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Image from the eGrant website.Historically, the lead federal agency in the electronic proposal submission effort has been the National Science Foundation, with its “FastLane” system, developed a quarter century ago.

According to the Worcester Polytechnic Institute-Office of Sponsored Programs website, “The National Science Foundation (NSF) FastLane electronic proposal submission system had its beginnings in the mid-1980s when initial plans for experiments in electronic proposal submission were developed. The EXPRES (Experimental Research in Electronic Submission) project, which began in 1986, resulted in the first awards (Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Michigan) made for the purpose of developing an interoperable environment which would enable scientists and engineers to exchange multimedia documents freely among dissimilar hardware and software platforms. In 1988, a pilot program was begun to experiment with online proposal and forms submission. Finally, in 1994, an NSF task force on electronic proposal processing, after reviewing past experiments, recommended a new approach that included automating all business functions with the research, engineering and education communities. The project was named FastLane and development was begun on six pilot applications. Today's FastLane system is the result of considerable interactions with and comments from the higher education community.” 

The U.S. Department of Education has developed its own electronic submission process, called “e-Application.” Their website has tabs on the left side of the home page that include:

  • 9 Steps to submissiongrants.jpg
  • e-Application User Guide
  • Application Packages
  • Demo
  • Links
  • Survey
  • Helpdesk
  • e-Grants Portal

In more recent years, the federal government has been coordinating its various agencies to utilize a standard electronic proposal submission system known as GRANTS.GOV. This electronic submittal system works across most federal agencies. Even the NSF gives you the option of submitting under FastLane or GRANTS.GOV. The projections are that there will be a federated electronic proposal submittal platform that all agencies will be mandated to use. I heard about this initiative fifteen years ago, yet we are still not there.

If you do consider submitting through GRANTS.GOV, please be sure that your institution has a Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS), which is a unique nine-digit identification number provided by Dun & Bradstreet. You can ask your business office or grants office if you already have the DUNS number. If not, please secure one, prior to submitting a proposals through GRANTS.GOV.

fastlane.gifIt is rarer and rarer that a federal agency will allow you to submit a paper copy of your proposal. One instance that I am familiar with is the U.S. Department of Labor, which still gives you hard copy or electronic submission options. I am sure this will change in the near future, as we continue moving toward an electronic, paperless society.

My final point is, DO NOT to wait until the last day to submit your electronic proposal. There has been a recent occasion when the servers in Washington, D.C. got so jammed by incoming proposals, that you could not upload sections of your application.

I experienced this recently with a proposal to the National Telecommunications Information Agency. If we had not already started inputting some of the online forms several days prior to the deadline and server crash, we would not have been grandfathered in to submitting the complete application. Those people who had not started their electronic application were ineligible to submit. This was a painful lesson for some.

Please share any of your experiences with electronic submissions with our readers. <>