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FastLane: The Paperless Grant Management System

March 1997

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 superhighway.

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

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