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7/17/2009
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GAO: Federal Grants Web Site Shows 'Weaknesses'

Poor usability and mismanagement plague Grants.gov, which gives access to $500 billion in annual grants, Government Accountability Office survey finds.

Grants.gov, a federal government Website designed to give citizens access to $500 billion in annual government grants, is mismanaged and difficult to use, the Government Accountability Office said in a report released this week.

The study, which included a survey of users, found that applicants consistently run into difficulty using the Website, sometimes so much so that their grant submissions come in past their due dates. For example, prospective site users found registration difficult -- rather than being instantaneous, it takes up to two weeks -- and the site lacks even a standardized grant application process.

Grants.gov is funded from donations from 26 member agencies of the Grants Executive Board, but the GAO found that board was not paying in time, which caused Grants.gov project managers earlier this year to warn of an impending shutdown, hold off on site updates, and postpone payment to vendors.

The GAO also found that Grants.gov, currently administered by the Health and Human Services Department, needed better oversight. There are no written policies for coordination between HHS and the 26 member agencies of the Grants Executive Board, for example.

The Bush administration launched Grants.gov as part of its larger e-government initiative in 2002, and since then the GAO has criticized the progression of Grants.gov multiple times. Use of the site has skyrocketed in recent years, with applications jumping by 56% in just the last year alone, making its usability and stability of the site increasingly critical. Half of all late grant applicants in a GAO survey cited Website performance as a key reason their grants were late.

Earlier this year, OMB director Peter Orszag predicted significant increases to Grants.gov traffic in the wake of the economic stimulus package, and ordered HHS to take steps to mitigate any problems from that new traffic.

Despite improvements in February and April, visitors continued to experience problems. Additional improvements to the site were made in May, including improved log-in performance and user interface changes on grant application pages.

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