WASHINGTON – Today, Senators Joseph I. Lieberman, ID-Conn., and George V. Voinovich, R-OH., commented on a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, “Grants.gov Has Systemic Weaknesses That Require Attention,” (GAO-09-589), showing that a government Web site designed to streamline the federal grant process is plagued by technical limitations, degraded performance and user difficulties.
“I am disappointed that Grants.gov has not received adequate support and attention, which led to the Web site’s recent difficulties handling increased volumes of grant applicants,” said Sen. Lieberman, Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “OMB must strengthen both the management and technology behind Grants.gov, while streamlining and increasing transparency of the grant process. OMB should work with both Congress and the grants community to achieve these goals.”
“Yet again, GAO has found significant problems with Grants.gov,” said Sen. Voinovich, Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Government Management, the Federal Workforce and the District of Columbia. “I am concerned that a tool designed to improve the distribution and effectiveness of federal grants has so many issues in this technological age, in some cases putting applicants at a disadvantage compared to those who utilize other channels. This report highlights the need for the House to pass the Federal Financial Assistance Management Improvement Act of 2009 to help put Grants.gov back on the right course and get money out on the streets during these tough economic times.”
As part of their commitment to improving government management and service, Sens. Lieberman and Voinovich have introduced the Federal Financial Assistance Management Improvement Act of 2009 (S. 303) to help streamline the process for individuals and organizations seeking federal funding from the 26 federal grant-making agencies that distribute more than $400 billion in federal grants each year through an estimated 1,000 different federal programs.
GAO’s report evaluates Grants.gov by focusing on applicant experience and governance and accountability structure, as well as the range of agency policies for processing Grants.gov applications, including late and incomplete applications. GAO noted that users continue to describe difficulties registering with and using Grants.gov, which sometimes result in late submissions. Additionally, GAO cited concerns with oversight, inter-agency coordination, system performance, funding and the lack of means for user input.
This study follows past GAO reports on the effectiveness of the Federal Financial Assistance Management Improvement Act of 1999 (PL 106-107), which Sens. Lieberman and Voinovich authored. This Act directed the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to improve the effectiveness and performance of federal financial assistance (FFA) programs, simplify FFA application and reporting requirements, improve the delivery of services to the public and coordinate the delivery of such services. That law led OMB to create Grants.gov.
In 2005, GAO reported that agencies had made progress in some areas under PL 106-107, but in other areas, progress was just beginning (GAO-05-335). Specifically, GAO noted that a common electronic system – Grants.gov – through which information on available grants could be found and applied for had been developed; however, common electronic systems for reporting financial and performance information had not been developed and not all agencies were complying with the requirements of PL 106-107. In 2006, GAO recommended Congress consider reauthorizing PL 106-107 (GAO-06-566), which sunset in November 2007.
On March 18, 2009, the Senate passed S. 303, the Federal Financial Assistance Management Improvement Act of 2009. The bill, authored by Sens. Lieberman and Voinovich, would reauthorize and update the Federal Assistance Management Improvement Act of 1999 by:
· Requiring the OMB director to maintain a public Web site that serves as a central point of information and access for applicants for federal grants and allows grant applicants to use the Web site to search and apply for grants; manage, track and report on the use of grants; and provide required certifications and assurances for grants.
· Requiring the OMB director to report to Congress within nine months of enactment, and biennially thereafter for a period of 15 years, on progress made in implementing the Federal Financial Assistance Management Improvement Act. All subsequent reports must detail the progress made by the federal government in meeting the goals of the act.
· Requiring the OMB director to provide a Strategic Plan to Congress within 18 months of enactment that identifies FFA programs that are suitable for common applications and reporting forms or requirements based on the programs’ common or similar purposes. The Strategic Plan must include plans, timelines and cost estimates for: developing an end-to-end electronic capability to manage federal financial assistance; creating common applications and reporting forms and requirements; developing mechanisms to ensure compatibility between federal administrative systems and state administrative systems to import and export data; developing common certifications and assurances; and minimizing the number of different systems used to disburse FFA.
· Requiring each federal agency to prepare a plan within six months of the submission of OMB’s strategic plan that describes how the agency will implement OMB’s strategic plan. Each agency must biennially report to OMB for a period of 15 years on its progress towards achieving the objectives in its strategic plan.
S. 303, which is co-sponsored by U.S. Sens. Tom Carper (D-DE) and Richard Burr (R-NC), has been sent to the House for consideration.
For more information on the Federal Financial Assistance Management Improvement Act of 2009, or a copy of the GAO report, please contact Sen. Voinovich’s press office at (202) 224-8609 or Sen. Lieberman’s at (202) 224-1839.