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What happens after submission: The federal grant review process

Use this guide to track what happens after you submit an application to a federal funding source

Many police officers have asked: “What happens to my grant after I submit my application to a federal funding source?” First, it depends on which Federal funding source you have selected to fund your grant project. Then, it depends on the type of grant you are submitting. So let’s start with that topic first. There are three major types of Federal grants. The Office of Justice Programs provides the following definitions for the three types of programs:

Discretionary Grants - Discretionary grants are awarded directly by OJP to eligible recipients and are most often awarded on a competitive basis. Some discretionary grants to organizations may be awarded on a non-competitive basis, often based on congressional direction. Discretionary grants are projects submitted by a community organization and are highly competitive. These grants are awarded to the applicant submitting the best competitive and complete application meeting the request for proposal requirements accurately, fully and professionally. Many of these programs are evaluated through the Peer Review process. Each Federal Agency has its own distinct review and peer review process but all comply with the rules of grant management and contracting according to the U.S. Office of Management and Budget. The Office of Justice Programs administers many of the discretionary grant programs

Formula or Block Grants - Formula and/or block grants are awarded directly by OJP to eligible recipients as authorized by statute. For formula and/or block grant programs, statutes or appropriations acts specify how the funds will be allocated among the eligible recipients, as well as the method by which an applicant must demonstrate its eligibility for that funding. Examples of this type of grant at OJP are the OJJDP Juvenile Accountability Block Grants Program and the OVC VOCA Victim Compensation Formula Grants. The award amount is calculated by a formula, and may vary among programs. Award calculations can consider such factors as population, census data, juvenile offender population, and Part 1 violent crimes reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Formula grant programs can be either for a specific purpose (assisting juvenile offenders, for example) or related to public safety in general. The dollar amount available to applicants under each program is included in the solicitation. The specific recipient for state formula programs should be designated by each state. For state formula programs, OJP maintains a list of the designated agencies authorized by each state to administer the programs

Formula grants undergo an internal review by the OJP grant experts to determine if the applicant has complied with all of the parameters of the request for proposal. They also check to that the data and demographics submitted justify the need for the grant and supports the pre-determined formula and reviews the applicant’s outcomes and past performance on last year’s formula grant. Formula grants fund the local level funding to support daily activities such as drug and alcohol, children and youth programs, social services programs etc. These grants are non-competitive in nature. Most BJA grants are awarded through formula funding.

Congressional Earmarks: Hard Earmarks: Congress directs the Federal agency to provide certain funds to specific programs it has identified. Soft Earmarks: Congress identifies a program and directs the Federal agency to evaluate the program or fund the program, if warranted. Congressional Earmarks are a partnership of the House or Senate member and their local constituents which present to them a justifiable need from the community. Some Congressional members have an application which a local community organization may complete to offer ideas for local funding projects needed by the community.

The Bureau of Justice completes the following review process for each grant application they receive.

1. Application Review – The application is submitted and reviewed for registration information and completeness, and to ensure that the applicant meets the basic eligibility requirements defined in the solicitation. This includes formatting, signatures, correct forms, certifications, assurances and that the correct documents are in the right order. The reviewers must assure that the technical requirements all in compliance with the request for proposal.

2. Programmatic Review – The grant manager reviews the application to make sure that the information presented is reasonable and understandable and the activities proposed in the application are measurable, achievable and consistent with program or legislative requirements as stated in the solicitation. For competitive discretionary solicitations, this step may also include a Peer Review of the application. Peer Review is the process of using non-federal independent evaluators, and/or in-house or other federal agency personnel who are subject matter experts to assess the merits of an application or concept paper for federal funding. The results of programmatic review are provided to grant decision makers, who use that review along with other relevant factors to assess applications, and make funding decisions. I will discuss the peer review process in the next article

In addition to the details of the applications, the grant managers and the peer reviewers are looking for the following key features for every grant

Innovation: Without abandoning what does work, the field should be courageous about developing and implementing new ideas across the Mission of the Bureau of Justice

Evidence-Based Strategies: In order to get past the traditional model of reacting to crime after it occurs, and shift instead to a preventative stance, BJA strongly encourages the development of evidence-based strategies that embrace science and data as foundations of policy.

Collaboration: Increasingly, nontraditional collaborations and partnerships are emerging as an effective strategy to address the considerable problems confronting criminal justice practitioners. Whether drug court judge, sheriff, jail administrator, parole board member, treatment professional, supervision officer, community advocate, or law enforcement officer, we seek the same end: a safe community, and a justice system that promotes and supports that goal. In addition to building alliances within one's own field, it is critical to forge effective collaborative relationships with other public and private agencies, and the community members our system of justice is designed to serve.

3. Financial Review – The Office of the Chief Financial Officer (OCFO) conducts a financial review of all discretionary awards and cooperative agreements to evaluate the fiscal integrity and financial capability of applicants, examine proposed costs to determine if the budget and budget narrative accurately explain project costs and determine whether costs are reasonable, necessary, and allowable under applicable Federal cost principles and agency regulations.

4. Award Decisions – Generally, OJP either notifies an applicant that it will receive a grant award no later than September 30 of the calendar year or issues a rejection letter to unsuccessful applicants by December 30 of the same calendar year.

5. Final Approved Award – All Final approved award recommendation memoranda for grant programs undergoing external or internal peer reviews must include a list of applications received to include the lowest scoring application to be funded and every application scoring higher, regardless of whether it was funded. This list may be divided into categories and subcategories if they were published in the solicitation. In addition a brief explanation as to why an application on the above list was not funded. All discretionary grant recommendations made absent a peer review process must be documented and clearly explain the choices made, the reasons for the choices and the policy considerations on which the decisions All final award decisions must be documented including any changes made as a result of discussions between those recommending grants and the decision maker. Such changes in the final approved award decision memorandum must reflect who made the decision to vary from a recommendation memo and his or her reasons for it.

After you have submitted your grant application either online or by hard copy you can track the review progress of your own application by logging on to: http://www.grants.gov/applicants/track_your_application.jsp or https://grants.ojp.usdoj.gov

The Bureau of Justice review process is designed to offer the best chance to have your application fairly judged by professionals knowledgeable in the current trends, best practices, issues and approaches within the field of justice. Even the formatting requirements have been designed to eliminate reader’s bias. If every grant looks the same on paper, the reviewer can focus solely on the content of your application and not on which one looks the “prettiest”. Those who follow the request for proposal directions fully have already crossed the first hurdle in getting the award.

Best wishes in your current endeavors to obtain critical funding for you department. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments at denise.schlegel@policegrantshelp.com

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