Feds try to ease grants process using Java app

Brad Smith, manager of the Electronic Grants Pilot Project, has been testing products
but said he's concentrating on packaged integration services coming into the World Wide
Web marketplace.


Active Software Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif., makes the Active Web software that Smith's
project is testing in conjunction with 200 state governments, universities, and nonprofit
and other organizations that apply for federal grants.


The hub-and-spoke integration software links grant applicants though Java-enabled
browsers to the grants database at Smith's site at the Transportation Department's Federal
Railroad Administration. Applicants can add or update information to the test database in
real time.


Smith said Active Web, which supports publish-and-subscribe interactions between a Java
applet and multiple databases, shows a lot of potential for government applications.


Smith's group also is building digital signature and encryption capabilities into smart
cards that grant applicants will use to sign their electronic submissions and encrypt
sensitive information.


"We're working furiously on this right now," Smith said, but added that
integrating Java with smart cards is still bleeding-edge.


After testing several card schemes this month and finding some could not do what they
promised, the group has yet to make a final product selection. But Smith said he still
expects to have something to demonstrate in October.


The electronic grants project received seed funds from the Government Information
Technology Services Board and the Federal Public-Key Infrastructure Steering Committee.
Fifty-five organizations at 18 agencies award federal grants and could benefit from
electronic data interchange, Smith said.


He said his group is aiming at the most common denominator by incorporating the EDI 194
transaction set standard into a graphical interface that any agency or grant applicant
could use.


The components of Active Web--information brokers, information adapters and
programmable agents--are running at the Transportation Department pilot site on a 200-MHz
Hewlett-Packard Co. Pentium server under Microsoft Windows NT. The same server hosts the
grants database, Oracle Corp.'s Oracle for Workgroups.


If the pilot project succeeds, grant applicants would submit data only once to the
information broker at one of the grant-processing agencies, then rely on the broker to
distribute it in a single session to all other agencies in the grant process, Smith said.


Active Web has precoded integration management services for interaction, interface,
format, translation and flow, all of which usually require extensive coding in projects of
this kind. "It's done as part of the architecture," Smith said.


Basically, the Active Web architecture avoids static and hard-to-manage middleware and
extensive custom coding, said Dale Sakai, marketing vice president for Active Software.


Agencies and others interested in the electronic grants project can find more
information on the World Wide Web site at http://www.dot.gov/general/commerce.


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