Sloppy RFP’s Should Not Be Rewarded

To the Editor:

I have over the years served as a grants proposal reviewer for two large federal funding sources: the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program. I read with interest your recent article, “Dozens of Colleges’ Upward Bound Applications Are Denied for Failing to Dot Every I,” (The Chronicle, April 26). It is certainly true that in both Federal funding programs, there are rules stipulated in the Request for Proposals (RFP). For HUD Community Service Grants, you can lose up to 10 points from the initial starting point of 100 just for not numbering your pages since as we review and write our comments, we must cite the page number for every comment we write on the scoring document. So, if you do not number your pages, then we have to do it by hand; and, that takes time especially considering the number of proposals we review.

As Reviewer Team Leader, I would be frustrated by grant writers’ failure to follow the rules stipulated in the RFP document. Grants that score a 90 are not excluded from being in the money; however, if there is even one additional adverse comment noted by the review team, the grant proposal falls below 90; and is then out of the money. Now, I am certain grant writers and their institutions may consider this and other seemingly minor errors or omissions to be insignificant; however, it reveals that the grant writers cannot or will not follow the stipulations in the RFP.

Consequently, if grant submitters cannot get the proposal in alignment with the RFP, then we have low confidence that the grant money will be expended appropriately. If grant submitters cannot follow the rules and comply with the RFP instructions, then funders are correct in withholding the grant funds. When I teach Grant Writing to university students, I make a big point in my classes how important it is to write the grant “to the letter” of the RFP for the best chance of getting funded. Sloppy work should not be rewarded with money that might not be spent wisely.

Also, some RFP’s specifically detail how the money will be spent and on what; yet, I often read grant proposals that either purposely try to slip something in that is not appropriate to the grant or the grant writer is simply careless in complying with the RFP.

Michael W. Popejoy

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