By JULIE HEIMKES
The federal government is currently operating under a continuing resolution (CR) that was set to expire at the end of March. Congress is currently considering passing its budget as part of a yearlong CR with full details not available as we go to press with this issue. The details about how much agencies will have available in 2013 to operate and grant funds available, along with the impact of the sequestration, may not be known until late April or early May. The traditional timelines for grant programs have not been produced and most federal grant solicitations have not been posted during their normal grant period during the winter months.
But the bottom line is that there is still a lot the customers can do in preparation for real grant numbers.
Public safety customers need to watch the websites of the various federal government grant agencies, because they will often post grant information with the statement, “pending funding approval from Congress.” This statement allows the agencies to post the grant opportunity and accept applications, but they cannot actually award grants until after Congress has approved the grant program funding. Thus, you still must keep your eye on grants.gov or agency-specific websites to monitor opportunities.
Federal funding has to move through the grant management system by the end of September, so the agencies will be pressed to make quicker decisions this year. They will also most likely shorten the grant application period in order to accommodate this shortened grant cycle, making it more difficult for customers to submit a quality application in the tight time frame.
The secret to beating this problem is to begin your grant writing now, regardless of the posting of a grant opportunity. The first step is to look at last year’s grant solicitations on agency websites. Most grant programs will use the same format and questions year after year, with only a few minor changes. If your draft application is ready once the grant opportunity is posted live, all you’ll need to do is tweak your proposal based on any changes in the new grant solicitation.
An additional step you can take is to get prior approval from your unit of government to apply for the specific grant program when it is formally announced, thus saving the approval process time at the local level.
Most grant solicitations contain similar program elements that every grantee is expected to address in their application:
- Verify your eligibility for the grant program that you are applying.
- Identify the problem.
- Be reasonable in the amount you are requesting because the government tries to spread the money out to many constituents.
- Identify the target audience for the grant.
- Describe the problem to be addressed and its solution.
- Describe what has been done and where the gaps are.
- Determine available resources and those that are needed.
- Express what will happen if the problem is not addressed.
- Identify the gap between what is and what ought to be.
- Describe why grant funds should be used to solve the problem.
- Share the program’s expected results.
- Address why this is a state/federal, rather than local, issue.
- Point out what makes your project different from someone else’s or what makes your community unique.
- Describe how you are going to measure success and how you will know your solution was the right one.
- Grants are now more competitive than ever and the highest scoring, best written application is the one that will win the funding.
Finally, traditional grant programs under the Department of Justice or the Department of Homeland Security remain the most obvious. However, don’t narrow your search to the standard opportunities. Look for connections in grant programming between your initiative and other federal agencies, including Education, Health and Human Services, and Agriculture. These federal departments have grant funding for state and local governments, and many of these funds can be used for public safety operations when the correct link to their grant program can be established. Remember, the sooner you begin, the better your grant application will be, and the further you cast your “grant” net, the more likely you will find funds.
—JULIE HEIMKES is a senior sales consultant with Motorola Solutions Inc. Involved with APCO for more than 20 years, she is a member of Arizona APCO and is vice chair of the APCO International Commercial Advisory Council. Contact her at email@example.com or 623/693-9811.
This article originally appeared in April 2013 Public Safety Communications.