FUNDED Articles and the Legacy of the Commons

May 1

Written by: Grants Office, LLC
Wednesday, May 1, 2013  RssIcon

Today, most grantseekers are familiar with the Federal Electronic Grants Clearinghouse, better known by its URL, You may not know that when it was launched, the portal represented nearly ten years of work by federal officials, often volunteers working with no budget and extremely limited support. serves as a single point of entry in federal grants, a repository of funding opportunities and guidance documents, and a portal wherein applications to many of the twenty-six federal grantmaking agencies can be developed, submitted, and monitored.


Officially, has its origins in the E-Grants Initiative, part of the President's 2002 Fiscal Year Management Agenda to improve government services to the public. But the history of this tool extends well beyond the establishment of the  Website.


Predictably, the first foray into electronic grants administration was undertaken by the university research community, beginning as early as 1986 with the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the new term “electronic research administration” (ERA). NSF and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) were instrumental in developing the early collection of standards and insight on the use of what were then called “electronic commerce” technologies in the gratmaking process.


Government-wide effort

A government-wide effort to put grants online began with Vice President Al Gore’s 1993 National Performance Review (NPR) and its operational derivative, the National Partnership for Reinventing Government. Based on the findings of the NPR and with the  encouragement of the National Partnership for Reinventing Government (not to mention excitement surrounding the transformative potential of technology and the Internet), representatives from several of the (then) thirty-three federal grantmaking agencies came together to form the US Interagency Electronic Grants Committee (IAEGC). The Committee was led by members from the Office of Management and Budget (Jimmy Charney), Department of Transportation (J. Ann Fisher), Department of Education (Tony Cavataio), Office of Naval Research (Brad Stanford), Department of Health and Human Services (Beth Phillips), Department of Justice (Karen Evans), and National Institutes of Health (Paul Markovitz), among many others, including several state representatives from Illinois (Eric Brenner), Texas (Denise Francis), and New York (the author).


The stated goals of the IAEGC were to:

  • Establish a comprehensive, one-stop, federal gateway for all electronic grants processing
  • Coordinate a unified federal electronic grants policy
  • Conduct outreach to establish the IAEGC as the recognized leader in electronic grants processing
  • Improve management consistency and instill results oriented performance in all electronic grants activities

The Federal Commons

The committee eventually accomplished nearly all of its goals, beginning with the development of an early, far less integrated, version of the portal called the “Federal Commons,” after the English tradition of land that was made available for shared livestock grazing. Inasmuch as the Federal Commons was a first step at a truly “one-stop federal gateway,” it also revealed the difficulty of coordinating the grantmaking (or any)  policies of thirty-three of the largest government agencies in the world.

The Federal Commons also revealed the need for standardization of the data that was used to administer grants across the agencies.

Propelled by legislation including the Federal Financial Assistance Management Improvement Act of 1999 (PL 106-107) and the Government Paperwork Elimination Act, the committee continued to develop data standards for grant application and award and a Grants Data Dictionary for all grants transactions.

As time went on, the Federal Commons evolved into the more collaborative (and at last well-funded) portal, and the IAEGC evolved into the National Grants Partnership (NGP).

The Future

From 2004-2012, the NGP has grown in participation and impact, developing partnerships outside government, including several prominent nonprofit-focused grants and fundraising associations. However, the organization has not had a meeting in nearly a year. Its loosely organized, volunteer-driven legacy is partly to blame for its loss of momentum. But despite its recent drop off in activity, the entire grants community has benefitted from its work and the work of its predecessors, and there’s still much that can only be accomplished through a broad, national coalition such as the NGP provides, including:

  • Further developing electronic grants standards across federal, state, and even private foundation grantmaking
  • Simplifying the process of registering and submitting federal grant applications
  • Standardizing the reporting and vouchering process across all grants
  • Developing an effective training platform to empower and educate grantseekers
  • Assisting in the development of technology to enable greater transparency in state grantmaking, particularly when redistributing federal funds

Membership in the NGP is free, and participation is encouraged, now more than ever. Visit for more information.

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