Whole forests are breathing a collective sigh of relief at the news that paper grant applications will soon be a thing of the past at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In December 2005, NIH began a two-year transition to an electronic submissions system for grant applications. The online application is available through www. grants.gov, a joint venture of 26 grantgiving federal agencies. The site accepts submissions for over 900 grant programs, representing about $350 billion in funding.
The change to a fully electronic applications system has been in the works since 1999, when the Federal Financial Assistance Management Improvement Act set guidelines to streamline federal grant submissions and create one Web site for all federalassistance applications. The ultimate goal is to have the same look, feel, and process for all federal grant applications.
According to NIH’s Web site, electronic submissions will shorten the time between applying and receiving an award. It will reduce scanning, printing, and data-entry needs and costs. Online submitting will also save more than 200 million sheets of paper each year.
With the new system comes a new form, the Research and Related Form (SF 424 R&R). NIH is gradually introducing the new online form to their various mechanisms from now until the end of 2007. Thus applicants should carefully check the date on which their mechanisms are converting to determine the proper form to use: PHS 398 paper forms or online forms. Institutions and principal researchers must also register with www.grants.gov, and are encouraged to do so well in advance of application deadlines.
However, Mac users beware. The new forms currently only work with Windows software. While applicants can access a free server to view the forms, a permanent solution will likely be unavailable until fall 2006.
To ease the transition, NIH has created an extensive training section on its Web site. Written instructions, multimedia presentations, and video clips of training sessions are intended to familiarize researchers with the new system. Grantee hopefuls can learn more at http://era.nih.gov/electronicreceipt.