HOW to GET a FEDERAL GRANT: AN INSIDER’S VIEW-PART II-AFTER GOVERNMENT RECEIPT of PROPOSALS
There are not great deals of things for which I can claim a level of expertise. I even hire electricians to come and remove and replace my light bulbs. But when it comes to federal contracts and grants, particularly grants, I am confident that I can speak with some degree of authority. I have worked for a Federal Department of the Interior agency, negotiating, awarding and administering such grants and cooperative agreements for the last 10 years, prior to my retirement last spring. I hope to enlighten you giving you a general overview on some of the aspects of my business from the inside as a Grants Officer and acquisition professional.
Be sure that your proposal is sent to the Federal agency so that it and all required documents arrive on or before the due date. Late is late, that is in stone, with rare exception. Generally, this exception has to do with Government mishandling that if the mishandling had not occurred your proposal would have been received in a timely fashion. I can tell you though, over the last 10 years and hundreds of proposals that the amount of exceptions made under this condition did not exceed the number of fingers on my hand. Trust me; I have heard all the excuses. I have had congressional aides plead with me in regards to allowing exceptions for applicants living within their congressional districts. I am not terribly interested in what Fed-EX or UPS did or failed to do. It is not realistic to have you submit at the last minute without your taking into account problems that are the direct result of haste. If I made an exception for your proposal, I put all the others that were timely at an unfair disadvantage. Congressman or no, my agency manager stood behind me 100 percent in this matter.
Most grant/cooperative agreement proposals instruct the applicant to delineate between technical and budget aspects. I am not qualified to evaluate the technical merit of proposals that are received, most are of a scientific nature. I do the other side; evaluate the budgets of each applicant proposal. You will have the opportunity to have your projects at least partially funded by the Government with all the accompanying prestige that comes with it, but first you have to get through ME. Of course, if your proposal fails in the area of technical merit it is disqualified. The technical aspects are meticulously evaluated by specialists in the particular field of inquiry. Regardless of a successful technical proposal, the Grants Officer signs whatever agreement is negotiated. He or she must be satisfied that the negotiated cost is fair and reasonable to Government before any award can take place.
The instructions as to how to prepare your budget proposal is generally provided in the Government’s Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA). My job was to act in the interests of the tax payer and ferret out, using either a meat ax or scalpel, where you were hiding money in your proposal. Nothing made my eyes shine more than your clean and transparent budget proposal. Certain things irritated me while having to evaluate more than 100 proposals with six figure budgets within a specified period of time. All categories of cost which contained ‘lump sum’ or ‘miscellaneous’ descriptions were not acceptable. I would evaluate: overhead, indirect cost rate, salaries, burdened salary rates, cost of supplies and material, subcontractor labor and supply costs, etc. I have weapons in my arsenal that included technical staff that were familiar with technical equipment and could tell me what were reasonable costs associated with its being part of a proposal. I also have the Bureau of Labor Standards www.bls.gov available to give me a pretty good idea of comparable rates of compensation for labor within the areas associated with the proposed grant. I also have had 10 years of experience, so I have learned how to ‘smell a rat’ instinctively upon my initial perusal of your proposal. So, I am armed to the teeth. If I find irregularities in your proposal, I am going to ‘call you out’ on them and give you a specific amount of time to explain and justify, or correct and resubmit a revision. If I let glaring irregularities persist to the point of award and it was discovered that fraud took place under an agreement that I had signed, I go to the “woodshed”. This is a trip that I would certainly want to avoid. So make sure all elements of your budget are clear and transparent, so as their critical component parts can be identified to make evaluation less troublesome.
I hope that this was helpful. I will discuss the subject further, touching on other areas or providing greater detail to what was discussed here based upon questions and the interest of the readership.