I wrote a sanity-check blog post over at Muniwireless.com with some tips on dealing with this insanely tight window for submitting grant proposals.
One voice of sanity, Bill Price, left this simple question: “Why has no one filed for a ‘stay of execution’ and requested an extension of the August 14th deadline?”
It less than 48 hours before applications are due in DC, and the Twitter world is starting to buzz with rumors that NTIS/RUS might extend this deadline. How long, or even how true, rumored extension will be is unknown. But this points to yet another reason people should have pushed harder for a 30-day reprieve – someone needs to figure out how to get the computer system beefed up so it doesn’t implode under the weight of hundreds of filings.
Think about it for a second. The main deadline for getting all that stimulus money out is September of 2010. Aug. 14 appears to be a date set more by political pressure than by what’s best for those footing the bill, and definitely those trying to make the deadline. There’s probably a run on Pepto Bismol and liquor stores all across the U.S. as people try to decipher rules, regs and applications, get their documentation in order, etc. Why not demand an extra 30 days?
There are several reasons to lobby heavily for either 1) an option to request a 30-day extension, or 2) having NTIA/RUS move the application deadline to Sept. 18 for everyone. Those wanting to submit their paperwork by mid-August can still do so.
You won’t adversely effect job creation in most states
The broadband stimulus bill is creating practically zero jobs in 2009 (though great job security for lawyers and grant writers). Once the Feds announced the December lotto, I mean grant, payout date, that pretty much slammed the door on starting any networks until March or April 2010 in most of the country due to weather conditions. So a delay in announcing grant awards won’t short-circuit the economic impact.
You’ll get better applications
To call the NOFA long and confusing is gross understatement. Even veterans of many grants past are struggling to sort it out and get their plans to conform to the demands of the application. It’s a classic case where a great proposal can get tossed out because of technicalities or misinterpretations, or never even get considered because some people are too overwhelmed by the time crunch to apply. For an initiative as vital to our future as broadband development, we need to maximize the chances for good projects to get funding based on their merit, not just the wherewithal to survive the application maze.
The volunteer grant-review process becomes manageable
I touched a nerve with my commentary questioning this idea of having volunteers review the grants. But if you ignore the harsh irony of not paying people to work to implement a jobs creation grant program, the other big problem is that 30 days is a ridiculously short time to set up a national process to recruit, hire, train and manage volunteer or paid staff scattered across the U.S.
In some respects, the logistics of transforming volunteers into an effective and productive workforce is more difficult than with paid employees. If you mismanage volunteers who have the skill levels this fairly complex job requires (it isn’t like sending people to canvass neighborhoods for a political campaign), then they’re not going to execute well or stick around very long. An extra 30 days to set up the volunteer infrastructure right pays dividends when those proposals come pouring in.
We have a chance to do some mapping before the final proposal
Many applicants face a serious challenge to assemble the kind of credible broadband mapping data required to strengthen their case justifying broadband need, and the NOFA’s guidelines with its focus on census blocks makes this even more of a nightmare. An extra 30 days won’t resolve all of the challenges, but it still gives applicants time to make more headway gathering useful information.
You get time to put some clarity into this process
Confusion and contradiction are two good words to describe the challenge many people face with the NOFA, which is made all too clear when you hear NTIA/RUS folks respond to even basic questions from people seeking clarity. We all know these staffers are trying to work magic while dealing with intense political pressure and timelines, so an extra month to sort through the many valid questions that applicants everywhere have is highly recommended.
We’re about to give out $4 billion, give or take, to put infrastructure in place we claim is as vital as water and electricity. But in our haste to create jobs and stimulate the economy, we stand to reap unintended consequences that hinder both objectives.
Maybe an extra 30 days for applicants to get their act together seems politically unpalatable to bureaucrats driven by the White House’s need for speed. Therefore it’s up to everyone working in the trenches on these proposals to drive home the point to D.C. – a 30-day extension on the front end is going to make them all look better on the back end of this process.