Federal City Digest

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Grants.gov Strains Under New Demand

An early casualty of the stimulus package was identified by the Office of Management and Budget this week when OMB Director Peter Orszag told agency heads to plan for a possible meltdown of the government's online grantmaking portal.

A review of its capacity revealed a "significant risk of failure," Orszag warned in a memo Monday, our colleague Sarah Cohen reports. The memo went on to say that Grants.gov, the site where nonprofit groups and local governments can apply for more than 1,000 competitive grants from 22 federal agencies, is straining under the weight of recent growth. With an expected 60 percent increase in volume because of last month's $787 billion stimulus measure, the system could just break, Orszag said.

The expected major surge in applications is likely to take a while to emerge, as agencies write instructions to applicants and settle on conditions and priorities for the grants. But already the system is slowing down, frustrating would-be grantees trying to meet application deadlines and instead getting error messages.

"Grants.gov continues to experience system slowness due to the high volume of users," the Grants.gov blog advised readers Tuesday.

"The system can not support the activity. It's as basic as that . . .," fumed one anonymous commenter in response. "If I am told one more time to 'call the help desk,' I think I'll go crazy!"

In preparation for the surge, the Department of Health and Human Services, which runs the site, recently increased storage space for the system and is working on other modernization efforts, Orszag said in a statement. But, just to be safe, he ordered all of the agencies to make alternative plans in case Grants.gov can't handle the load by next week.

WHAT TO WATCH

-- With part of President Obama's agenda ratified as law, he and Vice President Biden get down to the nitty-gritty of governance today, holding a White House conference on Recovery Act implementation that will bring state officials together with Cabinet secretaries and administration officials.

-- The first lady makes an out-of-town visit, touring Fort Bragg in North Carolina to meet with military spouses and learn about family support services. In the late afternoon, Michelle Obama will speak to community organizations in Fayetteville, N.C., that provide support to the soldiers and their families.

-- Natural resources lawyer David J. Hayes goes before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee for a hearing on his nomination to be deputy secretary of the interior, a position he also held at the now-67,000-person agency from 1999 to 2001.

-- Garance Franke-Ruta federalcity@washpost.com


© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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