System-to-system (S2S) submission of proposals to US federal agencies via Grants.gov has been available since 2006 in addition to submission of proposals using Grants.gov’s forms-based solution (originally PureEdge, now Adobe forms). Any proposal that can be submitted via Grants.gov can be submitted using an S2S system, such as InfoEd’s Proposal Development module.
While all 26 grant-making federal agencies are required to post their funding opportunities on Grants.gov, agency adoption of Grants.gov as a submission portal varies. NIH, USDA/NIFA, and many others have long embraced Grants.gov for receiving proposals electronically. Some have been slower to adopt Grants.gov as a submission portal – often due to existence of other systems they had created prior to the availability of Grants.gov, such as NSF and NASA. NSF’s FastLane system and NASA’s NSPIRES system each represent web-based systems for application submission that are tailored to the specific requirements of their respective agencies. These systems are also used by those agencies for many post-award activities and reporting as well, as is the NIH Commons. A number of agencies will also still accept applications on paper, with prior authorization often being required.
NSF and NASA accept applications for many of their opportunities via Grants.gov in addition to through their unique portals. NSF has gone so far as to develop an S2S submission portal through Research.gov. NSF requires that linked applications and fellowships be submitted via FastLane, but most other opportunities may be submitted via Grants.gov. NASA accepts most applications via Grants.gov. The NIH is starting a pilot test right now of a new web-based application portal for multi-project applications – ASSIST. When fully operational, ASSIST will support the transition of the remainder of the paper submissions at NIH moving to electronic submission – and InfoEd Proposal Development and other S2S systems will also be able to support submitting these complex applications as well.
Grants.gov maintains a library of forms for use in submitting applications; forms are combined into application packages by the agencies when they post opportunities. The library includes more than 100 forms, among which are 5 distinct face pages or cover pages for application packages. Agencies choose among the SF424, SF424 R&R, SF424 Short Organizational, and SF424 Mandatory for applications by universities, research institutes, hospitals and businesses. The SF424 Individual face page is used solely for individual applications for assistance. The Research and Related (R&R) family of forms are those used generally by the major research-funding agencies like NIH, NSF, NASA, USDA/NIFA, etc. In addition to the face pages, there are various budget forms, agency-specific (or program-specific) data collection forms, forms for collecting attachments and lobbying disclosure forms. A number of agencies maintain supplemental forms and require users to download those forms from the agency website and then upload them in a specified location within the application package.
A key goal in establishing Grants.gov as a submission portal was to achieve greater consistency across agencies in grant applications to streamline the application process for users. While some progress has certainly been made toward this goal, there remains much more that could be achieved. While aversion to change and lack of awareness of the impact on users are at the root of many of these variations, there are also very real differences in the requirements placed on the agencies through their funding streams that can result in variability that may appear unnecessary from a user vantage point. Thus, there will likely never be a single common application form across all agencies, at least not in the foreseeable future, but with continued pushing through the Federal Demonstration Partnership and support from some key agencies, we can certainly hope and expect that the situation will keep improving.