The Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance provides a complete listing of available assistance programs from the U.S. Government. You can imagine that this makes for a large list!
There are over 2,000 assistance programs cataloged on this site. The majority of these programs are gathered together from five departments of state. Like Grants.gov, this website does not itself offer assistance. But what about me? you might ask, and we do our best to answer in the section below.
Why do they operate this way? In an effort to be more “transparent”, this web site provides a listing of available assistance programs. Following referendums and laws passed to increased accountability, agencies use a specific ID number in reference to the programs they offer. The ID number provided by the CFDA is supposed to be useful for tracking and adding together purposes. Whatever the site might offer beyond that is not its main goal.
Beware: The Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance provides listings in print along with archives of previous years. This fact has sometimes been abused by others who make and sell books out of the printed listings. All available information is free and you should never pay to learn about opportunities such as these.
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If you are looking for personal assistance then this web site will probably not help you. Registration is only for government employees that need to update listings. You do not need to register to browse the site. If you are a citizen or business looking for grants, this website offers general information. Under the General Info section, you can find articles on using the CFDA, writing grants, assistance types and FAQ. Unlike Grants.gov, this site does not allow you to begin the application process for assistance.
Update December 2016 While this site is not terribly user friendly —and not designed for end users — it can be interesting to nose around and see what’s there. For instance, when we clicked the “Agencies” tab expecting to see a list of agencies we went to a short page about the “Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation.” This Foundation conducts three programs including Agriscience Awards, Life Sciences Awards and Christopher Columbus Awards. The first two are described as providing “Direct Payments with Unrestricted Use” and the third as offering Special Project Grants. The Profile of the Agency says only that it was created by Congress in 1992 to award these fellowships to “encourage and support research, study and labor designed to produce new discoveries in all fields of endeavor for the benefit of mankind.” Sounds pretty wide open and might be interesting to pursue if you’re involved in that type of thing. You can search the name of the Foundation to learn more. It appears they largely are aimed at providing grants and awards to middle school student teams using STEM in community service activities.
News Update September 2016 Please note that the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance has place a warning on its site about what to do if you receive a phone call or social media post from someone who claims to be with the CFDA — especially if they say you’ve won an award and/or that you must send them money to receive an award. The CFDA DOES NOT contact people directly by phone or any other means. They ask that you contact the Internet Crime Complaint Center at the FBI and your local police if this should happen to you.
Initial Opinion The whole site is a big quagmire of gobbledygook. You'll likely find it boring unless you're into analyzing grant listings. Many listings on the web site appear more as a brain-dump than as a formal listing. The technical/government/political jargon is so mind-numbing as to be generally not useful. In many cases, better information is available directly on the web site of the providing agency. (The providing agency is the department directly responsible for the listing. Look under the Agency/Office column of the Programs table.)
The provided articles are both long winded and boring.
Update May 2016 Many people wonder if there is still any money out there resulting from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Well the CFDA now has a section called “Recovery” which allows you to search recovery programs. In fact they currently list over 250 new and existing programs that have been identified by government agencies as funded by the ARRA. So if you’re interested in knowing where ARRA funds are still going, or in seeing if any of those might be of benefit to you, you can now check that out. On the CFDA home page just click the “Recovery” button in the column on the right side.
Updated Opinion February 2016 The CFDA site appears to have improved since the above opinion was written. We found that the numbers of programs offered by different departments have been updated as of early February 2016. The colorful 3-D pie chart mentioned below is still available with the updated numbers. Also, on the upper right of the Home page is the heading “Find Programs”. You can enter a keyword or a Program Number and, if you know it, the Assistance Type you are looking for — probably a Project Grant (though you could also choose “Direct Loans”). Then click Search. You may get some “gobbledygook” but you might also find a grant or loan. Our favorite item to check in the Search section is “Added Programs (since last publication date).” That way you’re sure to get currently available programs - and you’ll get a shorter list! We got a list of 26 items. Each one had a check box next to it with a little magnifying glass next to it. You can check the box of a program that looks promising then check the magnifying glass — and it will take you to a program description on the appropriate agency’s website. That description will also include Eligibility Requirements so you can see if you or your organization should apply. Not bad!
One section that is interesting — and colorful — is right on the home page. There is a bright 3-D pie chart that shows current information showing how money is distributed among the five agencies which issue the greatest amount of funds. These are - in order from greatest to smallest - the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS); the Department of the Interior; the Department of Agriculture (interesting info on some loans from these folks in Grants for Housing); the Department of Justice; and the Department of Education (this where Pell Grants come from!).
Beyond those largest agencies ou'll find a bizarre set of agencies participate: from obvious ones like the Department of Labor to less obvious ones like the Railroad Retirement Board and obscure ones like the Denali Commission. We hope it's intuitive that if you're a farmer looking for help, then you should browse listings from the Department of Agriculture. Likewise, we guess if you're a railroad engineer or mountain climber, then there may be agencies for those too (sarcasm)!
The list of titles is also really broad. Sure, they provide search but to what end? Just in case I'm looking for “Payments to 1890 Land-Grant Colleges and Tuskegee University”? No. These will probably be very hit-or-miss for you. No wonder an ecosystem builds up around sites like these. Overall, we think this is harmful. It encourages the kind of lottery-winning attitude associated with assistance.
Overall, interacting with the government can be like wading through molasses. You'll find on these pages that a broad variety of checks and balances are applied to increase transparency but this doesn't translate to increased honesty. Sites like these do not always achieve their goals. Though it is a nice gesture, it's really not that useful. Skip this website.
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