Paperless grants via the Internet.
Within federal government contracting organizations, a variety of approaches have been taken to achieve paperless contracting. Electronic contracting is rapidly becoming the norm for awarding small purchases. One very successful application of electronic contracting for large-dollar-value contracts has been implemented by the joint Advanced Strike Technology (JAST) program office, a high-technology aviation project of the Department of Defense. The JAST office, through the fall of 1995, has completed two rounds of multiple contract awards. Each step in the award process--including issuance of broad agency announcements, receipt of proposals, conduct of technical and business evaluations, and award of contracts--is performed entitely through electronic means. No paper documents change hands between the government and the contractor, nor are any used within the government during the award process (Joint Advanced Strike Technology, 1995).
While there are certainly many differences between contracts and grants (and between grants and other kinds of financial assistance instruments), there are also many similarities. The general process of issuing a public announcement, receiving replies, evaluating them, making an award, and monitoring the outcome is essentially the same in both cases. Therefore, we can be certain that if contracts can be processed electronically, so can grants.
A recent survey found that peer-review panelists who evaluate submitted proposals strongly support electronic preparation (85 percent), notification (75), submission (71), Edward (69), and evaluation (64). Proposal writers were not asked specifically about the desirability of using an clectronic format for their work. They did note, however, that they were dissatisfied with the time now being taken by the paper processes in use and would welcome some form of information technology (Schwartz and Mansir, 1995). Doing more of the work in an electronic format and transferring the documents electronically should allow a more timely process.
Much has been written about the Internet, so only the briefest of introductions is provided here. The Internet is a worldwide network of other computer networks using a common communications protocol known as Transmission Control Protocol Internet Protocol (TCP/IP). It is an outgrowth of the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) work of the 1960s to develop ARPANET, which linked Department of Defense computers. Now, in general, individual personal computers (PCs) in an organization are connected via a local area network (LAN) with each other. This network is then connected to a regional network, which in turn is connected to one or more of the public fiber-optic backbones MacKie-Mason and Varian, 1994).
One other general item about the Internet should be discussed--the addresses needed to access the information. These are known as Uniform Resource Locators (URLs); they consist of a string of abbreviations connected by colons, slashes, and dots. Examples from the World Wide Web (www) are http://www.imi.org and http://www.bschool.howard.edu. In this case, http and www identify the type of connection or protocol being used and the rest of the line is the domain, with the designation org denoting an organization (usually not-for-profit) and edu, an educational institution. Also frequently seen are gov for government and com for commercial sites (Goffe, 1995). Often it is possible to identify the source of the address by the abbreviation used in the domain. Above, lmi for the Logistics Management Institute and howard for Howard University are easy to pick out. After the domain is identified, a more specific address string of characters may follow to identify a directory or document. For example, the URL = http:// www.law.cornell.edu/regs.html identifies the law school at Cornell University and the file that contains regulations. (The frequently seen abbreviation html is for hypertext mark-up language, and http is for hypertext transfer protocol. It should be particularly noted that, in written material of this kind, when the address ends a sentence, the final period or dot is not a part of the address and should not be used. Especially useful for the relatively new user of the Internet may be the search engines-the tools used to electronically various documents for information.
It is usually a good idea to review any online guide that may relate to the search screen that you are using. Most search devices have a space to type in the item that you want to find, (e.g., grants). Then either pressing "Enter" or clicking a button that says something like "Start Search" will cause the network to identify all the uses of that term. Since using "grants" will sometimes locate hundreds of mostly useless references, it is best to be more specific. This can be done by specifying federal AND grants, which will locate all mentions of federal grants. (In most cases, but not all, the search instructions pay no attention to upper or lower case, except for AND, OR, and NOT.) You can also get the same information by using quotation marks and typing "federal grants," but this is a less efficient way to search. Just typing in federal grants will usually find all references to the words federal or grants, since OR is often the default connector for words. Some searches find adjacent words by using a dot between them (e.g., federal.grants). You can also use NOT to define searches (e.g., federal AND grants NOT defense). Do not use punctuation in search strings. However, use of an asterisk will expand a search for that term, so that grant' will find grant, grants, granted, granting, etc. Finally, probably the most common mistake is forgetting to use AND. To get references to the National Science Foundation (NSF), the search usually must be national AND science AND foundation. There may be cases in which you will need to search for a particular document or a specific subject matter and will need to try a wider search on the Internet. There are many resources to try, some of which are: Yahoo: URL = http://wwwyahoo.com
WebCrawler: URL = http://webcrawler.com
Lycos: URL = http://lycos.cs.cmu.edu
EINet Galaxy: URL = http://www.einet.net
Global Network Navigator (GNN) Whole Internet Catalog: URL http://gnn.com
Although much work on making grant information available on the Internet has been completed, much more still remains to be done to provide the tools for a complete well-working system. Many areas currently under development remain to be completed, tested, and put into service. The information on the changes in the process must be received and put into practice by each customer.
