Friday, August 14, 2009

Background: Federal Agencies Bulk-up Helpdesk & Server Capacity for 'Broadband Stim' Application Filings 08/14/09 A day after announcing a 6-day extension of the filing deadline for "pending" electronic applications, the 2 federal agencies administering the $7.2 billion broadband stimulus program are going into this weekend with augmented resources to support the electronic filing of perhaps hundreds of grant and loan applications.

"RUS is adding help desk staff over this coming weekend," stated Rural Utilities Service (RUS) spokesperson Bartel Kendrick in a written response to inquiries placed to US Department of Agriculture (USDA) by "to handle caller questions that are either technical or procedural."

"We are working to monitor the servers," said spokesman Mark Tolbert of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) in a telephone interview early evening today. He was referring to the enterprise servers supporting the electronic application submissions. "We will respond to issues that may arise. It is a combined effort, with our staff at NTIA and RUS working together."

As we reported yesterday, NTIA of the Department of Commerce, and RUS extended the initial electronic filing deadline of today until Thursday, August 20, at 5:00 pm (ET) for all "pending" electronic applications. The agencies were responding to a series of complaints lodged with the helpdesk, jointly managed by NTIA and RUS, which was established to support applicants filing for grants, loans, and grant / loan combinations.

The augmentation of helpdesk personnel is in addition to the added server capacity that the agencies have deployed throughout this week as the processing of electronic applications overloaded previously existing resources.

Repeating the statement made in a Federal Register Notice (download: .PDF) of yesterday, by the 2 agencies, spokesman Kendrick iterated the official history of events, "Over the last several days, the online application system has experienced some service delays due to the volume of activity from potential applicants. NTIA and RUS added additional servers to address these capacity needs."

When asked what internal reporting, system metrics, or operational flags from the system's contracted vendor may have triggered the efforts to both increase server capacity and helpdesk personnel, the USDA spokesman responded "We are taking this action on our own initiative. We have received feedback from potential applicants and we have been testing the system ourselves internally."

As we first reported yesterday, the Easygrants(TM) system has been developed and licensed by Altum, Inc of Reston, VA. Product announcement statements on the software firm's website state that its branded Easygrants(TM) product is an "enterprise grants management solution."

Altum states in its product literature for proposalCENTRAL(SM) that the solution's "...web portal enables grantors to interact seamlessly with applicants, reviewers and grantees for a faster,
more efficient grants management experience. And because proposalCENTRAL
(SM) is hosted by Altum, it does not require IT staff to implement."

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