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Late May Links: Stimulus and American Recovery and Relief Act (ARRA) Madness, Free Money Wannabes, Economic Recovery, Grants.gov and the Government Accountability Office (GAO), and More

May 20th, 2009 · by Jake Seliger · 1 Comment

* The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report stating that “Consistent Policies [Are] Needed to Ensure Equal Consideration of Grant Applications.” No? Really? It goes on:

[A]pplicants lack a centralized source of information on how and when to use [Grants.gov] alternatives, rendering them less effective than they otherwise might be in reducing the strain on a system already suffering from seriously degraded performance. Moreover, inconsistent agency policies for grant closing times, what constitutes a timely application, when and whether applicants are notified of the status of their applications, and the basis on which applicants can appeal a late application create confusion and uncertainty for applicants [...]

The primary question I have is, “How does this differ from business-as-usual?”

(Hat tip to the WSJ’s Washington Wire Blog, where I also get a shout-out. See also Isaac’s quote in “Economic-Stimulus Cash Is Moving Slowly“)

* Texas released the first stimulus bill pass-through RFP we’ve seen in the form of the Target Tech in Texas (T3) Collaborative Grant. This is an example of the long delays between allocation and implementation that Isaac wrote about in Stimulus Bill Passes: Time for Fast and Furious Grant Writing. If you’ve seen other stimulus bill pass-through funds in genuine RFP form, let us know!

* If you’re wondering why California’s legislature and bureaucracy is so dysfunctional, the Economist has some answers in “The ungovernable state.” It probably understates the importance of Prop 13 but still offers a better overview of the situation than most of the reporting we’ve seen so far. This story explains Schwarzenegger Puts Legacy on the Line With Budget Vote better than the Schwarzenegger story itself, which has this money quote: “For Mr. Schwarzenegger, a defeat would mark a repeat of the hard lesson learned by many of his predecessors: California is essentially ungovernable, especially during an economic crisis.”

* A page one Wall Street Article called “Crazy-Quilt Jobless Programs Help Some More Than Others” notes some of the bizarre disparities that arise in jobless programs; apparently, if a Department of Labor office decides that you’ve been laid off because you’re one of the “manufacturing and farm workers who lose jobs due to imports or production shifts out of the country,” you get two years of extra assistance.

Applications are already overwhelming the Labor Department, where just three “certifying officers” sign off on trade-adjustment petitions. In 2007, the most recent year tracked, the trio ruled on 2,222 petitions, approving 1,449. (The Agriculture Department signs off on a smaller number of TAA benefits for fishermen and farmers.) Hundreds are currently pending, including from Georgia-Pacific Corp., Mercedes-Benz, Bobcat Co. and Dell.

“We are drowning,” says Elliott Kushner, a certifying officer who has been inspecting TAA applications for 30 years.

* The risk of Federal debt is a wildly under-appreciated problem that might very rapidly and unpleasantly become extraordinarily appreciated. Consider yourself warned.

* Under the department of “Who knew?”: Tax information for Parents of Kidnapped Children.

* Get your free money! (or not): Slate asks, What’s the deal with those stimulus scams that are all over the Internet? and answers its own question in the headline: they’re scams. Take notice, those of you searching for free grant samples and the like.

* Along similar lines, someone found us by searching for “grants that are actually free.” Perhaps the Costco Samples post linked to above will encourage them to give up.

* I keep being tempted by the Amazon Kindle, despite my many posts on the Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) and other problems with the device. Then I see a post like “Amazon has banned my account – my Kindle is now a (partial) brick” and all those bad feelings return. The poster in question apparently returned too many items to Amazon, causing them to suspend his account and causing his Kindle to stop working.

* Slate reports that efforts are underway to change California state law that effectively prohibits firing bad teachers. The full article is at the L.A. Times: “Firing tenured teachers can be a costly and tortuous task.”

* The New York Times notices that J-Schools are Playing Catchup because of changes in journalism. Strangely enough, the Times seems to imply that journalism might become more like something akin to Grant Writing Confidential: people who find niches and then write the hell out of their subject.

* Wall Street Journal reporter Louise Radnofsky reports that “States Can Use Stimulus Money to Track Their Stimulus Spending.” From our perspective, the most interesting sentence is this one: “Many cash-strapped states had worried that without money upfront, they couldn’t set up offices to coordinate stimulus spending or hire independent auditors” because it implies that states still aren’t spending the money they’ve been passed by Congress, which goes back to the numerous posts we’ve written on the subject of how stimulus funds will be spent and in what sort of timeframe.