This essay updates readers on the status of paperless grants and provides guidance for finding the information needed for using the Internet. The essay identifies the sources of available information on statutes, ruies, and regulations; budgets and plans; announcements; applications; peer reviews; grant awards; and grant administration after award. The rest of the essay is best read while simultaneously using the Internet. Without being able to use them, the reader will find that the addresses of the sites given throughout the remainder of this essay have little meaning. For the experienced Internet user, the "Hot List" of Internet Resources at the end of this article may be its most useful feature. The information is summarized under the following major subheadings: Laws and Regulations, Electronic Announcements, Electronic Applications/preparation Instructions, Paperless Peer Review, Electronic Award, and Administration.
Laws and Regulations
The basic statutes, regulations, policies, and practices that apply to federal grants are available electronically. This portion of the process is the most nearly complete. This section provides the available URLs for sources of the information that may be needed by all involved in the grants process, whether they are applying, awarding, or administering.
United States Code: The U.S.C. provides the basic laws of the land and can be searched electronically at
URL = http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/ Code of Federal Regulations: The CFR can be electronically searched at
URL = http://www.law.comeff.edu/regs.html
Federal Register. This publication is issued every working day to provide public notice of proposed rules and regulations, as well as specific announcements concerning grants. It is available as a subscription service, but is also on-line at
URL = gopher://link.tsl.texas.gov:70/11/.dir/sj fedgov.dir
Congressional Record and current legislation: Information on current legislation is available through the Congressional Recordand also in the form of the individual legislative bills themselves through URL = http://thomas.loc.gov
The Library of Congress (loc), of course, also has many other useful items available on-line.
Executive orders: Information on executive orders (EOs) of the President is less readily available. Those issued since january 20, 1993, are available through the White House on URL = http://wwwwhitchouse.gov Under "Daily Press Releases," select "Publications' and select "Retrieve Documents."
While it is important to have access to recent EOs, some older ones such as "Intergovernmental Review of Federal Programs" (EO 12372 of July 14, 1982) are still in force and may need to be reviewed as well. Some of the older EOs are available through Grantsnet at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). In this case, the address is URL = http://wwwos.dhhs.gov Here, link to "Grantsnet"
GrantsNet provides a partial list of Eos. Although we have been unable to locate an address providing access to the complete set of EOs, we believe they will soon be available on-line.
OMB circulars: Also of interest to the grants community are the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) circulars. Several of the OMB circulars are of particular importance to grants professionals. However, in this area as well, only partial information is available on the Internet. The best source for OMB circulars that we have been able to find is through FinanceNet at
URL gopher://pula.financenct.gov:70/11 docs/central/omb
Of the circulars in this listing that may be of particular interest are A-2 1, Cost Principles for Educational Institutions (proposed revisions); A-87, Cost Principles for State and Local Governments, A-102, Grants and Cooperative Agreements with State, Local and Indian Tribal Governments (final revision); Uniform Administrative Requirements for Grants and Agreements with Institutions of Higher Education, Hospitals, and Other Non-Profit Organizations; A-122, Cost Principles for Non-Profit-Organizations (proposed revisions); A-129, Managing Federal Credit Programs (Policies for Federal Credit Programs and Non-Tax Receivables); and A-133, Audits of Institutions of Higher Education and Other Non-Profit Institutions (proposed revisions). Other OMB circulars often of interest to the grants community are A-88, Indirect Cost Rates, Audit, and Audit Follow-up at Educational Institutions, A-8 9, Federal Domestic Assistance Program Information; and A-128, Audits of State and Local Governments. But, to date, we have been unable to locate on the Internet these three circulars. As of this writing, the OMB circular portion of GrantsNet through HHS is still under development. Some OMB circulars (A-21, A-110, and A-133) available through the University of Wisconsin Medical School at
URL = gopher://msd.medsch.wisc.edu:70/11/ OMB%20Circulars HHS Grants Policy Directives (GPDs): GPDs are a phased replacement for the HHS Grants Administration Manual (GAM). These documents provide information on the administration of HHS grants. Both sets of regulations are available on GrantsNet, as previously cited.
