not thousands of child care and other workers, many of whom originally were CalWorks participants themselves. I guess they can re-apply for CalWorks, only this time they won’t have to work, squaring the circle.

Since I am not a coy tunesmith like Bob Dylan, I will plainly read the tea leaves about what the above stories mean for all of you Mr. Jones out there: a second wave of Stimulus Bill type grant opportunities is coming, although Congress is unlikely to bill the bill(s) as such. Instead, the effort will be couched in such proposalese as “safety net funding,” “community violence prevention” and the like. Unemployment is still rising, the Great Recession is more of a Depression in many of the communities for which we write proposals and teens go on violent rampages.

The Obama administration is already testing the waters—at the risk of overwhelming you with random news stories, see Obama Aides Act to Fix Safety Net. As is the case with most publicized social problems, the government response to crises is more grant programs. A case in point: I mentioned the Columbine Massacre previously. The federal response then was to ramp up funding for all kinds of youth programs, and in particular my personal favorite, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) Program. For years after Columbine, we wrote dozens of funded 21st CCLC, youth mentoring and similar proposals. Some were for agencies serving the neighborhood in which Chicago’s Fenger Academy is located.

In August 2008, when the economy began to crumble and long before the words “Stimulus Bill” had been penned by anyone, I held a staff meeting in which I told the Seliger + Associates team that a wave of new grant opportunities was coming. We advised our retainer clients and started blogging on the subject. The wave turned out to be a tsunami of grant availability unseen since the Ford and Carter administrations. Another wave is building. Smart nonprofits, cities, counties and school districts will rub on their Mr. Zog’s Sex Wax and start paddling to meet the wave. There are going to be enormous opportunities to fund all kinds of human services, community development and economic development programs in the next year or two, just as there has been since last winter.

As faithful readers will know, we’ve been furiously writing proposals. In the past week, we’ve learned that three disparate proposals we wrote recently have been funded: $1,500,000 for a California city under the HUD Lead-Based Paint Hazard Control Program, $500,000 for an Ohio nonprofit under the Department of the Treasury Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Program, and $300,000 for a Wisconsin nonprofit under the HUD Rural Housing and Economic Development (RHED) Program. This is partially a consequence of skill, but also one of awareness: when the waves are good, it’s time to surf.

This remains the best time in 30 years to seek grant funds and, and if my finely tuned grant antenna is working as it has for 38 years, it’s only going to get better in the coming months. Keep in mind that the new federal fiscal year started October 1, appropriation bills are emerging from Congress, and all representatives and many senators have to gear up their election campaigns with the prospect of double digit unemployment, weak economic growth and both urban and rural youth violence exploding across America. Bad news, as illustrated above, is good news in the wonderful world of grants, so don’t wait for the actual grant tsunami to crash over your head. Instead, make sure your organization takes full advantage of this reality now by researching and applying for grants.


* The perhaps apocryphal backstory of this biting song is that Dylan may or may not have written it after being interviewed by a particularly clueless Time Magazine reporter for Dylan’s wonderfully obtuse 1965 Time Magazine interview.

** I am delighted to read about a new $25 million community violence prevention grant program. Here’s a small sample of the dozens of existing federal grant programs that aim to do more or less the same thing (pssst—keep these a secret as we don’t Secretary Duncan or Attorney General Holder to know about them):

  • 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) Program
  • Juvenile Mentoring (JUMP) Program
  • Title V Delinquency Prevention Program
  • Recovery Act Edward Byrne Memorial Competitive Grant Program
  • TRIO Student Support Services (SSS) Program
  • I could go on. Nonetheless, I’m all in favor of new grant programs, so all I can say to Duncan and Holder is rock on!

    Graffiti, Windmills, CAP Agencies, and an Answer to the Question As to Whether This is 1975 or 1965

    After six months of Stimulus Bill madness, I felt like Bob Dylan in Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues: “I do believe I’ve had enough.” So my wife and I decamped for two weeks in Paris and Berlin, leaving Jake with a whip and a chair to deal with hordes of would-be grant applicants wanting “some of that Obama money,” as one recent caller described it.

    As usual, I can’t travel anywhere without contemplating the wonderful world of grant writing. Between fabulous meals and wonderful wine in Paris and Berlin, one fact stood out: the overwhelming amount of graffiti covering many public spaces. I am not a fan of graffiti, so my view is biased, but even someone who appreciates this “art form” would likely be taken aback by the shear volume. The complexity and layers of the graffiti tell me that public officials have given up trying to get rid of it. In contrast, most American cities fight a constant battle against graffiti, which in many cases seems to have worked.

