When the hard work of completing and submitting a federal grant proposal is done, what can a grant applicant do to elicit a fair and timely review of its proposal? One option is to contact the federal congressional representatives (members of Congress and senators) who will have the project based in their congressional districts/states. These elected officials can monitor the progress and outcome of the proposal as it moves through the proposal review process.
According a 1973 opinion by the US House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct (p. 49), members of Congress can:
- Request information or a status report
- Urge prompt consideration
- Express judgment
- Call for reconsideration of an administrative response in which he believes is not supported by established law, Federal regulation, or legislative intent
Federal agencies, prompted by congressional action, have developed regulations to govern the awarding of discretionary grants. However, the word “discretionary” still means that a federal agency may award grants as it sees fit if it believes its action is justified.
Whether to seek congressional intervention from the onset is a judgment call. Some agencies’ program officers bristle at the thought of having to respond to a congressional inquiry. These officers now have to answer to a representative/senator in addition to managing the review process. This can create a bias against the proposal.
Having worked for two U.S. representatives for 13 years, I can say that having a congressional interest expressed on an application does require a federal agency to make doubly sure that its decision has merit and can be supported by objective criteria. The last thing a federal agency wants is be called before a representative/senator or a congressional committee to justify its actions.
If the decision is to write to your congressional representatives, here are some letter guidelines:
- Include the award number. This will be referenced by the congressional office in its communication with the federal agency.
- Include the project name, title of the federal competition, and the expected award notification date.
- Summarize the project (a great place to use the abstract again!).
- Ask for the representative to monitor the review process.
Your congressional representatives (regardless of political affiliation) will do his/her duty to ask that a federal agency treat his/her constituents fairly. The representative/senator may not support the grant program, but if the money is there, he/she will want their constituents to have a fair shot at receiving a grant award.
The agency will respond to the congressional inquiry, and the congressional office will usually share a copy of the response. The response sometimes can help shed more light on some of the factors that impacted the agency’s decision.
Exercise the constitutional right to petition the government when there is a cause—whether it is an issue like health care or a grant proposal that is being reviewed. There are others out there doing the same thing. Putting in a soft political playing card into the game won’t hurt your chances.
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About the Author
Mark Whitacre is a grants consultant with more than 20 years in the grant industry. He has developed proposals that have secured more than $27 million in funding from federal, state, local, and private organizations. He posts regular blogs on grant development topics.