A group of agencies is working to make it easier for states, local governments and nonprofit organizations to apply for federal grants and carry out the projects associated with them. Twenty-six grant-making agencies released a plan for streamlining each step of the federal grants process earlier this month. The plan describes how agencies will comply with the 1999 Federal Financial Assistance Management Improvement Act, which requires the executive branch to develop a common application for numerous federal grant programs and create a standard set of administrative rules to govern more than 600 federal grant programs. Agencies are still far from fulfilling the act's requirements, which the plan describes as a "vast" undertaking. But the plan lays out a timetable for complying with each of the act's key requirements, including the creation of an online grant application system. The plan focuses on improving the announcement, payment and reporting procedures that are common across all grant programs. By Sept. 30, agencies will develop a set of standards for all grant announcements. It will also streamline the numerous progress and financial reports that grant recipients must turn in. In 16 months, agencies plan to put some reporting forms online. The Grants Management Committee of the Chief Financial Officer's Council is organizing agency efforts to comply with the 1999 act. The Committee has five working groups, each of which contributed to the plan. One of the groups, the Inter-Agency Electronic Grants Committee, launched a Web portal for grant applications last December. The Federal Commons Web portal will eventually allow applicants to submit and track their grant applications online, fulfilling a key objective of the 1999 act. At present, users can search a General Services Administration catalog of federal grant programs on the site. While the plan outlines a series of administrative improvements to the grants process, the Office of Management and Budget has taken steps to bolster grant management through legislation. Earlier this month, OMB sent Congress a list of recommendations for improving the grants process, according to a spokesman at the Department of Health and Human Services, the lead agency in drafting the plan.
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