Most US researchers have their own version of the burst dot-com bubble: the failed promise that electronic communications would ease the process of interacting with the federal government.
Just like the old paper world of forms, forms, and more forms, the Internet has filled up with systems, systems, and more systems for applying for grants electronically. Each system requires researchers and laboratory staff to master a new set of clicks, meet a new set of deadlines, follow a new logic.
But it doesn't have to be so. "Grant application is an area where I would imagine that there could be general efficiencies," says Marvin Parnes, executive director of research administration at the University of Michigan. "So much of the information they want is common from one application to the next."
The government has already mastered unifying technology, he says, pointing to Fast Lane, the National Science Foundation's electronic...