    The most famous example was then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s application of the “broken window” theory of fighting urban decay in the 1990s. Overall, I think such efforts have been reasonably successful in most American cities I visit, but as Borat and Jon Stewart would both say, not so much in France and Germany. This is too bad because anti-graffiti programs are great for nonprofits, which can approach the problem at both ends of the spectrum by hiring the people who put up the graffiti at night to paint it out during the daytime, while adding a soupçon of art instruction to spice up the grant application to pay for this cycle. The Arizona Star just reported on such a program trying to get going in Tucson (“Red Tape Stalls Graffiti Cleanup“). The County Court system wants to use juvenile offenders to do the clean-up, and I’m certain many of the young people working in the project are also pretty handy with a spray paint can. In the US, anti-graffiti programs are typically funded by local government agencies, such as this Tucson example, or business groups.

    In Europe, we took several day trips from Paris on the TGV. One could see the beautiful French land zipping by at 150 MPH and imagine a knight or two partially hidden in a copse of chestnut trees. The countryside looked timeless.* In contrast, as soon as we entered Germany, the bucolic views were ruined by tons of 400 foot tall wind turbines on every hill. It seems the French value their views by generating electricity with nuclear power plants, while the Germans have decided to solve their electricity needs with wind turbines.

    Leaving aside the political aspects of nuclear versus wind power, since both alleviate the global warming problem, and to paraphrase Arnold Schwarzenegger in End of Days who said, “Between your faith and my Glock nine millimeter, I’ll take the Glock”—between nuclear power and windmills, I’ll take the nukes. I am not alone in my dislike of giant windmills, as Jeffrey Ball recently wrote in in Renewable Energy, Meet the New Nimbys for the Wall Street Journal. Many people aren’t too keen on sacrificing beautiful vistas on the altar of renewable energy. We are working on a couple of solar and wind projects, which, even if they are funded, might get tripped up by a rowdy band of nimbys.

    My final observation about our Europe ’09 tour is that I saw almost no evidence of nonprofits. This flummoxed me until I realized that this is likely because France and Germany are social democracies with extensive social safety nets. In Europe, most human services are provided by an army of social workers employed directly by the government, instead of through nonprofits, as is done in the US. I may be wrong, but I believe the US system of funding nonprofits through grants to conduct human services is an accident of history resulting from the frenetic pace of deploying War on Poverty programs in 1965, when the Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO) was set up to find a way to quickly get the federal funds to local communities. OEO was the brainchild of Sargent Shriver, special counselor to LBJ, first OEO Director, father of Governor Schwarzenegger’s wife Maria, and Senator McGovern’s running mate in 1972. Shriver decided the fastest and best way to alleviate poverty was to contract with local nonprofits, rather than using the New Deal model of having the government run local programs directly.

    In an effort to keep poor folks in the loop and in keeping with the concept of maximum feasible participation of the poor contained in the enabling Equal Opportunity Act that authorized the War on Poverty, Shriver hit on the idea of forming legions of new nonprofits, called community action programs, usually referred to as “CAP agencies.” About 900 of the CAPs survive around the county, running Head Start, Weatherization and a plethora of other programs. We often work for CAP agencies. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, garden variety nonprofits got hip to applying for government grants and the system as we know it developed. When services are provided directly by government agencies, nonprofits are back to surviving on donations and selling bratwurst as Jake described in Bratwurst and Grant Project Sustainability: A Beautiful Dream Wrapped in a Bun, which isn’t nearly as lucrative as government grants.

    This brings me back around to a question I posed last March in The Office of Community Services Rides the Stimulus Wave with Funding for Community Economic Development Projects, But Is It 1965 or 1975 Again?

    While thinking about what I had seen in Europe during the long flight back, I have concluded that it is more like 1965 because the feds are in a state of hysteria about trying to shovel Stimulus Bill money out the door, very similar to Shriver’s OEO in 1965, while nonprofits, alternative energy companies and your Aunt Martha are frantic to get a piece of the stimulus pie. In the background looms never-ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, providing a specter of Vietnam. I am just old enough to remember President Johnson failing in his attempt to balance a progressive domestic agenda with foreign commitments, or, as it was called then, the “guns and butter” dilemma (I’m hardly the only person to notice: the New York Times recently asked “Could Afghanistan Become Obama’s Vietnam?“) Since this ended badly for Johnson, my advice to nonprofits is to go after the butter while it’s on the table. This really is the best of times for grant applicants, so let’s all party like its 1965.


    * The best take on Americans visiting Europe remains Mark Twain’s wonderful The Innocents Abroad, Or, the New Pilgrims’ Progress. Not a great deal has changed in 150 years.

    ** In the Small World Department, and as I was thinking about writing this post last week, the Executive Director of a nonprofit in Kentucky called for a quote on writing a proposal for the CDC HIV Prevention Projects for Community-Based Organizations program. When she told me she was in Eastern Kentucky, I asked her if the Job Corps Center in Breckenridge was still operating and it turns out it is, much to my delight.

