Change is inevitable. As society continues to progress in the “digital age,” so has applying for various federal grant programs. It is becoming almost impossible to apply to these programs via a paper application, as in the past. To remain competitive when applying for these grants, it is essential to constantly stay abreast of these changes or risk receiving a rejection notice instead of an award letter.
One change is the reduction of paper applications being accepted. The government is running out of the physical space needed to store applications done on paper. As a result, they have moved to electronic applications. The Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995:
[W]as enacted to minimize the paperwork burden for individuals; small businesses; educational and nonprofit institutions; federal contractors; state, local, and tribal governments; and other persons resulting from the collection of information by or for the federal government.
The number of grant applications versus the number of applications funded is very small. Therefore, preparation is the key to receiving these government funds.
Many programs now require that the application be submitted electronically, and they will not accept a paper application at all. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey of 2016 (the most current year available), more than 89% of U.S. residents have a computer with broadband access. That percentage has most certainly risen. The government must also pay to rent storage facilities for all this paperwork, which has quickly become cost-prohibitive. Electronic submission and storage are the solutions.
The New Unique Entity Identifier
To comply with government regulations, applicants must register before applying. The previous process was to obtain a Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) number first, then register in the System for Award Management (SAM) and receive a Commercial and Government Entity (CAGE) code.
As of April 4, 2022, all federal grant applicants must obtain a Unique Entity Identifier (UEI) number, which will now become the single number required to do business with the federal government. JustGrants uses SAM as the main information source in applying for and managing U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) grant funding. Organization information in SAM accounts is automatically updated in JustGrants, so it is important to have a SAM account and ensure that the entity information is current. This automatic process reduces the burden on award recipients to manually update information across multiple systems. It also helps DOJ validate the information from recipients.
To receive funding, applicants must have an active SAM account. In addition, the federal government-wide policy at 2 CFR Part 25 (Universal Entity Identifier and SAM) states:
[An] agency may not make an award to an entity until the entity has complied with the requirements … to provide a valid Unique Entity Identifier and maintain an active SAM registration with current information.
Entity information is publicly available in SAM. Simply visit www.SAM.gov, select “Search Records,” enter entity information, and then view “POCs” (including the Electronic Business Point of Contact) within the Entity Profile. The UEI number will be located directly under the previous CAGE code that SAM was using, and the UEI number now will be used instead of the CAGE code. For those who are currently registered at SAM.gov, the UEI number has already been assigned and will appear under the former CAGE code. Those who are new to the system can register to receive a UEI.
The New Grant Systems
Other changes have been underway too. For example, on October 15, 2020, the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office), the Office of Justice Programs (OJP), and the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) launched new grants management and payment management systems. The Justice Grants System (JustGrants) replaced the grants management system previously used by OJP and OVW, as well as the NexGen system used by the COPS Office. Additionally, the COPS Office, OJP, and OVW transitioned from using the Grants Payment Request System to the Department of the Treasury’s Automated Standard Application for Payments (ASAP) system.
According to the DOJ, this transition to JustGrants and ASAP:
This represents a significant IT modernization effort to develop and implement a single grants management system for all three DOJ grant-making components. It also gives applicants and award recipients new ways to manage their own entity information and users in the system. JustGrants offers the ability for applicants and award recipients to:
- Authenticate each user with their own login and password
- Manage multiple users and associate individual roles which govern access to information and tasks in the system
- Assign users to one or many applications and award tasks and activities
The Importance of Checking the Right Box
Another notable change is the level of detail provided to justify the “need.” That means that for a request to be awarded, statistical data must strongly support it. The more detail provided to support that need, the stronger the application becomes.
A computer often scores those little numbered boxes where information is supplied to the funding agency. The application must score high enough by the computer to ensure that it makes it to peer review, where actual people read, interpret, and score the application. Once the peer-review score is combined with the computer score, the application receives its total combined score. Hopefully, it is above the score recommended for the award.
Many grants are rejected because their combined score was a quarter of a point (0.25%) below the funding cutoff line. Applicants must take credit for the work an agency does or is asked to do. That is why it is essential to ensure that the numbers placed in those boxes are current and statistically supported enough to support the need.
The sheer volume of applications now received by the funding source necessitates that they are pre-screened before they are allowed to go to the peer-review panel. For example, look at what the last couple of years looked like for applications submitted to the Assistance to Firefighters Grant. Note the number of applications received versus the number of applications awarded:
- 2018 – 8,441 total applications submitted, 1,824 awarded; 8,005 were fire departments, with 1,614 awarded
- 2019 – 8,376 total applications submitted, 1,775 awarded; 8,008 were fire departments, with 1,696 awarded
- 2020 – 8,159 total applications submitted, 1,882 awarded; 7,805 were fire departments, with 1,808 awarded
As noted above, the vast number of applications versus the number of applications funded is extremely small. Therefore, it is critically important to use every opportunity possible to gain that extra point score.
All the data supplied in the fill-in-the-blank boxes is critically important to the computer program and the peer-review panel. If the review panel had to read every application received, it would take an excessive amount of time for them to do so, and the awards must be given promptly to be within the federal fiscal budget year. Therefore, the “need to be funded” should be considered on a “needed it yesterday” basis, and the detail provided is paramount to the application’s chances of success or failure.
Notably, the days of filling out an application and submitting it are no longer two to three days before the deadline. Implementing the changes noted above can take a month or longer, so be prepared to enter the system and fill out the application for submission. Just gathering data and statistical information for a critical infrastructure listing can take several weeks to navigate, find, request data, and receive before being able to enter it into the system.
Preparation of an application to a federal grant program is a longer process than in the past. Not doing all the steps to apply and not being able to submit because an agency did not properly prepare will most assuredly result in a denial of funding. As Benjamin Franklin said in the 1700s, “A failure to plan, is a plan to fail.” Although many things in the world of grants have changed, this remains as true as ever. Changes to systems and requirements will continue. Grants will continue to get more competitive. However, something else will not change: The more preparation that is done and the more detailed the application, the more likely it is to win a public safety grant.
Kurt Bradley is a nationally recognized public safety grants consultant and retired law enforcement officer and administrator. As a senior grant consultant with First Responder Grants Inc., he uses his 30 years of experience in public safety and grant-writing to specialize in the grant development and grant training needs for the fire service, rescue, emergency medical services, and emergency management agencies.