NIH Guide to Grants and Contracts. This weekly publication of the National Institutes of Health is also available on the Internet at
URL = gopher://gopher.nih.gov:70/11/res/nih -guide
Even before a grant's availability can be announced, the grants office will have spent considerable time in budgeting and planning activities. These activities should also be completed electronically, as is now being done in many offices. Those still maintaining a paper flow to accomplish this work will find that converting to an all-electronic process reduces the work effort by speeding the flow of information through the budget and planning phases and by allowing much of the earlier work to be easily incorporated into later requirements.
Once again, we must say that the following information was available on-line as of the fall of 1995, but because the Internet is such a rapidly changing environment, some of these URLs may no longer be valid. It is much more likely, however, that many new sources of information will be available. By using the ones listed, you will turn up additional links that should be explored.
The Chronicle of Higher Education has general information about deadlines for both Federal and private grants programs; see
URL = http://chronicle.merit.edu
One of the most common sources for learning about the availability of a grant is the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA). For 1994 this 1,750-page publication contains information on 1,353 assistance programs administered by 51 federal agencies. Because of the volume of information it contains, the published CFDA is cumbersome and hard to use. In addition, it is difficult to be sure that one has identified all the grant opportunities in one's area of interest that may be contained in the book since, although it does contain cross-reference indexes for functions, subjects, and applicant eligibility, it is organized alphabetically by agency.
Having the CFDA on the Internet where it is able to be searched electronically is of great help to the researcher who wishes to know whether there are any grantopportunities in a particular area. The CFDA is available through several on-line sources. One of them is the University of Texas at Austin, which has the CFDA on-line at URL = http://wwwlib.utexas.edu Once there, select "Government Information'
The CFDA may also be electronically searched at Arizona State University under URL = gopher://info.asu.edu/11/asu-cwis sp/gov/cfda
It is also available through the Southeastern Universities Research Association, Inc., from Suranet at
URL = gopher://gophersura.net by selecting "Databases and Network Information"
As noted in the section above, the Federal Register also has announcements of grants in addition to its other purposes, and is available on-line.
The Federal Data Exchange (FEDIX) provides databases having information on agency research opportunities, program contacts, scholarships, research equipment procurement notices, and minority opportunities. It contains comprehensive information on opportunities for a number of participating agencies, such as the Departments of Energy (DOE) and Agriculture (USDA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID), the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA); the Office of Naval Research (ONR), and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR). Additionally, a few agencies' post information relating to opportunities that are only open to minorities in the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) Center for Software-Software Management Support Department (SMSD). Both lists are at URL = http://web.fie.com
Often linked with FEDIX is MOLIS, a database that supports the White House initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUS). It provides capa6ility information on 104 HBCUS and 32 Hispanic-serving Institutions (Federal Information Exchange, 1995).
