System overloads, disparate agency requirements and funding shortfalls have kept grants.gov, the online application portal for more than 1,000 federal grant programs, from performing at top capacity, a new report by the Government Accountability office says.
Also, new grant applicants are often stymied by a complex registration process designed to take two to three days, but instead it can take up to two weeks, pushing applicants past the deadlines of the grants they're after, according to the watchdog report released Friday.
Grants.gov, which is housed inside the Health and Human Services Department, accepts applications for nearly all federal grant programs on behalf of 26 federal agencies.
Frequent users say the online portal, which first came out in 1999, has vastly simplified the grant application process, the GAO said.
But, despite several upgrades over the years, the site is unable to deal with increasingly heavy traffic and applicants sometimes have spent hours just trying to log in to the system or verify that their applications were properly submitted.
Those problems continued even after a 2009 upgrade allowed 2,000 simultaneous log-ins, up from 300 the system previously supported, the GAO said.
Those delays have, "in some cases led to late or incomplete submissions and lost opportunities for both grantees and populations served," GAO said. The problem is worsened by different agency policies on how to handle late submissions.
One cause of the site's degraded performance has been its funding model -- voluntary payments by the 26 grant-writing agencies, which often come late in the budget year, creating temporary shortfalls, GAO said.
At one point, a shortage of funds forced the site's managers to stop issuing updates and move all new notices to the grants.gov blog, the GAO said.
The National Institutes of Health accepts more than 100,000 grant applications through grants.gov annually, by far the greatest number of any agency. The Defense Department ranks second, with about 12,000 annual submissions