    In early summer 1965, my older brother got a job right of college as a Residential Counselor at something called a Job Corps Center, which was being set up in a WWII-era army camp by something called the “OEO” that was implementing “the War on Poverty.” He got the job because one of his professors at the University of Minnesota happened to be a pal of one of Shriver’s aides and OEO was desperate for personnel (I see shades of the recent Stimulus Bill ramp-up). My brother went off to become one of the original foot soldiers in the War on Poverty and later that summer I took the Louisville & Nashville Railroad’s famous Hummingbird train to visit him for two weeks. It was quite an experience for a 14-year old kid from Minneapolis to spend time in a southern state just getting past Jim Crow and it started me down the road to spending the last four decades soldiering myself in various ways in the never-ending War on Poverty. I gave the Executive Director, a “War on Poverty” discount on her fee quote for reminding me of why this is really 1965.

    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.

    No More Ball of Confusion: The Reality of the Grant Making Process is Really Simple and I’m the Guy to Explain It to You

    • In the April 20, 2009 Wall Street Journal, Elizabeth Williamson wrote “Stimulus Confusion Frustrates Business,” in which she states “Confusion over how to go after money allocated to various stimulus programs appears to be clouding corporate efforts to plan ahead . . .”
    • In the April 12, 2009 New York Times, Kirk Johnson wrote “Waving a Hand, Trying to Be Noticed in the Stimulus Rush,” which concerns a nonprofit group stumbling around looking behind the refrigerator looking for stimulus funds like our faithful Golden Retriever, Odette, sniffing after the scent of the salami she was tossed yesterday, and thinking, “it’s just got be here somewhere.” Kirk states, “Whether the stimulus even has a place for the ideas [the nonprofit] is pursuing is not clear.” Both the reporter and the nonprofit smell the grant salami, but can’t quite find it, while Odette eventually gives up and rolls on her back.

    Sense a trend? I could cite a dozen other similar stories in which talented reporters interview presumably bright individuals, none of whom find the Stimulus Bill salami, but you get the idea: no one in the media is writing “how” stories about the ways federal funds are distributed. Instead, endless “who,” “what,” “where” and “when” articles are published, leaving readers to assume the whole process, is, as the Temptations sang when I was in high school in 1968, just a Ball of Confusion. To quote:

    Evolution, revolution, gun control, sound of soul.
    Shooting rockets to the moon, kids growing up too soon.
    Politicians say more taxes will solve everything.
    And the band played on.
    So, round and around and around we go.
    Where the world’s headed, nobody knows.
    Oh, great googalooga, can’t you hear me talking to you.
    Just a ball of confusion.

    Every time I see a “ball of confusion” story about the Stimulus Bill, I write the same note to the reporter . . . “call me and in 15 minutes, I will explain how federal funding actually is distributed.” Few call, perpetuating the “ball of confusion” story line. Like Tiny Mills, my favorite professional wrestler when I was a kid growing up in the late ’50s in Minneapolis, used to say when being interviewed by announcer Marty O’Neil, “I’m all burned up, Marty, I’m all burned up.” Since I’m all burned up about the slipshod Stimulus Bill reporting, here is the shorthand version of the federal funding process (and even this is a slightly simplified version):