Another site with an extinsive menu of links to sources of funding opportunities is the Texas Research Funding and Administration (TRAM) project. It has the capability to do a multi-search of the available funding opportunities. This site is still under construction at Rice University at URL = gopher://softlib.cs.rice.edu by linking to "TRAM Research Administration gopher"
Individual agency announcements are also available electronically from a number of agencies. HHS is the largest grants-making organization in the federal government; it manages over 300 grant programs totaling $130 billion per year, most of which are individually administered by one of five HHS agencies. For HHS there are several sources of announcement information. The primary source is the Federal Register, but the agencies also publish and distribute announcements to the public. One of the sources is GrantsNet, a center for HHS grants information and other grants-related information. GrantsNet is one of 11 Networks created as a result of Vice President Gore's National Performance Review as a part of NetResults. For example, NIH information from the NIH Guide to Grants and Contracts (published weekly) is on GrantsNet (at the HHS URL) previously given at
URL = http://wwwnih.gov/grants From this source, much grants-related information can be found by pointing to the NIH Gopher menu and selecting items of interest. Some of the areas of interest relating to grants are:
The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) at URL = gopher://gopherniehs.nih.gov
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) at URL = gopher://gophernimh.nih.gov For the Health Care Financing Administration HCFA), see
URL = http://www.ssa.gov/hcfa/ord/ordhpl. html
Grants announcements from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are available from URL = gopher://zserve.nist.gov Announcements from the NSF can be found at URL = gopher://stis.nsfgov National Academy of Sciences (NAS) URL = http://www.nas.edu Announcements from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), which provides funding for a tange of community service and education programs, can be found at
URL = gopher://ace.esuda.gov-70/11/ace/cncs Announcements for the Department of Education (DOEd) are available at URL = http://wwwed.gov
The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program is in place at most federal government agencies. Information on links for this program for many agencies can be found at URL = gopher://gophersbaonline.sba.gov by selecting "Innovation and Research"
Most of the awards under the SBIR program are contracts, but the NSF refers to them as grants, and information can be found at
URL = http://www.nsf.gov by selecting "Grants and Program Areas"
At NIST, the SBIR program is at URL = gopher://gopher-server.nist. gov:7253 Within the Department of Defense (DoD), we could find little grants-related information on the Internet. However, DoD does have an extensive amount of information on research contracts. Although that topic deserves a separate essay, the following addresses are provided for interested readers: Dod has DefenseLINK at
URL = http://www.dtic.dla.mil:80/defenselink The Army Research Laboratory can be reached through URL = http://wwwarmymil The Air Force uses FEDIX, described above, but its home page is at URL = http://wwwdtic.dia.mil/ airforcelink
The Naval Research Laboratory lists broad agency announcements under "NRL Publications and Announcements" at URL = http://wwwnrl.navymil The Advanced Research Proi ects Agency (ARPA) is at URL = http://wwwarpa.mil
Electronic Applications/Preparation Instructions
Several guides that can help the researcher fill out a grant application or comply with a grant's administrative requirements, once the grant is awarded, are available on-line. While this part of the process has much information on the procedures to be followed (e.g., electronic copies of guides or manuals), the actual electronic submission of applications remains quite rare. However, for this part of the process, a number of experiments are underway, so we expect the number of sources and the amount of information available on electronic submission to grow rapidly.
Appendix VI of the CFDA provides guidance on developing and writing grant proposals. As noted previously, the CFDA is available at
URL = http://wwwlib.utexas.edu The NSF Grant Proposal Guide, which discusses the procedures to be followed for unsolicited proposals, is at URL = http://www.nsf.gov The NSF makes many of its forms (currently 16) available in an electronic format, referred to as Nsf-style Smart Forms. The forms can be obtained as a package or individually, either as blank forms or with sample data filled in. Electronically, they are at
URL = gopher://stis.nsf.gov:70/11/nsf/forms They can be printed out, either as is or filled in with data you have inserted, by using a Postscript printer. [To print the form, first save it to a hard disk; then, at the DOS prompt, use the NPRINT command as follows: C:\NPRINT (filename.*) Q=(printer designation) /S= (lan printer server) /NB/NFF].
The Fastlane development under the NSF provides the most nearly complete electronic package for the total grants process, including the electronic application. The system consists of on-line electronic forms with instructions for their on-screen completion. This is a three-year development program currently undergoing testing by the NSF and 16 colleges and universities. About 1,500 Principal Investigators from the participating institutions were given personal identification numbers (PINS) and are assisting in the system's evaluation. The Fastlane Development Server available on-screen allows simulation of most of the Fastlane features. It can be found at
URL = http://www.fldevnsfgov The electronic proposal submission forms portion of Fastlane allows users to enter their name and social security number, as well as their address, telephone number, race, gender, disabilities, etc. It also allows them to pick a previous proposal to work on or to prepare a new one. It provides a menu of eight forms to work on, including Information on the Principal Investigator/program Director (1225), Cover Sheet (1207), Project Summary (ASCII) (1358), Bibliography (1361), Biographical Sketch (1326), Summary Proposal Budget (1030), Current and Pending Supf6rt (1239), and Facilities and Other Resources (1363). The user may select to submie' or "delete." Fastlane also provides a means for proposal status inquiry. The user must provide the proposal number, the person's name, and the PIN to learn about the proposal's status.
