Feeling like exhausted runners at the finish of the now-cancelled New York City Marathon, we recently met the then-deadline for a couple of Department of Education Race to the Top-District (RTTT-D) proposals we’ve been slaving over for the last few weeks. To say this RFP was complex is to not do justice to the word, as it consisted of the 101-page Notice from the Federal Register, as well as the 116-page Application Guidelines, the 33-page FAQ file, and nested Excel budget worksheets.
It is a seldom equaled collection of educatorese, bureaucratese, embedded forms, contradictory directions, and plain stupidity. I’m not sure I’ve seen the like of it in 40 years of grant writing and 20 years at the helm of the good ship Seliger + Associates, and I’ve seen a lot. But, like Phidippides at the first Marathon, we made it to the finish line.
Perhaps the strangest aspect of this oddball RFP process were the submission requirements. For reasons obscured by the fog of government ineptitude, the Department of Education chose not to use its G5 system, which recently replaced their “eGrants” digital submission portal, or our old pal, grants.gov.
Instead, we were suddenly back in 1997, with a requirement for an original and two hard copies, along with the proposal files on a CD! I guess the Department of Education has not read the digital memo about saving paper. One proposal we completed was 270 pages, with appendices. Another was 170 pages.
The 270 page Sumo-sized proposal was so fat that we couldn’t find big enough binder clips and had to roll with gigantic rubber bands for fasteners. In the 250 pages of assorted directions, including detailed directions for burning the CD, they forgot to say where the appendix file was supposed to go. Plus, the final document was supposed to be submitted in Adobe Acrobat, be “readable,” and be paginated. We are pretty handy with Acrobat, know how to do this manipulation, and have the hardware horsepower to handle and print massive files (try spooling a 270 page print file with dozens of embedded images or knitting together 25 Acrobat files into a single 33-meg file), so we figured out a workable approach.
But this would have been daunting or virtually impossible for the average civilian grant submitter. Of course, most of this folderol was completely unnecessary, but where’s the fun in a simple and straightforward RFP process to the Philosopher Kings at the Department of Education. Oh, but it does keep us in business, so I guess I should be grateful for endemic (free proposal word here) bureaucratic myopia.
As we were finishing these proposals, it because clear that Hurricane Sandy was going to hit the Northeast. Even though Washington is nowhere near the coast, the feds shut down last Monday, October 29, and Tuesday, October 30—the day of the original RTTT-D deadline. The brave GS-11s and 12s at the Department of Education quickly flung out an email extending the deadline, as they raced back to their cozy burrows. Even though we correctly guessed that the deadline would be extended, we prudently acted as if it wouldn’t be (this is always a good idea in grant writing), and our proposals were winging their way to D.C. via FedEx by the time the extension was announced (Jake wrote more about this and the other strange effects in “Hurricane Sandy and the Election Combine to Blow Away the RFPs.”
After a cocktail or three to contemplate RTTT-D, it was time to sweep up the shop floor and tackle our next set of deadlines. Such is the life of grant writing consultants. Our road always brings us forward and seldom leaves us much time to reflect.