    • Imagine Barney Frank (if you are a Democrat) or John Boehner (if you are a Republican) waking up one morning with a bright idea to solve some real or imagined problem in American by taking money from Peter to help Paul.*
    • The bright idea is turned into a bill, which both houses of Congress pass and the President signs.
    • Funding authorization for the newly minted program is included in a budget authorization bill. In some cases, the legislation creating the program and funding are in the same bill. The recently passed ARRA (“Stimulus Bill”) both creates new programs with funds authorized for the new programs and authorizes additional funding for existing programs. An example of the first case is the Department of Energy’s Smart Grid Investment Grant (SGIG) Program, which was originally created in 2007 but substantially modified with additional funding in the ARRA. An example of the second case is the Department of the Treasury’s Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Program, which received an extra $100 million under the ARRA. A new NOFA was just issued with a deadline of May 27.
    • The new program is assigned to a Federal agency, which in turns assigns existing or new staff as Program Officers for the program.
    • Along with the requisite donut eating and mindless meetings, draft regulations are written and passed among Beltway types (e.g., legislation staff, “evil” lobbyists, interest groups, etc.) for informal review and comment. After the draft regulations are made as obtuse as possible, they are published in the Federal Register for public comment, usually for 30 days.
    • Final regulations are then published, usually featuring detailed explanations of why all the public comments are stupid and pointless, meaning the final regs are generally about the same as the draft regs. This is because interested parties have already taken their shots during the informal review process and Program Officers don’t care about what folks in Dubuque think anyway. It may take a federal agency anywhere from 30 days to 180 days to publish draft regs, and the review comment period is usually 30 days. The final regs will usually appear about 30 – 60 days later. The SGIG Program mentioned above is still in the informal regulatory review stage. A client sent us the draft regs, and they are a mess (the reasons why would be a post in itself). The FOA is being drafted simultaneously with the regs to speed up the process and the FOA is supposed to be published in June.
    • After the program regs are finalized, there are two possibilities, as follows:
      • (1) If the program is a federal pass-through to the states, the money is made available for the states to distribute, using an existing or new system, and based on some formula. Most of the so-called “infrastructure” funding in the Stimulus Bill was allocated this way, allowing the feds to more or less wash their hands of the process and say, “we’ve allocated the money with lightening speed and it’s not our fault if the states are too dumb to spend it quickly.” These pass-through Stimulus Bill funds go the relevant agencies in each state, with highway construction funds to the State Transportation Department, water/sewer funds to the State Water Department, UFO landing strip construction funds to the State Department of Extraterrestrial Affairs, and so on. I will eventually write a detailed post on how states distribute funds, but I digress.
      • (2) If the program involves direct submission to the federal agency, the Program Officers draft a RFP/NOFA/SGA/FOA or what have you, which is the document that applicants will actually use as the guidelines for spinning their tales of woe and need. RFPs are sometimes published in the Federal Register, made available through Grants.gov, FedBizOpps.gov, and/or in even more obscure ways. As Jake has previously noted, Grants.gov is the central repository for all Federal grant information, except when it isn’t.**
    • Applicants prepare and submit proposals in response to the RFPs. This is what Seliger + Associates does endlessly. Depending on the funding agency, the amount of hysteria surrounding the grant program and the underlying problem it is supposed to solve, the length of time allowed for submission varies from about two weeks to three months, with 45 days being typical. In the case of new programs, where new regs and RFPs have been drafted, one can usually expect several modifications to the RFP to be published, as mistakes and inconsistencies are identified. Since we spend much of our time deciphering arcane RFPs, we often have the thankless task of letting the Program Officer know that they have screwed up their RFP. In making these calls, we usually receive snarls and growls, not attaboys in return. We don’t do this out of civic duty, but to protect our client’s interest by not having the Program Officer declare a do over and start the RFP process again.
    • Once the RFP deadline arrives, the process submerges into the murky waters of Washington, but the review process goes more or less as follows:
      • 1. Applications are “checklist reviewed” to make sure the applicant is eligible, the forms are signed, etc. In most cases, if the application is technically incorrect, it is summarily rejected. You do not pass Go and you do not get $200, but you will eventually get a charming “thanks for the lousy application” form letter. Certain funding agencies, such as HUD, may send a deficiency letter, giving the applicant one more chance to sign the forms or what have you.
      • 2. Applications that pass the technical checklist are reviewed on “merit.” These reviews can be done by the Program Officers, by “peer reviewers” (nonprofit and public agency managers lured to Washington by per diem and a $100/day honorarium) or by other Federal employees dragooned into the task. The last is the worst alternative, because the shanghaied bureaucrats will know nothing about the program and will be annoyed at having been roused from their slumber. Think of Smaug the Dragon in The Hobbit, who always slept with one eye half-open.
      • 3. The applications will be scored on some scale and, in most cases, allegedly against criteria in the RFP. The applications will be ranked by their score, at which point our old friend, politics, rears its ugly head again. Most RFPs contain language along the lines of “The Secretary reserves the right to make funding recommendations based on geography and other factors.” While the Secretary of Whatever can basically fund any agency she bloody well feels like, as a practical matter this means that the funds are spread to many states for applicants in big cities, towns and rural areas and for projects that are perceived to help certain populations of interest. One could have a highly ranked application but still not be funded due to the vagaries of the approval process. If it is good news, the applicant might get a congratulations call from their House Rep or Senator’s office before the notice of grant award letter shows up. Some our of clients have reported reading press releases in local papers from their elected representatives before they were officially notified of being funded. While most Federal agencies aim for about a 90 day review process, about three – nine months is more typical. Using six months is a good standard.
    • The grant award letter will include instructions to contact the Budget Officer who has been assigned to the application. This being the Federal government, the award being offered may be the exact amount requested, or less than requested, or even more than requested.
    • You’re not done yet because the applicant must “negotiate” a contract with the Budget Officer. If the Budget Officer thinks the budget originally submitted was not prepared in accordance with Federal budgeting rules, or is just having a bad day, he will demand that you modify your budget or prove that it is reasonable. I have lots of funny stories about this process, but will save them for future posts. After the budget is agreed, the rest of the contract is negotiated. Allow two months for the contracting process.
    • Congratulations, you’ve fallen across the finish line. Since Federal funds cannot usually be expended before contract is signed, most recipients will not begin project implementation until the money is actually available, so another three months can be added to hire staff, teach them where the restrooms are, arrange for donuts to be delivered for weekly staff meetings and the like. Keep in mind that, if the money is for construction of something, add additional time for environmental reviews, permits, bidding and yet more contracts!

