How Does the Grant Application
Once you have developed a relationship with the SHSO and identified
ways in which to assist the SHSO meet its State safety goals, you may
want to consider a grant application. Each State has different procedures,
but if you have established that relationship and have a better understanding
of your State’s processes, you will then be able to decide how
best to share your organization’s strengths, energy, and ideas.
Once the State has set its performance goals, it must have a process
for selecting the appropriate projects for solving the State’s
highway safety problems and meeting its goals. States use a variety
of resources for selecting appropriate countermeasures:
- Reviewing data evaluating the previous year’s
- Examining best practices
- Those identified by NHTSA through the
Traffic Safety Digest and other publications
- Those identified by other organizations
- Those based on neighboring States’ successes
- Reviewing recent research results on highway
safety issues and problems in publications such as NHTSA’s
Traffic Tech reports
- Receiving input from outside organizations
- Reviewing technical reports on topical
highway safety issues published by
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Transportation Research Board (TRB)
- Other agencies
- Reviewing NHTSA’s program advisories
that outline the elements of an effective program.
Proposed projects generally fall into three categories:
Other programs that may be considered are those that:
- Analyze roadway safety problems
- Provide training or other operational support
- Improve the State’s traffic records system
or other internal system
- Improve the State’s emergency medical
Projects may be Statewide or local in nature. They may be projects
that can be accomplished in a single year or may require multiyear
SHSOs may look at a variety of alternative strategies for reaching
their State goals. They select the project(s) with the fewest barriers
and/or those most likely to succeed. SHSOs also examine whether the
proposed project is technically feasible and politically acceptable
to key stakeholders, and what kind of impact it will have.
Every State selects countermeasures differently. When you contact
the SHSO, ask about the criteria the States use in selecting countermeasures.
What types of proposals get turned down? Applications that:
- Are not performance-based and data-driven or
will have little impact on the problem (“feel good” projects)
- Do not relate to the problems identified in
- Are of poor quality
- Submitted by organizations or agencies that
have a poor track record in managing projects (except under special
- Use Federal funding to replace existing State
or local funding instead of funding a new or expanded effort (“supplanting,” which
is prohibited by Federal regulation)
- Support the general operations of an organization
- Fund staff positions that do not relate to
a specific project
- Seek funding for too much travel relative to
the size of the project, travel that does not relate to the purposes
of the project, or travel that has not been approved by the SHSO
- Request equipment that is inconsistent with
the purpose, size and scope of the project.
Some SHSOs are prohibited by State rules or policies from accepting
proposals from nonprofit associations. In those cases, a grant must
first go through a local government agency (e.g. local health department,
law enforcement agency), which has to subcontract with the nonprofit.
Sometimes a highway safety problem may seem daunting at the local level
but does not measure up when compared to other problems at the State
level. For example, a community may be devastated by the death of a youngster
in a bicycle crash. On a Statewide basis, however, there may be too few
bicycle fatalities to warrant intervention with Federal highway safety
grant funds. The SHSO may not select the project but may direct the organization
to other useful resources and information. An agency or organization
needs to understand this perspective when proposing a project.
Typical Criteria States Use in Selecting Projects
- Why is this project needed?
- What is the purpose of the project and what
does it intend to accomplish?
- How does the proposed project relate to the
State’s highway safety problems and goals?
- Who is proposing the project and what has been
the working relationship between the potential partner and the SHSO?
- Who is being served by the proposed project
and how does this relate to identified high risk groups in the State?
- Where will the project be undertaken and how
does it relate to identified high risk areas in the State?
- What is the technical and political feasibility
of the project?
- How big is the funding request, relative to
the size of the problem, and the available funding?
- What is the potential impact of the project
and how will it be measured?
- Over what time period will the project be conducted?
- Are the proposed costs reasonable and allowable?
- What kinds of non-Federal support will be offered?
- What is the plan for sustainability of the
Sometimes an SHSO may also require a “hard” dollar matching
formula for any funding request. This generally means that a portion
of the total funds must come from the grantee. The hard matching requirement
may be applied every year or only during the second and third year
of a grant.