At NIH, several initiatives with respect to electronic grants are underway. One of them is the Limited Electronic Submission System (LESS), an experimental pilot program that began in October 1994 in cooperation with two major grantee institutions. The face page, an abstract, certain budget items, and personal data for the Principal Investigator are submitted electronically. This electronically submitted information will be entered directly into NIH's data base, thus avoiding rekeying. It is planned to link the applicants with data currently at NIH, such as institutional assurances and certifications and names of institutional officials, thus avoiding the need to furnish the data repeatedly (National Institutes of Health [NIH), 1995).
From February 1993 through July 1994, NIH accepted grant applications electronically in their entirety under the Automated Grant Application System (AGAS). But it was found that difficulties were caused by the diversity of methods used by applicant institutions. NIH is working with other federal agencies to design and publish EDI standards that independent software vendors can adopt in designing grant application creation software. A pilot project began in January 1995 with four grantee institutions working with information on inventions and patents (NIH, 1995).
Another site that has made extensive progress in providing forms and information on applications is the Texas Research Funding and Administration (TRAM) project. This site is still under construction at Rice University at URL = gopher://sofdib.cs.rice.edu by linking to "TRAM Research Administration gopher"
From this menu, the user can select Agency Forms" and can link to the NSF forms cited above or to the forms of several other agencies, including the United States Public Health Service and NIH, NASA, the Small Business Administration, DOE, and the Army Research Office.
Some organizations, such as Indiana University, have grants-writing aids that provide sample components of a funded proposal and information on other proposal-related topics. It can be found it
URL = gopher://gopher.indiana.edu: 1067/1 I/ rugs/gopher/srs/ grantswriting., For HHS, basic grants policies and regulations are available through Grantsnet as follows:
URL = http://wwwos.dhhs.gov
Here, link to "Grantsnet." From there, select "Laws, Regulations, and Policies Affecting Federal Grant Programs" The NIH Guide to Grants and Contracts is available electronically. This bulletin contains current information on NIH policies in many areas, including new requirements for proposals. These may be found at
URL = gopher://gopher.nih.gov:70/1 I/res/nih -guide
Paperless Peer Review
The NSFS test program, Fastlane, also provides for paperiess peer review. The system under test will allow peer reviewers from any location to review proposals. The reviewer starts by inserting the proposal number and the reviewer's identification number. The user can select a rating category excellent to poor), provide review text (2,900 characters maximum), add suggested reviewers, fill out a conflict of interest statement, and read information on the evaluation criteria, the confidentiality of proposais and peer review, and the Privacy Act.
The PHS Discretionary Grants Work Team, as part of HHS' Continuous Improvement Program (CIP), has recommended a shared master electronic relational data base so that data entry can be made only once for a given application or applicant organization. This information can be used by employees engaged in reviewing grant applications and in deciding who gets a grant (Public Health Service, 1995).
NIH has set the electronic transmission of the Notice of Grant Awards (NGA) as a longer-term goal (NIH, 1995). Fastlane from the NSF also contains a section providing information on grant award actions. It allows users to search the NSF database by state, by institution, by NSF program, and by fiscal year within each category (currently the data are limited to the 16 test institutions). The search returns the award number, the title, the total amount, the name of the Principal investigator, the name of the institution, the start and expiration dates, and the state and district. The user may click on the award number for additional details.
Fastlane will allow submission of the final report required at the end of any NSF grant. After the user enters the NSF award number, the Principal Investigator's last name, and a PIN, "Fastlane provides a report template that can be used to 'cut and paste' a 200-word report summary, and to record other required information. Initial testing of this feature began on March 10, 1995, and is expected to be completed by April 1" (National Science Foundation, 1995). The development screen provides space to fill in text information and data on persons supported (e.g., number, gender, race, disabled, etc.).