    How much time is likely to go by before funds for new programs in the Stimulus Bill actually start stimulating something other than reporter’s imaginations? Adding it all up, I’ve got:

    • 3 months to develop regulations
    • 2 months to develop the RFP
    • 1.5 months for submission of applications
    • 6 months for application review
    • 5 months for contracting/start-up activities

    If all goes right—and it almost never does—it takes at least one year for a Federal grant program to move from congressional approval/budget authorization to walkin’ around money for nonprofits. Keep in mind that this is for a program involving direct Federal competition. In the case of state pass-through programs, an additional one to three years can be added, depending on state budgeting and other processes. We’ll be writing “Stimulus Bill” proposals in the twilight of President Obama’s first term!


    * As George Bernard Shaw famously quipped, “The government who robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.”

    ** The CDFI Program is a good example of how Federal agencies sometimes “forget” to publish their grant opportunities in grants.gov or the Federal Register. As noted above, the Department of the Treasury received $100 million in extra Stimulus Bill funds for this program and decided to use $45 million to fund additional applications for the last funding round, which closed in October. The funding announcements for the October round have not yet been made, so for those of you counting, six months has gone by since the application deadline. Even though there is much gnashing of teeth in the media about banks not lending, the Treasury Department itself is taking forever to get its funds on the street.

    The other $55 million in CDFI Stimulus Bill funds have been set aside for new applicants in a supplemental funding round, which has been rumored for two months. The NOFA was finally issued on April 21, with a deadline of May 27, but was only placed on an obscure part of the CDFI web site, if one drills down to “News and Events.” It is not listed on the “How to Apply Page,” which includes timely info on the deadline for last October. Nor was it published on Grants.gov or in the Federal Register. If there are any aspiring Woodward or Bernstein type investigative reporters out there, you might want to find out why the Department of Treasury did as little as possible to let potential applicants know about this very sweet pot of gold. With all the fuss and bother over the Stimulus Bill, one would have thought the Department of the Treasury would have been trumpeting the availability of these funds.

    March Links: Stimulus Madness, Grants.gov, Health Care and More!

    * We wrote about how to get your piece of the stimulus pie, noting that better-prepared organizations are more likely to be funded. Now the Washington Post reports that “Much in Obama stimulus bill won’t hit economy soon:”

    It will take years before an infrastructure spending program proposed by President-elect Barack Obama will boost the economy, according to congressional economists.

    […]

    Less than half of the $30 billion in highway construction funds detailed by House Democrats would be released into the economy over the next four years, concludes the analysis by the Congressional Budget Office. Less than $4 billion in highway construction money would reach the economy by September 2010.

    * At The New Yorker, Steve Coll decided to blog the Stimulus Bill. Good luck on your journey! I, for one, would prefer not to wander in the desert for 40 years, but I’m glad someone else is willing to do so and perhaps bring something enlightening down from the mountain at the end. From his first post:

    I particularly like the turn from the setting to the main title: “Begun and held at the City of Washington on Tuesday, the sixth day of January, two thousand and nine…An Act.” It’s all very grand—and a long way from the aesthetics of Fox News or MSNBC, which is how we usually encounter this material, in a summary of a summary.

    And so, herewith launches an irregular series about the stimulus bill. I will read all of it, carefully, so that you don’t have to, and every so often I will stop and try to write something useful. It seems doubtful that the full law will prove either as funny or as morally edifying as the Old Testament, but I will do what I can.

    * The Washington Post reports that Grants.gov Strains Under New Demand:

    An early casualty of the stimulus package was identified by the Office of Management and Budget this week when OMB Director Peter Orszag told agency heads to plan for a possible meltdown of the government’s online grantmaking portal… “Grants.gov continues to experience system slowness due to the high volume of users,” the Grants.gov blog advised readers Tuesday.

    The question is, how will we be able to distinguish new problems from business as usual?

    * From the department of unintended consequences: “Doctor-Owned Hospitals Fare Poorly in Child Health Bill” says:

    A bill making its way through Congress to provide more low-income children with health-insurance coverage could spell financial trouble for scores of hospitals owned by physicians.

    The number of doctor-owned hospitals has tripled to about 200 since 1990, but they have long been mired in controversy. Supporters say these hospitals, which often focus on one or two lucrative services, such as cardiac care or orthopedics, are highly efficient, saving expenses for both patients and insurance programs, including Medicare.

    Critics say physicians who refer patients to hospitals in which they have an ownership stake drive up costs, because they order more tests or perform unnecessary surgery. They argue that the physician-owned hospitals also cherry-pick the healthiest patients, which hurts the finances of other hospitals, the majority of which are nonprofits.

    * More on unintended consequences and kids in “New Law Cripples Small and Independent Children’s Toy and Clothing Makers:”

    The gist is that the new regs impose debilitating new testing requirements on anyone who makes, markets, or sells toys to to children. The bill is a hysteria-filled reaction to last year’s China lead scare, and its reach is really pretty incredible. Thrift stores, libraries, independent toymakers, people who hand-make toys and clothes to sell online, and on down the line are all going to be affected. It’s going to put thousands of people out of business. Just what the economy needs.