Projects funded with Federal highway safety grant funds are generally
funded on a three-year basis with a declining share of Federal funding
each year. At the end of the third year, grantees are expected to achieve
self-sufficiency. Operational projects, such as those involving training
or improvements to the State’s highway safety internal systems
(such as traffic records), may be funded on a longer-term basis.
Every project proposal is reviewed, discussed and evaluated by the SHSO.
Some States assign scores to prospective applications. Others select
projects based on a combination of specific selection criteria. In any
case, SHSOs strive hard to ensure that their project selection process
is fair, defensible and directly tied to the State’s problem identification
and goal-setting processes.
Improving your proposal
If your proposal is not selected, meet with the SHSO staff to determine
how you can improve it next time.
DEADLINES AND SCHEDULES
There are a number of different deadlines for highway safety grant programs.
Current dead-lines for Federal grant programs are on GHSA’s web
The States plan their programs on a continuous, yearlong basis.
Typical Planning Schedule
November - February:
- Review projects funded in the previous fiscal
- Use the results as input for the next fiscal
- Examine crash and other data to determine the
leading highway safety problems
February - March:
- Develop State highway safety goals
- Solicit project proposals that meet State goals
April - May:
- Review and evaluate project proposals.
June - July:
- Select projects to fund with Federal highway
safety grant funding
- Organize projects into priority program areas
in the draft Performance Plan/HSP
- Submit plan for internal review in State
- Continue working on PP/HSP and work out any
remaining issues or problems
- Submit plan to NHTSA for final review
- New fiscal year – begin State implementation
of approved projects if Federal funds are available
States typically start planning their upcoming fiscal year (which
starts October 1) in the fall and winter of the previous year (e.g.,
Fiscal Year 2005 planning starts in September 2004). A State will review
the projects funded in the previous year and use the results of that
review as input for next year’s plan, which will be followed
by an identification and analysis of the State’s problem and
determination of goals for the next fiscal year. Once the State has
performed its problem identification and goal-setting processes, it
will then solicit project proposals. There are several different ways
States may do this:
- Send out a blanket solicitation to agencies,
nonprofit organizations, previous grantee organizations, or other
- Hold a conference and solicit applications
at the conference
- Target certain jurisdictions, asking a jurisdiction
to submit a specific project proposal because it is a high-risk area
- Accept unsolicited project proposals from potential
partners or existing grantees with new ideas (some States, however,
prohibit unsolicited proposals).
The State’s process may involve some combination of these approaches.
When contacting the SHSO, ask how the State solicits project proposals
and if they accept unsolicited proposals. If the State has a bidders
list (or equivalent) for organizations or agencies that wish to bid
for projects, ask to be placed on the list.
The project proposals will then be reviewed, evaluated, selected and
assembled into the State HSP. Some States convene a multidisciplinary
review team to assist in the process, while other States use their
own staff to handle the evaluation without outside support and input.
Many States also have other persons or agencies that must review the
selected projects before the State plan can be finalized (e.g. the head
of the State DOT or public safety agency, a transportation commission,
the State legislature). It is common for a State to have a three- or
four-layered State review process before the draft plan can be submitted
NHTSA then reviews the plan to make sure that it is consistent with Federal
requirements. Once that review is complete, and Congress has made Federal
funds available for the next fiscal year, then the State can begin implementing
The schedule and process outlined in the box above is a greatly simplified
one. Some States conduct their planning process much earlier. Other States
have a more complicated planning schedule. As with other aspects of the
State planning process, it’s important to remember that every State
schedule is different.
Follow the Schedule
Potential partners often make the mistake of submitting a project
proposal at the wrong time because they are unfamiliar with the State’s
planning schedule. If the potential partner submits a proposal too
late in the process, it cannot be considered for the upcoming fiscal
year. This may cause the State and the potential partner unneeded
frustration. Every State develops its plan according to State-specific
schedules that take into account Federal requirements. When contacting
the SHSO, be sure to ask about the schedule for developing plans
and submitting project proposals.
