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Stimulus $eekers Swamping Grants.gov

23 March 2009 2:15 am
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President Barack Obama's plan to pump money to scientists to help jump-start the economy has hit a snag: Grant seekers are overwhelming Grants.gov, the main site for applying for federal grants. According to updates on the site in early March, the site is set up to handle up to 2000 users at a time, but it has been flooded with about 3000. On 16 March, the system was down for 8 hours, prompting the National Institutes of Health to extend a grant deadline by a day. The incident drew a letter to White House Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag from the Association of American Medical Colleges.

AAMC leaders say they have "received messages of grave concern from our constituents about major service and operational deficiencies in the program and fear that increased deterioration in this essential service as volume increases may hamper efforts to implement" the stimulus bill, which includes $8 billion for NIH extramural programs. According to AAMC, NIH officials may begin accepting paper proposals for some competitions—after spending years cajoling university officials to switch to electronic applications.

In a similar letter to Orszag last week, two other Washington, D.C., research organizations—the Association of American Universities and the Council on Governmental Relations—call Grants.gov "broken" and ask for a meeting to discuss the short-term and long-term problems. Scientists seeking the $3 billion in the stimulus bill for the National Science Foundation are in better shape: The agency has its own system, FastLane, that is up to the task, acting NSF Deputy Director Cora Marrett told the House Science Committee last week. The letter from the two groups urges Orszag to look to FastLane as a model.

The next big test for Grants.gov may come on 27 April, the deadline for submitting proposals for NIH's $200 million Challenge Grant program, which is funded with stimulus money.