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The future of competitive grant making, in both public and private spheres, is of considerable interest to grant seekers and to those who work with and for them.

This post explores three more administrative and political trends impacting the future of public grant making, particularly at the Federal level. Its purpose is descriptive, not normative. Arguably, although the trends’ context is American, their scope and consequences are potentially global.


Performance Results:

The Government Performance Results Act (GPRA) of 1993 and its sequel the GPRA Modernization Act (GPRAMA) of 2010 focus on improving the accountability of Federal agencies for the programs they administer. Both statutes provide for performance review of discretionary grant programs among many other activities. The GPRAMA attempts to streamline the former GPRA review process and to make the reports it generates more useful to Federal administrators and to legislators. One of its purposes is to provide key decision makers with more timely information, more often (quarterly), about the status of various grant programs and their progress in contributing to achieving measurable agency goals. Executive officers and legislators may use these performance reports to justify their subsequent recommendations, decisions, and votes about continuing to enact appropriations for such programs.


Fiscal Austerity:

During an era of record annual Federal budget deficits and record cumulative public debt, fiscal prudence and responsible governance seem to compel ever closer and ever more skeptical scrutiny of every budget line item and expenditure. In the same way and at the same as the Federal government redesigns itself for the 21st century, so will the Nation’s various states and territories. But where heretofore one or perhaps several Federal agencies may have administered a given grant program, in the near future each of the Nation’s 50-plus states and territories can expect to do so – as the administration of ever more of the remaining Federal grant programs is shifted to them – in another enduring and accelerating trend impacting the future of public grant making.


Program Redundancies:

Among the Federal budget watchwords of the present era are: reduction, consolidation, reorganization, elimination, termination, streamlining, and overhaul. The grand plan is to reduce or minimize duplication, fragmentation, and waste of Federal funds and at the same time to increase or maximize “effectiveness, cost-efficiency, or service delivery.”


One underlying premise driving this trend is that it is wasteful of public funds:

  1. if two or more grant programs focus on the same problem or issue area, or
  2. if two or more Federal agencies administer similar programs


Thus, in the sphere of Education alone, for fiscal year (FY) 2013, the Executive Office has slated 38 distinct US Department of Education grant programs to become 11 programs; and 33 science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education grant programs are slated to be ended entirely in FY 2013, after 11 of them were ended in FY 2012.


Other Federal agencies and grant programs are just as susceptible to the same imperatives: thus, in FY 2013, 55 Surface Transportation grant programs are slated to become five programs; and 16 US Department of Homeland Security grant programs are slated to become one program.


A later post will map and explore perils to the future of private grant making. Its topography of trends likely will include: asset attrition, social entrepreneurship, social media, grants as investments, and product-driven support.


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