About the Competitive Process

ACF first indicates that funding will be available through an announcement on the Department of Health and Human Services' Grants Forecast site. On this website you can search by agency to view planned ACF funding opportunities Forecasted opportunities are subject to change based on enactment of congressional appropriations.

When funding is available and ACF is ready to accept applications, ACF will issue an official notice as known as a Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA), which will be available on Grants.gov, the same place you will go to submit your application. As ACF's FOAs are announced, the full FOAs are also posted on ACF's website.

Each funding opportunity announcement will include a due date of not less than 60 days from the posting date of that FOA. Applications must be submitted electronically and received and validated through the Grants.gov system by the due date and time to be considered in the competitive process

How Will My Application Be Evaluated

Grant applications receive a comprehensive review, conducted by a panel of independent subject matter experts who are selected from a group of qualified individuals to become grant reviewers and/or a panel chairperson.

Applications are reviewed by at least three reviewers, who separately score the application according to evaluation criteria found in Section V.1. of the funding opportunity announcement (FOA). Each panel also has a chairperson that does not score applications, but facilitates the review process with reviewers and compiles comments for the Applicant Panel Summary report. This report describes the consensus of the panel reviewers' comments and the overall average score for the application. The full panel reaches this summary based on individual reviews of each application according to the published evaluation criteria.

Evaluation criteria vary for each FOA, and applicants should refer to the specific FOA to which they are applying, but some common categories include:

  • Objectives and Needs for Assistance;
  • Approach;
  • Program Performance Evaluation;
  • Organizational Capacity; and
  • Budget and Budget Justification.

If marked differences of opinion about an application exist among reviewers, the panel chairperson and reviewers will discuss the reasons for these differences and seek consensus. Once reviewers have reached consensus, the chairperson will send the Applicant Panel Summary report to the federal staff member(s) overseeing the panel. The federal staff member(s) reviews comments to ensure that they correspond to the appropriate published FOA evaluation criteria and substantiate the score on the Applicant Panel Summary report. Once approved by the federal staff member, the final score for each application is sent to the program office for consideration in making their funding decisions.

In 2013, ACF implemented a new policy that requires all applicants, whether successful or unsuccessful, to receive a copy of their Applicant Panel Summary Report. The Applicant Panel Summary Report is a compilation of the reviewer's strengths and weakness statements on all criteria from the reviewed FOA.

This information may be helpful as constructive feedback for future applications specific to that program.

Agencies interested in applying for funding are encouraged to review the ACF How to Write a Strong Application webpage.

The content on this page is for informational purposes and should not be construed as instructions for submitting an application. Please refer to the Funding Opportunity Announcement of interest for detailed instructions.

ACF does not provide direct guidance or instruction in the development of an applicant's project design or in writing their applications. Applicants should use their best judgment in determining whether they are able to meet the requirements contained in the funding opportunity announcement (FOA), whether they are able to develop an application they believe to be responsive to the FOA and in designing and writing their applications.

Applications will be reviewed and evaluated by objective review panels using the criteria described in Section V.1 of the FOA. The review panels will use the FOA as their principal guidance available to them in the same way that it is the principal guidance for applicants.

Submit an Application

The following is a brief overview of the process of submitting an application and is not exhaustive. Applicants must follow all instructions in the Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) in Section IV.2. Content and Form of Application Submission and on Grants.gov.

  1. Download the instructions and application kit from Grants.gov. The application kit includes everything you need to complete an application, including all the forms. Save the kit to your computer and complete it off-line.

    ***REMEMBER!In order to view application packages and instructions, you will need to download and install a gov compatible version of Adobe Reader on your computer.
  2. Complete the Application, including all required forms, assurances, and certifications. When complete, save the application to your computer. Be sure to click the "Check for Errors" button, which will validate your application and activate the "Save and Submit" button.
  3. Save and Submitonly after you have double-checked your application for accuracy, completeness, and compliance with the page limit and application submission requirements (e.g., electronic applications must be submitted in only two separate files). After you click "Save and Submit," you will enter your username and password. Assuming you are registered with Grants.gov, you can click the "Sign and Submit" button to authenticate and submit your application.

    As stated in the FOA in Section IV.2. Content and Form of Application Submission, under Application Upload Requirements, applicants submitting their applications electronically are required to upload ONLY two electronic files, excluding Standard Forms (SFs). No more than two files will be accepted for the review and additional files will be removed. Standard Forms will not be considered as additional files.

    You may not attach additional documents to the SF-424 at Question 14 and/or after Question 15. Instead of providing a separate response to Question 14, you are required to submit the SF for Project/Performance Site Location(s) (SF-P/PSL). In the SF-P/PSL, you may cite your primary location and up to 29 additional performance sites. Any documents attached to the SF-424 form will be removed from the review.

    ***REMEMBER! All ACF applicants must submit their application electronically unless they have received an exemption from this requirement through the process described in the FOA.
  4. Watch your Email.You will receive a series of emails from Grants.gov that will help you track your application. You can get the same information by logging into your account at Grants.gov.

For any systems issues experienced with Grants.gov and/or SAM.gov, please refer to the ACF Policy for Applicants Experiencing Federal Systems Issues [PDF, 168KB] document for complete guidance.

Tips on the Submission Process

  • Know Your Role
    Each role in the submission process carries specific responsibilities. Program Directors/Principal Investigators (PD/PIs) work with their organization to prepare the application, and pass the completed application on to their Authorized Organization Representative (AOR). Only AORs have the ability to submit a grant application to ACF via Grants.gov. The E-Biz POC has the ability to designate the AOR for their organization.
  • Obtain Software – Adobe Reader
    Applicants must download a Grants.gov compatible version of Adobe Reader software in order to view and complete the application forms. Users can identify and download Grants.gov compatible versions of Adobe Reader by visiting the Adobe Software Compatibility page on the Grants.gov website.
  • Creating Portable Document Formats (PDFs)
    Some applicants choose to submit their applications in a PDF.

The free Adobe Reader used to complete an application cannot be used to create PDF attachments or merge multiple documents. To comply with instructions in the FOA, some applicants may need to merge multiple documents together into one PDF file. View instructions on using one software to create and merge PDF documents [PDF, 18KB] or watch this video. ACF does not endorse any of the software, and applicants are not required to use a specific type of PDF conversion software to submit an application.

The content on this page is for informational purposes and should not be construed as instructions for submitting an application. Please refer to the Funding Opportunity Announcement of interest for detailed instructions.

What to Expect after the Application Submission

Applications received by ACF receive a thorough and comprehensive review. Although the time varies from program to program, it takes approximately four to six months from the time ACF receives a new application to the time awards are made. Usually each Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) will contain an estimated date as to when awards will be made. This information can be found in Section V.3. Anticipated Announcement and Award Dates of the FOA.

Successful applicants will be notified via email, informing them how to access their Notice of Award (NoA) and Terms and Conditions. Successful applicants can find instructions on accessing document(s) that pertain to their award (e.g., Applicant Panel Summary Report) in the remarks section of the NoA. ACF will send electronic notices to the Authorized Representative and contact person noted on the SF-424 form.

ACF program offices will notify applicants that were not funded either via email or through hard copy mail. These applicants will also receive a copy of their Applicant Panel Summary Report. The Applicant Panel Summary Report is a compilation of the reviewer's strengths and weakness statements on all criteria from the reviewed FOA. If the application was reduced in response to FOA requirements, the applicant will also receive a letter explaining why the application was reduced.

Interested applicants may email the OHS Operations Center at OHSTech@reviewops.org for additional information.

Last Reviewed: June 2016

Last Updated: March 7, 2017