FastLane: The Paperless Grant Management System
Filing a final project
report for an NSF grant used to require large amounts of time in front
of a typewriter, and a tolerance for paper shuffling.
FastLane--NSF's new paperless grant processing system-is changing all
that, says Pamela Webb of University of California, Santa Barbara.
Webb administers FastLane on campus and teaches researchers how to use
it. Using any computer with access to the World Wide Web, researchers
log on and identify their projects; the computer copies the basic information
from previous forms."The faculty can concentrate on the science,
and not on typing in the project number correctly," says Webb.
FastLane is designed to computerize the entire grant process, including
solicitation announcements, proposal submission, peer review, the awarding
of grants or fellowships, final reports and financial transactions.
"We're trying to improve all of our interactions with researchers, educators
and administrators," says Fred Wendling, director of NSF's Division of
Information Systems. "We want them to be better, faster and more efficient."
Last July, NSF's $5 million Recognition Awards for Integration Research
and Education (RAIRE) program became the first project to receive applications
solely via the Internet. Processing time dropped by 40 percent and administration
costs were cut in half.
For this, FastLane won the prestigious National Information Infrastructure
Award, which recognizes extraordinary achievements on the information
Development of FastLane began in 1994 and relied heavily on other NSF-funded
research, says Wendling, specifically the Internet and Net-browsing systems.
NSF staff worked closely with 16 universities and colleges, soliciting
feedback at every stage. The developers also listened to other parts of
NSF, for example, the Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate,
whose internal audit showed that staff spent a significant amount of time
answering grant status questions.
Researchers ask the same questions at the University of Michigan, says
Alan Steiss, director of the University's Division of Research Development
Administration. The solution? A computerized tracking system that's part
of FastLane. "We have about 53 faculty members who have PIN numbers so
they can check the status of their proposals," says Steiss. "The feedback
has been very positive. They don't need to call NSF or us; they can look
it up for themselves."
FastLane has grown rapidly and now conducts $1 billion worth of business
with 400 institutions. Eventually, FastLane is expected to provide global
access to scientific information. However, because Internet access is
not yet universal, Wendling says NSF will not go completely paperless. "We
have to provide opportunities for everyone."
For more information visit the Web page: http://www.fastlane.nsf.gov