FDP: Grants.gov Update

Terry Nicolosi provided an update on the Grants.gov system. She was joined by Harsha Rao, Gary Alfano (both from General Dynamics), Doug Privelege (from Adobe), and Vince Sprouls. Lots of interesting information here, including the fact that IBM Workplace Forms (aka PureEdge) and Adobe systems will run in parallel through FY2008. [Pradon any typos… I’m getting these notes out ASAP and have to run to an appointment at my kid’s school!]

Terry thanked the grants community for the help and assistance that’s been provided to Grants.gov through the transition to the Adobe system.

Further to Jean Feldman’s discussion about FFATA and SF-424 yesterday, Terry confirmed that Grants.gov owns those forms and met with OMB on Friday, targeting October 1st for release of the Federal Register notices about the changes to the SF-424 forms families. They also want to be aligned with other government workgroups working on FFATA, so postings from all of those groups are in sync.

FY7 agency participation has increased, with 173,897 FY07 submissions through 9/3/07 (last year was 82,119), 1,838 submissions last week alone, and total submissions to date being 280,102. There are 89,487 registered AORs.

System-to-system submissions for FY07 through 9/2/07 have totaled 7,356, with 239 S2S organizations.

A new staff member, Jacquie Lopez, is joining Grants.gov to lead systems integration efforts. Jacquie comes from DOT FTA. (Disclaimer: TCG worked with Jacquie on some of our projects at DOT and we are

Usability Studies: A Phase 1 study was completed on 7/31/7, identifying 44 potential areas for improvement, one of which was that applicants were not clear is Grants.gov was developed with the applicants or awarding agency as the target audience.

R&R forms conversion: 29 forms are complete, 4 in IV&V, and 2 in re-work (should be completed mid-next week).

9/4/07 — New Adobe system was deployed. A Generic Transition Plan tailored to fit agency system needs with Grant Program Advisors. There will be parallel processing of IBM Workplace Forms and Adobe through FY2008.

Terry expressed special appreciation to all those who have assisted in testing Grants.gov. Grants.gov is purchasing an e‑seminar tool to enable online training.

Harsha Rao then gave an overview of the 2007 Grants.gov deployment status. The system was deployed 9/5/07 on three servers, isolated from 2006 system. Full functionality was delvered, including a Google-powered search service (including searching of binary attachments), and Adobe forms are now available. (Note the stats above about forms completed, in IV&V, etc.) They also modified the Apply module, unified S2S, and will be adding 2 more servers to support the servers.

Doug Privelege presented the Adobe LifeCycle product and addressed questions that have been received.

  • Adobe Reader 8.1.1 is currently in beta and is being tested by Grants.gov. It will be released publicly in late October.
  • Form Functionality: An enhancement has been requested to avoid required fields yielding alert boxes; this has no implementation date as yet, but will get on the production timeline.
  • Vista Support: Adobe Reader 7.0.9 and later are all compatible with Windows Vista.
  • Adobe recommends using Adobe Reader 7.0.9. Other versions have not yet been tested with Grants.gov. The Grants.gov site addresses different questions about installing the 7.0.9 Reader, etc.
  • Use of Adobe API’s for XML extraction: Anyone wishing to use the Adobe LifeCycle tools to extract and populate data in and out of forms using XML needs to license that technology from Adobe separately to those licenses owned by Grants.gov (Ed’s note: no free-loading, people!).

Q [Steve Dowdy]: The compatibility of Reader is a problem for our environment; I can’t visit 10,000 desktops to ensure compatibility. Is there a timeline when Acrobat will be sufficient rather than also needing to install Reader?

A [Doug Privelege]: The ability to run Reader and Acrobat side-by-side should not cause any issues.

A [Harsha Rao]: There has been no testing of Acrobat, although we use it and have not found any problems.

Q [Steve]: Most of our users already have Acrobat. Mandating the use of Reader also causes a support problem.

Q [Harsha]: We’ll take an action to look at that.

