Most of you are no doubt aware of this, but it's been ages since I've had to submit a government grant proposal (one of the perks of unemployment). But I just read in the Jan. 12 Chronicle of Higher Education a First Person article by Carol Kolmerten about the exciting new world of Grants.gov.
Recently, I tried to help a faculty member at my college submit a grant proposal to a National Institutes of Health competition. I soon discovered that one can no longer submit a grant to NIH directly. One has to submit it through Grants.gov. I estimate that it took me more than 25 hours to try to submit the grant. After 37 error messages (I have them saved, because no one would believe me without cyber evidence), I am still not sure the proposal was received.
I do not know whose brilliant idea Grants.gov was, but it is clear that, as it now works, it is set up to benefit only large universities with a "grants office." Small colleges suffer when they attempt (or, if my experience is any indication, when they give up attempting) to submit a grant proposal to any federal agency.
At many colleges, like the one where I have taught for 28 years, there is no grants office -- no cadre of workers hired to decipher the unreadable jargon or find the end of the maze that Grants.gov has created to keep applicants away from federal money.
Kolmerten details the ridiculous process she had to go through to guide a professor on her campus through the submission process on Grants.gov, with the end result that they could not even be entirely sure the proposal was successfully submitted. It would be incredibly hilarious if it weren't true. She ends her article this way:
Finally, I know from talking to people who award government grants that Grants.gov is a headache for them as well -- adding a useless layer of bureaucracy and moving program officers one additional step away from applicants.
Little do many applicants know, for example, that Grants.gov's super technology does not recognize the quotation marks in most software packages and, thus, the polished perfect draft we used to be able to send off now reaches panelists with question marks in the place of all quotation marks. "Our Submission of 'Special' Systems in Synchronic Symmetry" now reads ?Our Submission of ?Special? Systems in Synchronic Symmetry?
I think I do get it. I think Grants.gov must just be the latest offensive in the war on science from the Ministry of Science and Culture. If we can't keep the scientists from squawking about stuff like global warming, evolution, stem cell research and vaccines for cervical cancer, then let's just make it harder for them to get any money to do anything at all.
A smart programmer might submit a proposal to fix Grants.gov. (A really smart programmer, though, would probably avoid that can of worms altogether.)
This is why either HCI or an interface design course (or heck, any kind of design course) should be *required* of all CS (and related) majors. Stories like this make me want to weep with frustration.
I still don't understand why Grants.gov just didn't take NSF's Fastlane. It's a great system and so much better than Grants.gov.
"Kolmerten details the ridiculous process she had to go through to guide a professor on her campus through the submission process on Grants.gov, with the end result that they could not even be entirely sure the proposal was successfully submitted."
Grants.goc is indeed a total pain in the ass, even for applicants at institutions with well-staffed grants management offices. However, it is not at all difficult to determine whether a grant has been successfully submitted, and whether the text has rendered correctly.