- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 17, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Health and Human Services Department went into damage control mode after an off-message official told the public to submit applications for stimulus grants on paper instead of online.

Curt Coy, the acting assistant secretary at the Administration for Children and Families, said during a national public webcast Tuesday that the stimulus grant application site was overloaded and he would be “asking for paper copies.”

That request contradicted the Obama administration’s repeated promises to conduct transparent government online, so it was quickly countermanded by a higher-ranking HHS official.

“I just can’t imagine we would ever require applicants in this day and age to submit paper applications,” Sheila Conley, deputy assistant secretary for finance and acting deputy assistant secretary for grants, said in an interview.

Conley said that the Web site, http://www.grants.gov, was working and accepting applications.

HHS spokesman Nick Papas said that Coy “was speaking on behalf of his own department, and we will be working to clarify those comments and department policy with the grantee community and all those interested in the recovery act.”

Conley also said that HHS was working to upgrade the Web site so that it can handle the volume of traffic expected to be generated by municipalities and others applying for some of the $787 billion in stimulus money.

White House budget director Peter Orszag warned in a memo last week that the Web site, which went online in 2004, was “at a significant risk of failure” because applications were expected to surge by 60 percent due to the stimulus bill that became law last month.

Tuesday’s incident underscored the administration’s sensitivity to any suggestion that it’s not making good on its promises to use technology to involve the public.

Old-fashioned paper and ink to apply for grants could have seemed to fly in the face of an executive order Obama issued on his second day in office that “all agencies should use modern technology to inform citizens about what is known and done by their government.”

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On the Net:

Stimulus grants: http://www.grants.gov

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