    As is the case with most new regulations, the one group that won’t have any problem complying will be the giant toy companies—the very companies responsible for the lead scare that inspired the legislation in the first place.

    * The New York Times is In Search of the Just-Right Desk. They neglect the best desk of all, however, which is one with a Humanscale keyboard system attached to it. The 5G system can be found for $225 – $300, and once one has it, the only question is having a surface on which to mount it. We wrote about such equipment issues in Tools of the Trade—What a Grant Writer Should Have.

    * Although the Wall Street Journal editorial page is a notoriously lousy place to seek informed or balanced opinions, it does have a useful piece about What Medicaid Tells Us About Government Health Care. Ignore the political slams and focus on the parts about access to care:

    The federal and state governments are equally culpable for the program’s troubles. The federal government matches state Medicaid spending, paying an average of 57% of costs. States expand enrollment in order to qualify for more federal aid. Insurance coverage has become the end itself, with states spreading resources widely but thinly — without enough attention to the quality of care, accessibility, or whether coverage was actually improving health. States have no obligation to rigorously measure health outcomes in order to qualify for more federal money.

    One major healthcare problem in the United States is insufficient access to care, and in particular to specialty care. While insurance rates get enormous amounts of media coverage, virtually no one discusses how hard it can be to use public insurance like Medicare/Medicaid because relatively few providers accept them. We’ve worked for clients in relatively large cities that lack an adequate number of basic specialists like ob/gyns and cardiologists, and often have no practices that will accept Medicare/Medicaid. As the editorial notes, the preference for these programs has been on enrolling the maximum number of people—sometimes at the expense of the quality of care given:

    For its part, the federal government has often prevented the states from taking steps to fix their own Medicaid programs, such as by devising outcome-based standards for evaluating performance, and de-emphasizing the goal of growing the number of covered people to focus more on improving the health of those served.

    * Elsewhere in the WSJ, an article discusses “Heroin Program’s Deadly Toll: Needle Exchanges Save Lives but May Imperil Workers:”

    Worker drug abuse is “a huge problem,” says Jon Zibbell, the founder of a Massachusetts drug users’ coalition who is now an assistant professor at Skidmore College. “We prevent [overdoses] among our clients,” he says. “So we should try to prevent them among our workers.”

    Studies suggest that needle exchanges work. In San Francisco, Chicago and New Mexico, heroin-related deaths dropped after users were taught how to administer an anti-overdose medication to each other. In New York City, the rate of new HIV infections among injection-drug users dropped more than 75% between 1995 and 2002 as the number of clean needles distributed doubled, according to a study by epidemiologists there.

    Many needle-exchange programs employ recovering addicts who might not always be as recovering as they say. This is a near-universal tactic in service delivery under the theory that those who can empathize with a person’s struggle are better able to help that person and to provide a positive role model.

    * Ever wondered why people can’t give unused airline tickets or frequent flyer miles to you? So did the WSJ, and in “Why Fliers Can’t Donate Unused Tickets” Scott McCartney explains that airlines make a lot of money from unused tickets and would rather make specious security and technical arguments than allow greater customer choice.

    * Note to the person who found our site by searching repeatedly for “grant writeting in la.”: you’ve correctly realized that you need help with writeting writing.

    * In other search news, someone found us by searching for “should we hire a grant writer?” Being grant writers, our answer is almost always yes, but one can find more on this subject in a tangentially related post on “Why Can’t I Find a Grant Writer? How to Identify and Seize that Illusive Beast.” This subject might also become a post of its own at some point: watch this space for more.

    * In still more search news, someone else found us by searching for “free grant writing software.” Software isn’t going to help you: learning how to write, however, will. But there are a number of lovely free and open source pieces of writing software, including AbiWord and OpenOffice.org. In the paid but inexpensive world, I’m fond of the Mac program Mellel.

    * Why is the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) giving out money for the Garrett A. Morgan Technology and Transportation Education Program, which is designed “to improve the preparation of students, particularly women and minorities, in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)?” Isn’t that the Department of Education’s job? It’s a good example of a point we occasionally make: just because a federal, state, local, or foundation/corporate giving resource doesn’t appear to fund in your area doesn’t mean they won’t issue an RFP in it anyway.

    * If you think running your program is hard, consider the Chiricahua Leopard Frog Conservation project, which “will involve hand removal of frogs and monitoring refuge sites to determine status of the Chiricahua Leopard frog and possible re-invading bullfrogs.” Where do I sign up?

    * The New York Times is smart enough to try following federal money to A.I.G., as reported in “Where Taxpayers’ Dollars Go to Die.” They should try the same with federal grant programs.

    * State smiling lessons for liquor store employees in Pennsylvania. Good luck! One of the nice parts about moving from Seattle to Tucson was the civilized practice of selling booze in grocery stores, which Washington State lacks.

