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Project CAFÉ

NIFA launched the Project CAFÉ (Collaboratively Achieving Functional Excellence) Initiative to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of NIFA’s service delivery while improving its ability to provide excellent customer service.

Project CAFÉ Dashboard
updated September 1, 2021



Implementation Phase 1
Dec 2020 – May 2021

Quick Actions Phase
Aug 2020 – Nov 2020

Gather, Analyze & Recommend Phase
Dec 2019 – July 2020


June 2021 - Nov 2021

⬇ See Status Below

Dec 2021 - Forward 
Status: 100% Complete
Status: 50% Complete
Status: Pending


Action Areas Current Focus Status
Grants Portfolio Review
Leadership, Strategic Planning & Governance
Expand user base and testing   On Schedule
NIFA Website
Communications & Documentation
Migrate platform and set-up continuous improvement process Completed
Re-engineer RFAs
Communications & Documentation
Investigate the potential to implement identified RFA improvements into NIFA RFAs On Schedule
External Stakeholder Feedback
Outreach & Customer Service
Develop and begin scheduling identified webinars On Schedule
Honoraria Payment Process
Implement and measure process improvements On Schedule
Schedule for Program Implementation from RFA to Award (SPIRA) (RFA Timelines)
Track actual vs. planned performance on issuing RFAs On Schedule
NIFA New Hire Training
Talent Management
Develop, update & centralize training material On Schedule
Panel Manager Hiring Process
Talent Management
Streamline panel manager hiring process On Schedule

Recent major CAFÉ accomplishments:

  • The Re-engineering RFA team has completed a full report of its findings and submitted a recommendation to the NIFA Executive Council team. The team is currently working on identifying an implementation plan and timeline to support the recommendation.
  • The NIFA website improvement team has completed all deliverables for this project effort. A new NIFA website is in development and once launched, will continue to be supported by a new governance team to ensure content is kept up to date and continuous improvements are implemented.
  • The SPIRA team is nearing completion of the FY22 Request for Application publication schedule. The first bundle of RFAs targeted for August/September publication have been posted to the RFA Calendar.


Theme Action Area  Major Accomplishments
Leadership, Strategic Planning & Governance  Grants Portfolio Review  Completed a successful pilot of a new analytics tool that will allow for rapid analysis of grants. The result of this effort will be expediting our ability to answer complex questions regarding NIFA’s portfolio
Communications & Documentation  NIFA Website Published new NIFA website content, including: NIFA’s organizational structures, NPL points of contact information, our RFA calendar and a new, easy-to-use layout of our Program page
Re-engineer RFAs Completed research and analysis phase, which included interviewing external stakeholders and other grants-making federal agencies as well as conducting comprehensive analyses of RFAs issued by other granting agencies/organizations
Outreach & Customer Service  External Stakeholder Feedback Identified eight new standardized webinars to help inform stakeholders about funding opportunities as well as NIFA’s application and funding processes
Process Panelist Payments Identified process improvements which will reduce average payment cycle times to 20-30 days
Grant Program Timelines Developed a planning tool that defines target dates for each step of the granting process. Began tracking actual vs. planned performance
Talent Management NIFA New Hire Training Completed the curation and creation of new hire training materials for three key positions within NIFA
Panel Manager Hiring Process Identified, clarified and streamlined the roles and responsibilities throughout the panel manager hiring and extension process. The results will improve the experience and timelines to onboard or retain NIFA panel managers


Project CAFÉ’s Quick Actions Phase concluded in November 2020 and was focused on implementing quick action improvements
NIFA task order teams successfully completed the following 5 quick action improvements:

  1. New hire training for Grant Management Specialists, Program Specialist and National Program Leaders
  2. Reinforcing quality comments from panels
  3. Standardizing application deadlines
  4. Technology to support virtual panels
  5. Mitigating delays from notification to award

Key results:

  • Established internal training resources site for NIFA new hires to access consistent training materials for three key positions
  • Developed best practices reference guide for panel managers to use when drafting their comments/ feedback on applications
  • Completed an evaluation of technical and logistical requirements to standardize RFA deadlines to 5pm local time for all applicants
  • Defined technology best practices guide for conducting virtual panels
  • Developed flowchart to illustrate the Competitive Grants process. Published flowchart on NIFA’s website and incorporated it into award letter packages


Project CAFÉ’s initial phase concluded in August 2020 and was focused on gathering and analyzing stakeholder feedback as well as developing improvement recommendations

Key outcomes:

  1. NIFA received feedback from 40 sources, comprised of 36 external stakeholder groups and 4 sources of internal feedback (e.g., listening sessions and surveys of NIFA employees)
  2. In total, these sources provided approximately 900 comments that directly responded to the four questions posed by NIFA
  3. The CAFÉ Board reviewed and analyzed the stakeholder comments. On August 5, 2020, the Board submitted the CAFÉ recommendation report to NIFA’s Executive Council based on its analysis of the comments
  4. In its report, the CAFE Board identified 8 quick action opportunities and 40 longer-term improvement opportunities

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