Good project proposals:
- Have a clearly defined problem Statement that
uses available crash or other data and relates to problems identified
by the SHSO in its HSP
- Relate to the State annual and long-term highway
- Establish quantifiable, measurable objectives
- Use action words
- Use clear, understandable language
- Establish a framework to evaluate project
success (see evaluation section)
- Clearly define the scope of the project and
the specific activities to be undertaken
- Include project milestones and deliverables
(plans, reports, etc.)
- Make a funding request in proportion to the
size of the highway safety problem
- Include a detailed project budget.
State Crash Test Data
If you are having difficulty locating the necessary data for your
project proposal, ask the SHSO for assistance. Generally, State crash
data can be dissected by: county or city, time of day, type of crash,
and other factors. Many States employ data analysts who may be able
A Typical Project Objective
“To increase safety belt use
among youth aged 16-21 in XYZ
County from 65 percent to 70
percent in 2005.”
Some States offer an option that requires less upfront work. Applicants
submit a concept paper rather than a detailed project application.
If the concept relates to the State problems, goals and priorities,
then the State may accept the concept and prepare to fund the project.
The potential partner may then be asked to submit a more detailed project
A number of SHSOs conduct workshops to help potential partners submit
the best grant application possible. During the applicant workshop, the
SHSO staff may:
- Review the role of the Federal government in
- Detail Federal goals and priorities
- Explain the State planning process and highway
safety priorities for the year
- Explain how projects are selected and when
to submit applications
- Review guidelines for submitting grant applications
- Offer prospective applicants grant writing
- Explain State and Federal rules and regulations,
including those relating to the financial management of the grant
and equipment guidelines.
Potential partners interested in working with their SHSO should contact
the SHSO to find out when and where these workshops are offered.
Some SHSOs (particularly medium-and larger-sized ones) may involve program
staff members who will provide technical support as you develop your
grant application. They can explain State and Federal rules and answer
your questions. Don’t hesitate to ask questions if you are unclear
about any aspect of the grant application process.
State Forms and Requirements
Every State handles the grant application process differently. State
forms vary, as do State requirements. Ask questions to help familiarize
you with the process.
Once the application is approved, it is critical that the grant be managed
effectively. The first step in the process is the completion of the
grant agreement. The grant agreement is similar to a contract, and
- Problem Statement that is based on a clearly
- Project goals and measurable objectives
- Project plan of action for reaching those goals
- Clearly defined countermeasures, project milestones
- Project budget.
It may also require additional details, such as:
- Public information and education components
- Any training that may be required as part of
- Plan for evaluating the project success
- Plan for achieving self-sufficiency
- Statements assuring compliance with Federal
rules and regulations, such as
- Federal lobbying rules
- Drug Free Workplace regulations
- American for Disabilities Act regulations
- Other Federal requirements.
State project agreements vary considerably, so it is important to
familiarize yourself with what is required in your State.
Once the grant application is accepted, an agreement is executed and
funds made available, the “potential partner” becomes a “gran-tee” and
project implementation begins.
Many States contact grantees in the summer prior to the start of the
fiscal year to begin the process of contracting with grantees to undertake
specific Federally funded highway safety projects. The contracting process
may take several months, depending upon the State agency, the grantee’s
agency or organization, and the officials that need to sign off on the
contract. Implementation can move forward only when the State receives
its share of Federal funds (usually the start of the Federal fiscal year,
October 1). Occasionally, Congress does not provide Federal funds on
time, and grant agreements are held up until the funds are available.
Grantees usually have to meet with the SHSO staff to review the project
agreement. A typical meeting includes the project director and the fiscal
officer from the grantee organization, and the State program manager
and State financial contact. Other participants may include any local
official who may be involved in the project, and other key project personnel.
The State staff will provide technical assistance on the project agreement
and review Federal and State rules and requirements.
