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Effectively Partnering with Government Program Officers

In order to effectively partner with a Government Program Officer, a prospective offeror must take an organized and strategic approach to all communications. Program Officers are typically balancing many competing priorities – funding grants is just one part of their job. When asking for feedback or other insights whether related to an existing grant solicitation or in hopes of prompting a new solicitation, it is important to remain focused on obtaining the most important feedback needed to move the needle forward.

The starting point for any interaction with Government Program Officers is understanding their specific programmatic goals and how the proposed project furthers those goals. When possible, also understand the current (or future) solicitation cycle and budget prior to the engagement. Framing communications to programmatic goals with an eye towards both timing and budget ensures the proposal will be highly relevant. It is also useful to focus on the practical applications of the resulting grant to include the potential impact or real-world solutions. This tends to help the Program Officer see the ultimate future utilization prospects from a successful effort.

When communicating with a Program Officer, be receptive to their feedback as it will demonstrate adaptability and commitment to submitting only the most relevant proposal. Receiving feedback of any kind (positive or negative) strengthens a formal submission and will give the proposal an edge. Understand this feedback is extremely valuable and should be taken very seriously. Also, if granted a meeting with a Program Officer, pose only a few critical questions and then allow time for open conversation to gain maximum value from the interaction. It is more important to hear what is being said rather than to ensure a presented point or perspective is understood.

It is vital to recognize how grant funding operates at the Program Officer’s specific agency. In the most common scenario, the Program Officer is allocated semi-autonomous control over a set budget that aligns with their area of expertise. Generally, once a grant is initially selected for award by the Program Officer, there is still a multi-layered approval process to ensure full programmatic buy-in. There are other parties with equal responsibility during the award of a grant. Government, in general, has very specific processes and procedures to help ensure a fair and equal playing field.

Be sure to understand, adhere, and respect any boundaries or timelines shared. Continued follow-up, if appropriate, is important but keep in mind that implementation of even the best ideas can take time. Staying focused on the benefits of a long-term relationship is paramount.


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