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In July 2023, the Senate introduced the "Streamlining Federal Grants Act of 2023" (S. 2286). This bill aims to make federal grant programs more effective, simplify the application process, improve service delivery, and enhance coordination among government agencies. If this bill becomes law, it would create a "Grants Council" led by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and other agencies. The Council's job would streamline the application process for over 100,000 Notices of Funding Opportunity (NOFOs) issued by various federal agencies each year. One of the proposed changes is to limit NOFOs to just 500 words. But is this word limit making things too simple for grant management?
Why NOFOs matter
Our national government practice has been working with federal NOFOs for years and can attest to their importance in the grant application process. These NOFOs serve two crucial purposes: first, they help organizations decide whether to apply for a grant and second, they guide the creation of a high-quality application. NOFOs lay out all the expectations that federal agencies have for how grant funds should be used by states, local governments, tribes, universities, businesses, and non-profits. To secure funding, applicants must propose a plan that aligns with the agency's goals and congressional appropriations.
The complexity of NOFOs
Historically, NOFOs have provided detailed information on program objectives, eligible expenses, applicant qualifications, community needs, program-specific requirements, and reporting obligations. This level of detail ensures that applicants fully understand what's expected. However, this information may be challenging to convey in just 500 words, potentially requiring additional technical assistance.
Supporting peer review
NOFOs also serve as essential guides for peer reviewers, who are experienced grant professionals hired by federal agencies to evaluate applications objectively. Without comprehensive NOFOs, reviewers would have a difficult time assessing applications effectively. Many NOFOs include scoring matrices, showing applicants the importance of concise responses and proper attachments. Achieving this within a 500-word limit may prove difficult.
While reducing NOFOs to 500 words may encourage more newcomers to apply for federal grants, it may also necessitate more technical assistance from agencies. This could include helping applicants understand the process and providing guidance on what's needed for a successful application.
If S. 2286 becomes law, using a 500-word NOFO is just the beginning. Like the challenges faced by recipients of federal COVID-19 funding, managing and reporting on grants can be complex, particularly for those with limited experience and resources. A shorter NOFO won't lessen the effort needed for compliance and reporting.
In short, obtaining federal funding is not a simple task, nor should it be. Small governments, businesses, and non-profits seeking federal grants should seek advice and assistance from colleagues, peers, professional grant experts, or consultants. While a 500-word NOFO might encourage more applications, successfully obtaining, managing, and reporting on federal grants will remain a substantial challenge for many smaller entities, even with a more streamlined process.
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