The next 12 months are going to see an unprecedented amount of federal money given to citizens, businesses, non-profits and state and local governments through the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill. This is on top of the billions typically awarded through traditional grant programs through the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD), the Transportation Department and other agencies.
With so much money flowing out the door, it’s no surprise that federal agencies are looking to modernize their grants programs to create efficiencies, improve accountability and quickly get money into the hands of the people that need it. This includes consolidating programs and grant processing infrastructure across each agency. These consolidation efforts will ensure that more of the budget earmarked for grant programs actually goes to recipients rather than toward administrative costs.
Grant Programs Are Built on Complex Legacy Infrastructure
The problem is that the data agencies use to process grant applications is spread out across disparate systems that use formulaic rules to determine benefits and awards. The infrastructure is old, complex and notoriously hard to integrate. In addition, reporting—a critical component of any good governance program—is also challenging due to the difficulty of exporting data off these legacy systems.
Replacing these legacy systems is a non-starter. It would be too expensive and disruptive. Instead, it’s clear that federal agencies need to develop more efficient ways to pull data off the systems and integrate them with new front-end portals without adding more complexity or IT overhead.
Low-Code Is Essential for Making Federal Grant Programs More Efficient
Combined with more efficient workflows, advanced data analytics and automation technology such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and robotic process automation (RPA), low-code development platforms give front-line workers with little or no coding experience a number of ways to easily and seamlessly build integrations between data silos.
Here are three benefits that federal agencies can achieve by using low-code development platforms:
- Get money into the hands of people faster: Connecting disparate systems would help agencies process more applications faster. Civil servants that usher applications through workflows would have relevant, accurate information at their fingertips without having to manually offload data or manually transfer it between systems—allowing them to focus on resolving exceptions, which, in turn, reduces backlog. These integrations also enable self-service portals that applicants can use to submit applications and supporting documentation and check the status of their request—a simple capability that can ease anxious candidates.
- Ensure traceability of taxpayer money: With so much money being given out, both the opportunity and perception of fraud can be a big concern. Federal agencies need to account for every dollar they give out, ensuring the government can be good stewards of taxpayer money.
- Improve equitable distribution of grants: Being good stewards of taxpayer money also requires that everyone has the same opportunity to benefit from these programs. But before outreach to people and organizations from underserved communities is made, federal agencies need a better understanding of how grants have historically and currently been awarded. The ability to seamlessly and easily pull data from legacy systems allows agencies to get a better understanding of the communities who have and have not benefited from a particular program.
Government funding can serve as a source of innovation and relief across many different communities. The more efficient and streamlined these programs are, the more money can flow to those who actually need it—but this requires the ability to pull data from disparate legacy systems through simple connections built with low-code development platforms. This allows agencies to get money in the hands of people faster, ensure accountability and improve the equitable distribution of federal grants.
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Jason Adolf is a public sector expert for Appian, an enterprise low-code development platform.