Many States conduct project management seminars to help grantee organizations
understand what is expected of them. These seminars are highly recommended,
as they provide grantee organizations with one-stop assistance in grant
After the contract is in effect, the grantee is required to submit progress
reports (usually quarterly but sometimes more frequently). They will
also need to do a final project report, and they may be required to collect
evaluation data to show how well their program is working.
Grantees are also required to submit invoices or costs statements, usually
on a quarterly basis. The Federal grant funds operate on a reimbursement
basis. This means that the grantee has to cover all costs up front. After
expenditures have been incurred, the grantee invoices the SHSO for a
reimbursement. Expenditures on all invoices must be accompanied by proper
documentation so that there is an adequate audit trail.
Grantees need to submit timely and accurate progress reports and invoices.
It helps to communicate regularly with the State program manager or other
SHSO staff, and to notify the State office immediately if there is a
Set up a financial tracking system so that grant-related expenditures
can be tracked separately from non-grant expenditures. Detailed financial
records and equipment inventories should be kept up-to-date and ready
to be shared at any time with the SHSO staff, and/or State and Federal
The SHSO will periodically monitor the grant to make sure that the
grantee is performing adequately. The monitoring activities may include
telephone interviews, meetings with the State highway safety staff,
and/or on-site inspections.
The SHSO will take note of potential problems such as:
- Late start
- Slow expenditure rate
- Low project activity
- Late project reports
- Report discrepancies
- Missing project records
- Excessive project personnel changes
- Too many revisions to the project agreement.
If any of these conditions occur, the SHSO may require corrective
action. Grantees may have their grant restructured. If a project has
significant problems, the GR or Coordinator and the NHTSA regional
staff will be notified, findings will be issued and a plan to resolve
the difficulties will be developed. In the most severe cases, funding
will be withdrawn or legal action may be taken.
Do not wait until your grant problem gets so large that it is difficult
to overcome. Notify the SHSO staff of the problem immediately and
work to address it. In other words, do not be afraid to ask for assistance
if you need it.
The project director is the steward of public funds. It is expected
that he or she will effectively manage those funds and set up proper
management systems. If that does not occur, it is likely that the grantee
organization will not be allowed to retain the grant or receive a new
grant in the future.
Every project funded with Federal highway safety grant funds should have
an evaluation component to assess the extent to which the project accomplished
its goals and objectives. Project evaluations do not have to be large
and costly research experiments in order to be valid. They do, however,
have to be built into the project design from the beginning. They have
to be appropriate to the size and scope of the project and be carefully
A good evaluation methodology begins with a clearly defined highway safety
problem, specific project goals and specific, reasonable and measurable
objectives. Once the objectives have been identified, the grantee organization
should develop a plan for implementing the evaluation. The plan should
define what is to be measured (and should be directly linked to the objectives)
and how the results of the project will be measured. The plan should
be implemented right from the start of the project, not at the very end.
Once the data are collected, they should be analyzed and the results
reported to the SHSO as part of the final project report.
A formative evaluation should be used to test the appropriateness and
effectiveness of proposed project activities and materials. Its purpose
is to determine whether the program, activities and materials will work
as planned. Formative evaluations should be used with the development
of a new program or when an existing program is being modified. Formative
evaluations can involve personal interviews, focus groups, surveys, or
An administrative or process evaluation will help the grantee organization
determine whether he or she has implemented the program as planned. It
requires an understanding of what was supposed to occur in the project
and a systematic way to track what actually happened. Direct and indirect
contacts with the program and number of items distributed or collected
are typical measurements taken during an administrative evaluation.
An outcome or impact evaluation will help the grantee organization determine
whether the program has had an impact on the problem they are trying
to solve. Impact evaluations are often difficult to conduct at the community
level because the total number of crashes and fatalities may be low.
However, it is possible to measure impact by examining:
- Changes in behavior (such as an increase in
safety belt usage)
- Changes in public opinion about the identified
- Institutional responses to the problem (such
as a change in the number of citations issued by the police, legislation
enacted to address the problem, etc.).
The measurement can be undertaken through field observations or surveys,
with data collection forms, or by analyzing archival data such as police
accident reports, court files, etc.
