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What to do if your AFG application is turned down

Here are steps you can take to gain a better understanding of why your application was turned down and to make 2011 a successful year

By Jerry Brant

Silently, it made its way into your inbox. A message from firegrants@dhs.gov. Was this good news or bad? The second sentence of the e-mail quickly answered your question. "Unfortunately, we will not be able to fund your grant request this year." During the first week in November a number of fire and EMS departments across the country found this email in their inbox.

The first thought that comes into your mind is, "How could my application get turned down? I thought I did a really good job this year." To answer this question, you need to understand the mechanics of the AFG grant review process.

After your application was submitted, it was subjected to an initial review by a computer. During this initial assessment the computer analyzes your answers to the activity-specific questions in your AFG application. Your answers to these questions are the primary basis for determining whether your application warrants further evaluation through peer review.

If your answers to these activity-specific questions are consistent with the established priorities developed by the DHS, then your application has a better chance of reaching the competitive range and peer review.

These priorities can be found in the AFG Program and Application Guidance that is made available each year by DHS. The priorities are developed annually by the Criteria Development Panel. This panel is a group of fire service professionals from nine nationwide fire service organizations such as the IAFF, IAFC, NVFC and others.

If you received one of the recent turndown notices, the first step that you can take to determine what happened to your application is to send an e-mail to firegrantsupport.com/turndowns. This information is listed in the e-mail that you received from DHS. You must submit your request within 30 days of receiving your turndown notice. Once you receive your response you may have a better idea of why your application was rejected at this initial stage.

My next suggestion is to take your application — hopefully you printed a copy at the time of submission — and to compare your answers to the priorities established for the 2010 AFG program. These priorities can be found in the guidance document which is available at firegrantsupport.com. From these two sources you should be able to determine the reason for your turndown notice.

Remember, if you received a turndown notice at this stage then the portion of your application that is deficient is not your narrative, it is the activity questions. Your narrative never made it to a review panel.

If there is one positive point to be found in all of this it's the fact that turndown notices have been sent out relatively early compared to other years. As some of you may remember, in the past you did not receive your rejection letter until after the next AFG application period had already opened. This year you have an ample amount of time to review your 2010 application and to begin planning for your 2011 AFG.

To make 2011 a successful year, begin the process early. Now is a good time to start. Take these steps: 

  • Submit a request to find out why your application was rejected
  • Examine the 2010 AFG Guidance to determine if your project met the established priorities
  • Share all of this information with your committee
  • Initiate your department's annual risk assessment
  • Develop a list of department needs based on your risk assessment
  • Plan to send someone from your department to a 2011 AFG workshop once they are scheduled
  • Review the 2011 priority list when it becomes available against your department's needs
  • Utilize the vast amount of information that we have available for you at FireGrantsHelp.com.

It is never too early to start planning for next year. And by the way, if you see the firegrants@dhs.gov e-mail sender address in your inbox, don't assume it is a rejection notice, as some departments have received e-mails asking for their answers to those famous 11 questions. To those of you in that situation congratulations!

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