* On the value of a liberal arts education:

The great value of a liberal arts education is that it prepares you to be relatively happy even if you find yourself working in a corrugated cardboard factory. Partly because books are cheap, and cultivating the ability to take great pleasure in a well-crafted novel lowers you hedonic costs down the road. But more broadly because the liberal arts might be descibed as a technology for extracting and constructing meaning from the world. If you know your Hamlet, you know that’s all the difference between a prisoner and a king of infinite space.

(Those of you are loyal GWC readers might tie this into One of the Open Secrets of Grant Writing and Grant Writers: Reading.)

* The economic downturn is hitting Mongolia with zud:

Falling demand for cashmere among recession-hit shoppers in the West is cutting into earnings among nomadic herders in Mongolia, whose goats produce the soft fiber used in high-end sweaters, scarves and coats. The result: herder loan defaults.

Mongolians are calling the current situation a financial zud, invoking a local term for unusually harsh winters that devastate herds. After Mr. Sodnomdarjaa couldn’t pay back a $2,700 loan, he says bank officials pressed him to sell his livestock — which he used as collateral. The bank says he misrepresented the number of animals he owned, which he denies. Now a judge has ordered the seizure of Mr. Sodnomdarjaa’s family home — a tent — if he doesn’t come up with the rest of the money soon.

* Speaking of economic downturns, Derek Thompson’s “Can the Oil Shock Alone Explain the Financial Crisis?” is a fascinating post that has relatively little to do with grant writing:

Hamilton went back to 2003, when crude oil was around $30 a gallon and forecast what an oil shock like the one we experienced in 2007-08 (when oil peaked around $140) would do to GDP. He graphed the result through the end of 2008 and, lo and behold, it was damn close to actual GDP. As though there were no such thing as a collaterized debt obgligation in the first place! [...]

Perhaps you’ll join me in thinking: Huh? Are we really to believe that this whole thing was caused by oil shocks? I mean, it certainly makes you appreciate the mess Detroit is in, but really. How anti-climactic. It makes this crisis seem so … 1970s.

* Txting and sex ed at the New York Times.

* Mark Cuban writes “A Note to Newspapers:”

I’ve always been a believer that Amazon has excelled not just because they have great customer service and decent prices, but because they have those, PLUS they have my credit card on file. It’s easier to buy from Amazon than it is to go to the store.

* Megan McArdle writes “Economy Ends; Women and Minorities Affected Most.”

* Edward Glaeser, who is perhaps my favorite economist, asks why, if the world is so flat, “Has Globalization Led to Bigger Cities?” His answer:

Globalization and technological change have increased the returns to being smart; human beings are a social species that get smart by hanging around smart people. A programmer could work in the foothills of the Himalayas, but that programmer wouldn’t learn much. If she came to Bangalore, then she would figure out what skills were more valuable, and what firms were growing, and which venture capitalists were open to new ideas in her field…

Knowledge moves more quickly at close quarters, and as a result, cities are often the gateways between continents and civilizations.

This, incidentally, is also why I don’t expect schools to go digital, or universities as they exist to shrivel and die as commentators have implied. If knowledge moves more quickly, one can also expect the relative value of places like universities to grow.

And pay special attention to this bit:

Abundant land hides many sins, including the failures of government. But when people crowd into cities, the costs of governmental failure become painful and obvious.

* I used the delightful word “bogosity” in a recent post, and now Language Log has a whole lot more on that term.

* Although we don’t often cover international grant-related issues, Please Stop Building Schools in Iraq and Afghanistan stands out as an example of the genre:

Here’s a general rule that applies to basically every development program in every poor country in the world, including Iraq and Afghanistan: want to do something nice and useful for these people? Don’t build them a school. Believe it or not, people in poor countries actually have buildings. And they are capable of building more of them. They know how to do it, and it usually, for fairly simple economic reasons, does not cost more in any country to build a building than local people can afford. You know what they don’t know how to do? Teach science and math and English. And often, employing a trained teacher does cost more than they can afford in a small village, because such people are scarce, and it’s hard to spare extra labor in subsistence economies. If you want to spend your money on education, don’t build them a school; pay to train some teachers, and then pay the teachers’ salaries.

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