Electronic Grants System is ready for governmentwide rollout in fall

Agencies can use the
grants system without making major upgrades.


After a successful nine-month pilot, the Federal Railroad Administration has received
an additional $300,000 from the Government Information Technology Services Board
Innovation Fund to build the full-scale Electronic Grants System, Transportation
Department officials said.


The $155,000 pilot had served partly as a demonstration showcase for object request
broker software from Active Software Inc., a Santa Clara, Calif., startup.


The company’s Active Web software is holding up and will be the glue that
integrates enterprise application components for the system when it goes online this fall,
said Bradley Smith, FRA project manager for the system.


Active Software makes an information broker and adapters for about 60 products,
including packaged enterprise applications, databases, languages and other middleware.


The adapters are small programs that automatically read the database tables and
generate the appropriate event types for operations involving selects, inserts and stored
procedures.


Although Active Web has some of the functionality of the Common Object Request Broker
Architecture, "actually it’s better," Smith said.


The grants system will be a virtual system that grant-awarding agencies can be part of
without major hardware or software upgrades to their own computer systems, he said.


Eight agencies—the departments of Education, Interior, Labor and Transportation,
and the General Services Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Naval
Research and Small Business Administration—will be part of the virtual system.


Smith said he thinks all 33 federal agencies that award grants eventually will become
part of the system designed to streamline the process of awarding federal grants totaling
$300 billion a year.


Using the electronic system over the Internet, a grant applicant will visit a Web site
to submit all required certification data to the Electronic Grants System.


An information broker running on the site’s host server will automatically send
the data over the Web to all other agencies or offices with a role in reviewing and
awarding the grant, Smith said.


The system is ahead of schedule, Smith said, and will go online this fall with password
identification, access control and Secure Sockets Layer security. But it will not be
secured by digital signatures until next year, Smith said, after the project gets
additional funds for security from the federal Public-Key Infrastructure Steering
Committee.


When grant applicants go to the Electronic Grants System Web site server to request a
grant application, the Sun Microsystems Enterprise 1 Server will send out a Java applet.


The Java applet will enforce the use of standard data elements.


"We wanted the data element sizes and types to be consistent with electronic data
interchange transaction set standards, not so much because we’re interested in EDI
but because we wanted data element standards," Smith said.


Components of the virtual system—Java client applets, Active Web middleware and
back-end relational database servers—could be replaced by C and C++ client
applications or Java Database Connectivity middleware.


For additional information, contact Smith at Bradley.Smith@fra.dot.gov.

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