Education continues its paperless chase with plans for a digital-signature system

Khriss Howard, left, and Rebecca Harding-Spitzgo are working on several upgrades to Education's electronic grants system.

The Education Department is making the final strides away from paper with the next phase of its electronic grants process.

The department is sizing up a system that would use electronic signatures to take the place of the current system on e-Grants, which requires applicants to mail a paper signature with forms filled out online within three days of their application.

Education is analyzing the process and will decide soon how to develop the new system, said Rebecca Harding-Spitzgo, Grant Administration and Payment System project manager for Education's Office of the Chief Financial Officer.

'Through e-Signature, the department's goal is to make available some form of electronic signature to grantees and eliminate the paper signature,' she said.

Education will use data from its Chief Information Office and other offices to evaluate the e-signature methods they have used, said Khriss Howard, e-Grants co-lead for Financial Systems Operations.

This summer, the department also plans to implement a function called e-Administration that will let grantees change account data, such as address and personnel information, online, she said. The new features are part of the department's electronic grants initiatives, launched at egrants.ed.gov/egHome.asp in 1998.

Education created its Grant Administration and Payment System to streamline payment processing and reporting for grantees.

Grantees can also apply online for funds and access financial information.

PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting of Arlington, Va., is the contractor on the project.

GAPS stores the data in an Oracle8i database, which resides on an eight-processor Digital Equipment Corp. Alpha server running Unix. Back-end applications were developed using Sybase PowerBuilder 6.5 from Sybase Inc. of Dublin, Calif., said Laurie Dornak, principal consultant at PWC Consulting.

The online applications were developed using Microsoft Active Server Pages and Visual Basic 6.5.

The applications include:

  • E-Payments, the first online grants application Education launched in 1998. More than 17,000 users can request grant funds, return funds, check their balances and change passwords electronically.

  • E-Application, launched in 2000 to let users apply online for about 40 grant competitions. Users submit new grant applications online, and multiple users can work on the same application at the same time. Once an application is submitted, grantees get an immediate confirmation that the department received the application.

  • E-Reports, which lets grantees complete and submit their annual grant performance reports online. The system also notifies grantees via e-mail of report due dates and confirms when it has received a report.

  • E-Reader, which lets users review grant applications, record scores and enter comments on the applications.

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