    * One of the very few genuinely intelligent recent articles about the financial mess: The Problem With Flogging A.I.G.:

    By week’s end, I was more depressed about the financial crisis than I’ve been since last September. Back then, the issue was the disintegration of the financial system, as the Lehman bankruptcy set off a terrible chain reaction. Now I’m worried that the political response is making the crisis worse. The Obama administration appears to have lost its grip on Congress, while the Treasury Department always seems caught off guard by bad news.

    And Congress, with its howls of rage, its chaotic, episodic reaction to the crisis, and its shameless playing to the crowds, is out of control. This week, the body politic ran off the rails.

    There are times when anger is cathartic. There are other times when anger makes a bad situation worse. “We need to stop committing economic arson,” Bert Ely, a banking consultant, said to me this week. That is what Congress committed: economic arson.

    * Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Dambisa Moyo examines Why Foreign Aid Is Hurting Africa: Money from rich countries has trapped many African nations in a cycle of corruption, slower economic growth and poverty. Cutting off the flow would be far more beneficial. He also wrote the book Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa

    * Your eyes might deceive you: Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick asks: “Have the Eyes Had It?
    Is our eyewitness identification system sending innocents to jail?
    ” The answer, according to her article, is yes.

    The Stimulus Bill Meets Santa Claus Meets American Idol in Virginia

    I thought that I wouldn’t have to write any more posts on the Stimulus Bill, but like Michael Corleone in The Godfather: Part III, “Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in.” The curious way the Commonwealth of Virginia has decided to solicit ideas for how to spend its piece of the Stimulus Pie drags me back in. At stimulus.virginia.gov, you will find the following statement as of March 1, 2009: “The Commonwealth has developed a website for citizens, groups, localities, and others to use to share project proposals for funding from the federal stimulus package.” If you send your email address, you will be directed to a site that allows you to pitch your own idea.

    What’s fun about this is the lack of any prerequisites whatsoever—meaning one could presumably present any idea. Even better, the “application” consists of contact info and a 750 character project description. That’s right, characters, not words. Now, I’m all for brevity in grant writing, but this may be taking things a bit too far. To illustrate, I will reduce the fictitious Project Nutria described in “Project NUTRIA: A Study in Project Concept Development,” which I created to show how a grant writer develops a project idea, to about 750 characters:

    Citizens Against Nutria–Dillwyn Organization (CAN-DO) proposes Project NUTRIA (Nutria Utilization and Training Resources for Itinerant Americans). This innovative initiative will empower City of Dillwyn (Buckingham County) residents to fight the scourge of rampaging nutria, while also combating homelessness and stimulating the economy. This will be accomplished by training homeless persons to catch and process nutria, with the nutria meat feeding and the fur clothing the growing ranks of unemployed. An estimated 12,000 nutria will be transformed into food and clothing by 10 formerly homeless persons, providing sustenance and winter coats for 200 unemployed persons during the project year. Thus, Project NUTRIA is a win-win-win-win for Dillwyn and will aggressively utilize limited Commonwealth Stimulus dollars.

    While a few legitimate project concepts might be submitted by public and nonprofit agencies that do not understand the grant making process, the vast majority are going to be from individuals. Proposed projects will likely be fairly unusual (e.g., landing strips for UFOs, expeditions to find the Lost City of Z,* etc.) or heartfelt personal testimonies (e.g., house repossessed, lost jobs, too many bills, medical problems, etc.). This “application process” is silly on its face in that no guidelines are provided, no explanation of the various pots of money that compose Virginia’s slice of the Stimulus Pie (e.g. transportation funds, Medicaid reimbursements, et) is offered, and no details about who will evaluate the proposals, how they will be evaluated or when they will be evaluated, is provided.

    The impression given is that the Commonwealth has one big tub of money, and someone—presumably Governor Tim M. Kaine—will ladle it out like grant soup to lucky residents. Since this is not how grant making works, I assume this whole exercise is a PR ploy to enable state bureaucrats to say that the Commonwealth is being inclusive in gathering input into the Stimulus spending process. This is not much different from telling kids to write down their Christmas wish list and mailing the letters to Santa Claus, care of the North Pole.

    Why not go all the way and turn it into American Stimulus Idol? Instead of having folks describe their idea in 750 boring characters, Governor Kaine should invite all applicants to the statehouse for judging in person by Randy, Paula and Simon. To save travel expenses in this down economy, we’ll do without the superfluous Kara and Ryan. Thousands of applicants can make signs and bring their moms. When they finally make it to the judging, their requests could be presented in songs, skits, iambic pentameter, or, to save time, haiku.** This will give Randy the opportunity to say something like, “Dogg, that plan to use high school students to deliver surplus MREs from Iraq to the homeless is OUT THE BOX,” or Simon to say, “It’s really all just karaoke, isn’t it,” and, of course, Paula will want to fund all the ideas because all the presenters just “look so sweet.” After the top 36 are picked, Virginians can call in to select their favorites, with the top vote getters receiving pillow cases stuffed with cash handed over personally by Governor Kaine. That’s what I would call real citizen participation!

