Are Computers Really Making Our Lives Easier?

April 15, 2013 | By Jerry Ashworth | Post a Comment

815492_computer_frustrationIf you have been one of our valued followers of this blog, you will have no doubt run across one of our many posts on the System for Award Management, otherwise known as SAM.gov. One thing we’ve tried to emphasize in both the blog and in our stories on SAM.gov is that if you plan to submit a grants proposal and have yet to register with SAM.gov, don’t wait until the last minute. It will take some time. Now, the National Institutes of Health is echoing this sentiment about electronic systems in general.

NIH last week issued a reminder – how thoughtful! – about its policy for handling electronic system issues that threaten on-time grant application submission. NIH states that submitting a grant application with NIH requires applicants to register with a number of federal electronic systems, including NIH’s electronic Research Administration (eRA) Commons, Grants.gov and SAM.gov. “On occasion, technical problems with one of these federal systems could result in an applicant failing to meet the grant application due date,” NIH warned.

To help clarify NIH policies regarding the submission of late applications if a system issue beyond an applicant’s control is suspected as the cause of the late application, NIH told applicants to follow the NIH guidelines for reporting the issue. System issues are defined as technical problems with federal systems that keep an applicant from successfully submitting its grant application on time. Problems with computer systems at an applicant organization or a nongovernment third party are not considered system issues, nor are failures to complete any required registration by the submission deadline.

Just as we have said in our publications, NIH emphasized that “applicants are strongly encouraged to submit well before the submission deadline (days, not hours) and to remember that on high-volume submission due dates, it may take a few hours for the application to process through both Grants.gov and eRA Commons. Applicants should be sure to take this processing time into consideration and leave enough time to make any corrected submissions that might be needed to ensure submission of an error-free application by the deadline.” We fully agree!

NIH does provide a help desk for applicants encountering system issues, and those issues will be investigated on a case-by-case basis. If the eRA help desk confirms the problem is a system issue, the application will not be considered late as long as the applicant works diligently with the help desk to resolve the problem as quickly as possible.

I like what NIH has done here. Other agencies should take a similar approach and remind their grant applicants about how to apply through electronic systems and what to do if there are problems. But above all, applicants should plan ahead because the process does take time.

What issues have you had registering with SAM.gov or eRA Commons that others can learn from?

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