Frequent evaluations will alert the grantee organization to potential
problems with the project. With good evaluation data, the grantee organization
can make corrections so that the project will achieve its objectives
more effectively. Evaluation data will also provide information to the
SHSO, the media, and the public that can help build support for the continuation
of the project. Frequent evaluations will help build expertise and credibility
with the SHSO so that the office may call upon the grantee organization
the next time there is a funding opportunity.
Larger SHSOs may be able to provide technical assistance with evaluations.
Your local college or university may be able to provide assistance,
as well. The NHTSA publication, The Art of Appropriate Evaluation,
provides descriptions of each type of evaluation and step-by-step
instructions on how to do them. The publication can be ordered from
NHTSA’s web site at www.nhtsa.dot.gov
States are required to submit an Annual Report outlining
the State’s accomplishments. These are due by the end of the calendar
year for the fiscal year that ended on September 30. The report must
describe the State’s progress in meeting its goals and how the
implementation of specific projects contributed toward the goal. The
NHTSA Regional Administrators review the annual reports to determine
whether the States are making adequate progress in meeting State goals.
This may involve a review of grantee projects as well.
If the annual report indicates that little or no progress has been made
toward a goal after three years, NHTSA regional office staff members
are required to work with the SHSO to jointly develop a performance enhancement
plan. The plan must describe strategies, program activities, and funding
targets to meet defined State safety goals and may involve changes in
SHSO are also subject to State audits, as well as audits by the Inspector
General of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Grant projects may
be audited as part of these processes. Grantee organizations are required
under Federal regulations to maintain records for at least three years
and make them available for auditing purposes at any time.
States may also request NHTSA’s Regional Office to conduct a management
review. States typically do this when the director of the SHSO leaves
and a new director comes on board. In addition, NHTSA will conduct management
reviews of States every three years. The management review will help
determine whether the SHSO has the proper systems in place to manage
the Federal highway safety grants satisfactorily. The review may involve
an examination of the manner in which the SHSO awards grants and keeps
financial records. An unsatisfactory review may require that the SHSO
have stricter oversight over the management of grants.
Grantee organizations need to be aware of Federal and State requirements
and regulations, and must take every step to manage their grants properly.
As noted previously, grantee organizations have stewardship over public
funds and must be vigilant about how those funds are treated.
Case Study # 5
Virginia’s Historically Black Colleges
and Universities (HBCU) Highway Safety Project is a unique
collaboration with Virginia’s Highway Safety Office
(Department of Motor Vehicles.) This partnership serves as
a model for other States that want to develop a successful,
non-traditional partnership with a minority organization.
African-Americans were a high-risk group that had one of the
lowest safety belt usage rates in the Nation. The Virginia Historically
Black Colleges and Universities Highway Safety Project is a multiyear
effort established to help resolve the disparity in safety belt
and child safety seat usage among African-Americans, and to address
other safety and wellness issues within the community, such as
drug and alcohol awareness. In addition, another major goal of
the HBCU Project was to introduce students to careers in the
transportation industry. This project includes all six HBCUs
in Virginia: Hampton University, Norfolk State University, Saint
Paul’s College, Virginia Union University, Virginia University
of Lynchburg and Virginia State University, with each providing
valuable and previously untapped opportunities for collaboration
at many levels on highway safety issues.
To date, this project has
reached more than 20,000 students, faculty, and community
leaders through activities such as individual campus/community
highway safety events, highway safety campaigns with faith-based
organizations within the minority community, an annual highway
safety and careers symposium, an established transportation
safety college course, presentations, studies, and focus
groups conducted. The project has received praise and participation
from representatives of grassroots community organizations,
the educational community, as well as individual health care
professionals, State legislators, elected city officials,
local public officials and public safety officers. The Virginia
HBCU Highway Safety Project successfully demonstrates how
creative management can expand and adapt funds allocated
for specific purposes to build programs and institutions
that serve a broad range of needs from highway safety, community
health, institutional development and individual career growth.