Fastlane will also help manage cash transaction requests. The user can choose either a new cash request or a history of cash requests. After the institution's identification and security code are inserted, Fastlane can provide the history of cash requests, showing the date, transaction identification number, status (accepted or rejected), and amount. The user can ask for more detailed information as well.
Some federal agencies currently make all payments by electronic funds transfer. Efforts are underway to evaluate the current systems to identify best practices and minimum requirements so that this method of payment can be more widely applied. While electronic payment is not apparent to Internet browsers, the funds transfers use the same technology.
As of the fall of 1995, the Internet has nearly complete coverage of most of the laws, regulations, and procedures that must be used by the grants community. However, the database with respect to both Presidential executive orders and OMB circulars is incomplete.
Grant announcements are also generally available on the Internet. They can be found in the CFDA, in the Federal Register, and through information services and other links and can be obtained from the individual agencies.
The remaining steps in the grants submission, evaluation, award, and administration process are much less well supported on the Internet. Few agencies will accept electronic submission of grant applications. Those that do, do so only in limited test cases. Conducting the full peer review electronically does not yet seem to be a reality, nor does the award and administration of grants (with the exception of payment; payment by electronic funds transfer is currently occurring and will soon become the norm).
Despite the significant gaps that must be closed to attain a paperless grants process, we are optimistic that it will become a reality in the foreseeable future. The experiments, pilot projects, and other efforts currently underway will continue to make this area one of rapid change.
Martin I. Kestenbaum is a research fellow with the Logistics Management Institute. He is project leader for studies in the areas of management, policy, regulatory analysis, and acquisition and grants management improvement practices. His current research interests include process improvement for contracting and grants, privatization, and performance measurement. He has been published in the National Contract Management Journal the Assistance Management Journal, other Proceedings, and research studies.
Ronald L. Straight is an assistant professor in the School of Business at Howard University. He is currently working on research in the acquisition and grants management field, concentrating on increasing the use of business practices (e.g., competition) within government, streamlining processes, and establishing effective performance measures. He has presented on these and related topics and is published in the Naidonal Contract Managementjourna4 the Assistance Management j6urnal, and other Proceedings.
Drake, Daniel J., in press. A Procurement Manager's Guide to Electronic Commerce. Vienna, VA: Holbrook Kellogg.
Federal Information Exchange, Inc., 1995. "What Are FEDIX and MOLIS?" (on-line). Available: http://web.fie.com
Goffe, William L., 1994. "Computer Network Resources for Economists." Journal of Economic Perspectives, vol. 8 (Summer), pp. 97-119.
Joint Advanced Strike Technology, 1995. Interview and briefing with Major Walter Fink, USAF, and Ms. Kathryn Crawford, Program Manager's Assistant for Public Affairs, April 11.
MacKie-Mason, jeffrey K and Hal Varian, 1994. "Economic FAQS About the Internet." Journal of Economic Perspectives, vol. 8 (Summer), pp. 75-96.
National Institutes of Health, 1995. "NIH Reinvention Activities: Status Report." NIH Guide (on-line). 24 (14) April 14, 1995. Available: gopher://gopher.nih.gov: 70/00/res/ocr/ reinvention.
National Science Foundation, 1995. "About Fast-Lane" (on-line). Available: http://x.nsfgov:80 /oirm/fastlane.htm
Public Health Service, 1995. "Reinvention, Streamlining, and Continuous Improvement Activicies: PHS CIP Report, Recommendations to Reinvent PHS Grantsmaking." (onlide), February 23, 1995. Available: gopher://gopher.os.dhbs.gov:70/00/ Topics/grantsnet/reinvent/phs-cip
Schwartz, Lawrence and Brian Mansir, 1995. Meeting Customer Standards Under Executive Order 12862: NASA's Space Science Grant Process. McLean, VA; Logistics Management Institute.
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|Author:||Kestenbaum, Martin I.; Straight, Ronald L.|
|Publication:||Public Administration Review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 1996|
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