Mac users out in the cold again

With Grumman fired as Grants.gov vendor, Mac users are unsure if or when they'll be able to apply for grants online. A crucial deadline is coming.
Written by Richard Koman, Contributor

Once again, Mac users are left out in the cold on a government database aimed at a heavy-Mac using population, the Washington Post reports.

Earlier this year, the Department of Health and Human Services -- a central manager of the Grants.gov system -- promised that by November the system would be compatible with Macs, which are popular among scientists and academics. That was based on promises from Northrop Grumman Corp., which has been paid tens of millions of dollars to run Grants.gov for the government.

It still hasn't been delivered. And now HHS has announced that Grumman had lost its bid to win a renewal of its contract. So what the odds for Mac users?

"That's a question we have," said Grants.gov program manager John Etcheverry.

Just last week, Etcheverry said, Grumman delivered to HHS its first shot at a Mac-compatible version of its IBM-based grant application software for an initial round of testing by government experts.

Asked how it worked, Etcheverry said hesitantly: "It's, to quote one of our testers, 'It's early.' But it seems to be working."

The new vendor is General Dynamics Information Technology, which for $18.9 million promises to create a system that works with Mac, Unix and Linux as well as Windows.

The company's vice president overseeing the Grants.gov project, Mary Biear, said the company will start with a platform-independent, off-the-shelf Adobe product, which it will modify in minor ways to fit the requirements of the government's grant-application system.

"The first question for our team is . . . if users can use it," said Biear, who said she has seen the nascent product because the companies have begun a seven-week overlapping transition period. "If it's working appropriately, [we] will maintain it and roll it out. If not, we would push it back."

The most optimistic schedule would be March but that will be too late for the Feb. 1 deadline to apply for NIH R01 research grants.

"The big NIH deadline is Feb. 1, 2007," said John S. Massa, associate director of the University of Iowa's division of sponsored programs, in an e-mail. So a March release "isn't going to help much." Norka Ruiz Bravo, NIH's deputy director for extramural research, conceded the timing was awkward. Will the agency consider pushing back its deadline for an all-electronic submission process? "That is something we may want to think about," she said.
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