    Before everyone gets excited, realize that this is satire. I am trying to point out that it is a disservice to everyone to foster the myth that state or local government agencies will use the Stimulus Bill money to fund randomly proposed projects. As any experienced grant writer knows, grants are typically made to 501(c)3 nonprofit organizations and public agencies, not individuals, unincorporated associations or most businesses, and almost always in response to highly structured RFPs.

    A state government perpetuating the myth that grant funds are there to be plucked from government money trees helps no one. We get several calls every day from persons who think “the government” is going to give them a grant to pay down their credit cards, help them start a nail parlor business, buy a home for their grandmother with disabilities, and the like. We have the grim duty of telling them that no such grants exist. As the economy worsens and ill-conceived attempts at promoting the wonders of the Stimulus Bill unfold, we expect to receive more pleas like this. The Commonwealth of Virginia should simply state the categories of Stimulus funding they have, eligibility requirements, real application instructions, and timelines. In other words, if money is available, shut up and issue RFPs.

    Also, as much fun as it would be and as tempting as it is, I am not suggesting that joke proposals be submitted to the Commonwealth. When I was a frisky young grant writer, I must admit I actually did write and submit a bogus proposal. About 30 years ago, I was the Grants Coordinator for the City of Lynwood, CA. I wrote numerous proposals, many of which were funded because at the time Lynwood faced just about every socioeconomic problem imaginable and was a funder’s dream applicant. Along came a RFP from the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), a regional planning body.*** Without going into too much boring detail, the RFP had to do with a California planning concept called positive “fair share communities,” as determined by whether the city was doing their “fair share” to provide affordable housing and make housing available to minority groups.

    Since Lynwood had lots of poor folks and residents of color, I deemed it a “negative fair share” community, as it was in effect providing affordable housing for such cities as Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, and Laguna Beach. Because we couldn’t get grant funds for increasing the supply of affordable housing, I developed a joke project, which I called LHOOP (Lynwood Housing Opportunity Outreach Program), in which I proposed buying a fleet of vans and taking Lynwood residents on tours to see what life was like in affluent cities, including picnics at Zuma Beach in Malibu, shopping at Fashion Island in Newport Beach, and the like. I actually wrote and submitted the proposal, without telling the City Manager, just to see what happened. It was written tongue-in-cheek, more or less like Project NUTRIA, and much to my surprise, SCAG ranked it very high and wanted to fund it, so I had to pull it before I got caught. Think of this as the grant writing equivalent of the hilarious Social Text Affair. As with most of my grant writing tales, there is a follow-on story.

    In 2001, HUD issued a NOFA for something called the Housing Search Assistance Program (HSAP), which was more or less my Project LHOOP idea. We were doing a lot of work for a housing authority at the time, which shall remain nameless. I told them about the NOFA and we wrote a $1,000,000 funded HSAP proposal for the housing authority and a collaborating nonprofit, based largely on the Project LHOOP concept. It shouldn’t be long before the Virginia issues an RFP to get rid of those pesky nutria and I can unleash Project NUTRIA on the real world. By the way, don’t bother looking for another HSAP NOFA, as this program was one and done effort by HUD. Expect the same to happen to Virginia’s stimulus program.


    * Many want to find the Lost City of Z, which is purported to be the mythical El Dorado. We were contacted by one such fellow about 10 years ago who was on his way to find it and looking for grants. He did not have a nonprofit, so, as much as I loved the idea of working on the project, I had to tell him sadly that he was out of luck with respect to grants. David Grann just wrote a new book on the fascinating Lost City of Z which was reviewed in the March 1 issue of the New York Times Sunday Book Review: “On the Road to El Dorado.” Since grant writers are metaphorically searching for the Lost City of Gold, it should make a good read for those of us in the profession.

    ** Reader Challenge: Take my 750 Project Nutria example and turn it into haiku. This is your chance to get poetry published and the winner will receive an 8″ x 10″ glossy photo of Governor Kaine, which may or may not be signed, depending on the Governor’s sense of humor. You can leave example haikus in the comments section.

    *** SCAG is one of a herd of so-called “Councils of Government” (COGS) that were created in the late 1960s to handle regional planning activities, a concept then quite in vogue, as well as the long-forgotten OMB A-95 process, which I might cover in a future post on grant nostalgia. COGs still grind away in anonymity throughout the US, having evolved to provide a cornucopia of unusual services and programs. If you don’t believe me, find a couple of local COGs and look at what they do. COGs are an object lesson in bureaucracies and their Darwinian evolutionary strategies, since such organizations typically find new ecological niches to occupy when their original purpose is lost in the climate change of time.