HHS e-grants portal is one of the 23

HHS e-grants portal is one of the 23

HHS' JeanEllen Kallevang and Terrence Tychan say the Federal Grants Streamlining Program is scheduled to begin operating by the 2003 GPEA deadline for paperless government.

Three-year-old portal for development funds makes OMB's list for e-government initiatives

The Health and Human Services Department's electronic grants portal, under development since 1998, is a winner in the Office of Management and Budget's sweepstakes for approval as one of the top 23 electronic-government initiatives.

It met all of OMB's criteria for selection, said Howard Landon, director of special projects for the Energy Department CIO and a member of the Quicksilver team that selected the e-gov candidates [GCN, Oct. 22, Page 1]. The HHS project affected many agencies, it was of interest to citizens as well as institutions, it was already well towards completion and it could be finished quickly, he said.

HHS hopes to finish the planning by December. The portal, temporarily called the Federal Grants Streamlining Program, will likely be operating by the 2003 deadline for paperless operations under the Government Paperwork Elimination Act.

The first HHS e-grants portal, Federal Commons, at www.cfda.gov/federalcommons, went live in 1999 with help from agency volunteers and donations. It provides centralized information and online applications for about 300 government grant programs. It also helps the 26 agencies issuing the grants to comply with the 1999 Federal Financial Assistance Management Improvement Act, which requires electronic applications and information.

But HHS has never found the money to connect state agencies and make the site interactive. Now Federal Commons will be integrated into the new portal.

Eye on the prize

Terrence Tychan, HHS' deputy assistant secretary for grants and acquisition management, said he hopes for $4.5 million in funding from OMB, the President's Management Council and possibly the administration's $100 million e-government fund.

Tychan said his team was pleased to have been picked. 'Being able to get 26 agencies and OMB to agree upon a plan is a watershed thing'it's unprecedented,' Tychan said.

JeanEllen Kallevang, chief of the grants policy branch at the Health Resources and Services Administration, said the portal eventually will encompass the entire grant lifecycle. It will connect states with their federal counterparts to issue grants faster and more efficiently.

'It'll be a way to expedite the process overall,' Kallevang said.

Some states and federal offices, such as the National Science Foundation, have built their own electronic grant processes, but they're not interconnected, she said.

'Right now it varies markedly by the particular program you're applying for,' Kallevang said. 'The big change with the federal grants streamlining program is business process re-engineering to make sure we're consistent.'

For citizens with slow modem connections or no Internet access, the government must still maintain a paper process.

'We need to make sure access is fair,' Kallevang said, but she expects the bulk of grants to be electronically processed and awarded.

HHS has received several hundred thousand dollars from the Chief Financial Officers Council for the portal, but nowhere near what is needed to complete the project.

'We passed the hat among the agencies and were able to get started,' Tychan said. 'We're trying not only to automate the applications, we're also talking about re-engineering the grantmaking process so it will all make sense.'

Though HHS will be the lead agency on the project, OMB will oversee its implementation, and governmentwide workgroups will determine its fate.

Let them know if it works

A grants management subcommittee within the CFO Council will develop the game plan in four categories: preaward, post-award, audit and oversight, and electronic processing. Each of the four managing groups will have 20 members from the 26 grant-issuing agencies. The groups will consult with state and local governments, universities, Native American tribes and nonprofit groups to make sure the portal is user-friendly, Kallevang said.

Although HHS has not yet awarded any technology or services contracts, Kallevang said she expects most of the technology to be outsourced, with OMB as the policy enforcer.

'We want to involve industry in determining how we'll go about implementing the portal and the systems that will interface with it,' Kallevang said. Development will proceed in phases, and the objectives of the first step should become clearer by next month.

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