Over the last couple of years, we have used grants.gov to submit proposals to civilian Federal agencies. Our experience has been uniformly dismal. After our recent experience, it is clear this system is getting worse. Let's start with the poor design that forces the applicant to use a rich client to cram each form and attachment into a single document. I guess it must have been designed when the majority of users were using dial up. Initially this client was a PureEdge Viewer, which was a clunky application. The replacement of PureEdge was applauded in the research community. Recently, grants.gov replaced the PureEdge form with an Adobe Reader form, which is - sad to report - even worse. If you update Adobe Reader, you will lose all of the attached forms you filled. The application generates a single pdf file for submission but insists that you submit the document through the Adobe application, which does not work.
Why can't the user upload the final document??? Why can't grants.gov review the best practices in the government like DoD proposal submission systems and emulate it? Why can't grants.gov develop a Web based system?
Such a poor design will generate a huge amount of customer support calls. It does. The caliber of the support folks is not capable of resolving these issues. You get canned responses like try resetting your password. If you do, you get hung up in ether because of the heavy volume of use. If you want to speak with someone who is technical, good luck. Tier 2 support takes 2-5 days response.
If we were in the minority in such criticism, it would have been unfair to call grants.gov incompetent. Alas we are not. Just look at the posts at grants.gov blog. Here are some recent posts. Here is another. Here some academic workaround suggestions from Berkeley, Ohio State, Michigan Tech, Clemson, University of Michigan. OMB Director is quoted as saying that grants.gov is a casualty of increased usage. It is sad that agencies are using a system that is light years away from state of the art to seek innovation.