Today GAO has released a report called “Grants.gov Has Systemic Weaknesses That Require Attention”; you can grab it here. The report highlights spell out some serious flaws in the governance, funding, design, and operation of Grants.gov, which are reasonably well known by now.
There’s lots to digest in this report but I found two comments in the report particularly interesting:
[Page 32:] “If grantees remain isolated from the development of systems and policies that directly affect them, the systems and policies will be less effective, and opportunities to better streamline the application process will be missed.”
[Page 34, in OMB/HHS’s response to the report:] “Given where Grants.gov is in its useful life cycle, OMB staff said that they do not foresee any system changes beyond those needed to keep the system stable and operational, and that Grants.gov should be in an operations and maintenance mode until requirements for a new system are developed. OMB staff also provided technical comments that were incorporated as appropriate.”
The former quote echoes what grantees (and many agencies) have been saying for years: how can you make it better if you can’t listen to what we’re saying needs to be fixed?
The second quote is especially interesting because this is the first time I’ve seen a government body state that a new Grants.gov is likely to be built. Yes, Grants.gov itself talked about moving to the cloud; I think this quote effectively admits that moving the existing system anywhere could be a colossal waste of resources. And, yes, GSA is developing a pilot right now, but that’s always been portrayed as a pilot. “Replace Grants.gov?” they say rhetorically. “Oooh, I don’t know about that. This is just a pilot! Just a pilot. Just a teensy-weensy $600,000 pilot. Replace Grants.gov? P‑shaw!”
GAO’s own conclusions don’t seem to reflect the possibility of a new system being developed. Rather, they focus on governance and performance management changes. These are important and should be implemented now and persisted in the future. But GAO doesn’t go so far as to follow HHS’s lead in suggesting that Grants.gov should be built anew. So the question now is: What’s next?
[Update 7/16/09 14:43: Jason Miller has posted a story on this for Federal News Radio, here.]