Q [Steve, again]: I asked about teh Adobe API. The old form-within-a-form for the subaward budget had an associated Web Service to incorporate XML in our upload stream. In the license agreement that I reviewed, if we are getting the form from a transaction partner that has licensed the product (e.g. Grants.gov), I can use the API freely because I am using it to get data from the form provider’s form. When it used to be a Web Service, we could get that data.

A [Doug Privelege]: I can look into the license agreement you’re talking about. Which agreement is it?

[Steve]: It’s unclear in the agreement itself. It feels like a backdoor, requiring that every university that has subawards should license the Adobe LifeCycle product.

[Harsha] Even if you have the APIs, the XML won’t be usable because of some transformations that go on internally.

[Steve] The current Web Service gives us the XML and the attachments. The subaward form-within-a-form is a problem. NASA has a similar form-within-a-form that has a consolidated schema. I’m wondering if there is a way to do the same at Grants.gov.

[Harsha] That Web Service had very limited use by users, and was specific to PureEdge. We will need to rewrite the internal code to take the form and generate the XML that’s provided by that Web Service.

[Terry] We’ll take that offline and address that question.

Q [Ken Forstmeier]: We deployed after the conversion to Adobe was begun. So we were excluded from the old Web Service. So many R01’s have subawards on them, we are prevented from using S2S to submit those applications. If that could be addressed, many more people could use the service.

A [Terry Nicolosi]: We need to sit down and have a requirements meeting with you (Steve and Ken) to see how it’s working with PureEdge and Adobe.

[Steve] If we can use the Adobe API, we won’t need the Web Service.

[Terry] We will post information about these meetings on our Web site.

Q [Steve Dowdy]: When we point over the 2007 server, we are sometimes getting an alert saying that the secure certificate is for the 2006 system not 2007.

A [Terry]: We will look at that.

Q [unknown]: The nightly XML extract suddenly disappeared.

A [Terry]: There was a break in that for 3 days because of server configuration but it’s now back.

[Unknown] It’s not back because we didn’t get a file last night.

[Terry] We need to look at that. And, actually, I’d like to get system status information on our site.

[Harsha Rao] The XML extract was running on one of the 2006 servers but we need to put it in a place where it is visible and available to you, and we’ll create a script to make that happen.

Q [unknown]: The listserv is a great way for us to get information about the program status.

A [Terry]: We agree, and use it to alert us of problems, too.

Q [unknown]: I thought that the Help Desk was now set up to handle S2S problems, and that we should direct questions to them. We were told by the Help Desk that they do not deal with S2S issues, and that we should talk to Vince Sprouls.

A [Vince Sprouls]: That is incorrect and is a misunderstanding at the Help Desk that’s now resolved. People should talk to the Help Desk for S2S issues.

Q [Bob Beattie]: A comment about the listserv. It’s called the S2S listserv but more and more people are joining it to get other information about Grants.gov. Do you want that or do you want it diluted by other issues?

A [Terry]: I’m hoping that the interactive training tool we just purchased will help, as do the webcasts. We do ask for feedback from the Web site and other communications about what we already use.

A [Vince]: Right now I get a lot of direct e‑mails from the listserv from people who want general information. We do use it for general announcements as well as S2S-specific issues. So while it’s currently meeting the community’s needs, we may need to create separate, non-S2S discussions.

Q [Megan Columbus]: Can you talk about whether you’ll be including FFATA elements in PureEdge forms?

A [Terry]: The SF-424 changes for FFATA have been proposed by Jean Feldman’s subcommittee, and we met with OMB on Friday to discuss them. We have a number of forms that expire in April, and the Federal Register process is a 4‑month process at the most. We’re looking for Adobe to be ready-to-go in April, and we’re on track for that.

Q [Jean Feldman]: We’re just starting to gear up to look at the 424 generically for the update. How are we going to work with Grants.gov to help us think about the changes that need to be made (FFATA and non-FFATA)?

A [Terry]: OMB is sending changes back to the GPC about the non-FFATA changes to be made to the SF-424. The plan is to make all the changes all at once.

[Jean] We have a chance to delineate between FFATA and non-FFATA changes, but there are some that cross the line.

[Terry] OFFM at OMB will be working on the full set of changes.

[Jean] The subcommittee stands ready to help in this effort.