Federal Grant RFPs Are Too Complex For Most Smaller Colleges, Universities, and Institutions

Anyone who knows anything about grant writing for colleges and universities knows that it’s all about the details and complexity of the RFPs (request for proposals). If you fail to follow the universal guidance, or the myriad of rules and regulations – your proposal won’t even get reviewed. If it does get reviewed by the NIH or NSF you have less than a 20% chance it will get funded – this fact after you’ve spent countless hours and often a month or more preparing it.

For these reasons seasoned grant specialists have the advantage and larger universities that have a grants and sponsored programs department obvious are awarded in a higher percentage than small universities and colleges. How is this fair, and remember when the government awards research or teaching grants – they are paying with taxpayers’ monies. Why is it so complicated you ask?

Well, because it is a government bureaucracy although the government will tell you it is merely to ensure that fairness and the highest ethics are in play. Sure.

Now then, there was an interesting report by the Government Accounting Office titled; “Federal Research Grants: Opportunities Remain for Agencies to Streamline Administrative Requirements,” which stated what many already know (Cite: GAO-16-890T, September 29, 2016). The GAO report states:

“The federal government funds the majority of the research conducted by colleges and universities-over $27 billion in fiscal year 2015. In turn, these organizations are required to develop budgets, document expenses, and demonstrate that they are spending this money appropriately. However, colleges and universities are concerned that the time and resources they spend complying with these requirements is increasingly taking time away from actual research. We found that federal agencies could maintain effective oversight while standardizing requirements and, in some cases, making them more flexible.”

Still another GAO report “NIH Biomedical Research: Agencies Involved in the Indirect Cost Rate-Setting Process Need to Improve Controls,” put out the same month (GAO-16-616, September 7, 2016) explains the challenges with safe-guarding tax-payer’s monies and challenges with PI’s runaway indirect costs, but more regulations just make the process more complicated which will add to the challenges of streamlining.

Okay so, one government report says to streamline the process another says more attention to costs are needed and that means more rules – but there are already more rules and the system is so complex it becomes mutually exclusive and favors larger institutions which continue to grow and in the process more bureaucratic to deal with the NSF, NIH and other agencies’ own bureaucracy.

Ever wonder why we are having fewer scientific breakthroughs these days? I don’t.

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