Q&A: Education working from the ground up

Angel Santa and Pam Martin, program managers for the Education Department's Grants consortium

Angel Santa and Pam Martin

When the Office of Management and Budget, in the fiscal 2007 budget request last February, named three consortia to lead the Grants Line of Business initiative, it marked a clear direction for the program. Agencies will have to use one of three shared-services providers for grants management systems or justify to OMB their rationale for building their own systems.

OMB estimates agencies spent about $144 million in 2005 on development, modernization and enhancement of grant management systems. OMB expects agencies to begin choosing their grant providers by late 2006 or early 2007.

With the three consortia just getting off the ground this year, GCN asked program managers from the Administration for Children and Families in the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Education and the National Science Foundation to describe their focus and how they are different from each other.

GCN: What type of grants is Education focusing on?

SANTA and MARTIN: We are open to servicing all competitive (to include research, earmarks, fellowships, cooperative agreements, etc.) and noncompetitive grant types. The department is ranked second among the 26 federal grant-making agencies in terms of number of grant programs, and therefore we currently service a wide variety of grant types and serve many grantees. Our varied grantee base includes state and local educational agencies, Indian tribes, individuals, public and nonprofit colleges and universities, and private profit-making/nonprofit organizations.

GCN: How are you differentiating yourself from the other consortia?

SANTA and MARTIN: We are quietly telling everyone that we are better so don't let this out ... just kidding. Actually, the department does not consider this a competition between the consortia leads, but a focused government effort to streamline the grant process and provide a better service to the public.

Our offering is quite different from the HHS ACF and NSF offerings in that we intend to provide an end-to-end grants system developed (maybe commercial off the shelf, custom, or a hybrid of both) from the ground up with consortia member involvement.
The system will utilize enabling technologies such as e-signature, workflow, e-folder, business intelligence tool, etc. that provide the potential to enhance productivity. Education will pay for the base development, while partners will pay for requirements that are specific to their business, migration and post implementation support, and other services as requested (i.e. training). Partners also have an opportunity to participate in the new system design and will have an equal vote as part of the governance structure. We just held an open house (April 4th) and invited the federal grant-making agencies to discuss our offering, and I was pleased with the attendance and subsequent interest.

GCN: When do you hope to start providing grants management services? What still needs to be done between now and then?

SANTA and MARTIN: We need to be careful in how we answer this because we are currently in a procurement stage, and we don't want to influence any of the responses. With that said, we can only offer that we expect to meet the GM LOB migration timeline and the requirements imposed on the department concerning our consortia offering. We still need to bring partners on board and to develop a product to meet the consortium's business needs. As mentioned earlier, we are actively trying to form partnerships, and we have recently started the procurement process that will result in a grant system to support the consortium.

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