Section 7000.350  Merit Review of Grant Application


a)         A merit review is required for discretionary applications for financial assistance in the form of grants and cooperative agreements, unless prohibited by State or federal law.  This process must be described or incorporated by reference in the applicable NOFO. An appeals process must be described and incorporated with the merit review process.


b)         If there is a multi-phase review process, the applicable NOFO must describe the phases. 


c)         Pursuant to UR section 200.205, State awarding agencies shall follow the uniform Merit Review process in this Section. A printable copy of this process can be found in the GATA Resource Library at https://gata.illinois.gov. 


d)         Discretionary grant evaluation criteria must be tied to the objectives or purpose of the federal or State-issued award program.


1)         Evaluation criteria must include, at a minimum, the following categories of criteria:


A)        Need: Identification of stakeholders, facts and evidence that demonstrate the proposal supports the grant program's purpose;


B)        Capacity: The ability of an entity to execute the grant project according to project requirements; and


C)        Quality: The totality of features and characteristics of a service, project or product that indicates its ability to satisfy the requirements of the grant program.


2)         Other evaluation criteria may be considered in addition to the required criteria in subsection (d)(1). Examples of other potential categories of criteria include:


A)        Societal impact;


B)        Economic impact;


C)        Cost-effectiveness;


D)        Sustainability; and


E)        Grant-specific criteria.


e)         The merit review shall be prepared in accordance with UR section 200.205 and include the evaluation process description, criteria and importance stated in the grant application.  The evaluation process shall include:


1)         A statement of the evaluation criteria as specified in the grant application. The grant application shall state all criteria and their relative importance, including preferences, technical assistance options, and tie-breakers for equivalent scores after evaluation.


2)         A statement of whether there are multiple phases of evaluation, along with a description of each phase.


3)         A review of the application based solely on the criteria identified in the grant application. If there is a required change to the evaluation criteria before to the application deadline, the State awarding agency shall notify applicants of the change, at a minimum, by posting notice of this change on its website and amending its CSFA listing to reflect the change.


4)         Consideration of cost sharing, if applicable and stated in the terms of the grant application. The State awarding agency must specifically define how it will evaluate cost sharing, such as whether it will assign additional points to cost-sharing applicants or use cost sharing to break ties among applications with equivalent scores after all other factors are evaluated. If cost sharing is used as an evaluation factor, this definition must include any restrictions on the types of costs that are acceptable (e.g., in-kind contributions).


5)         Evaluation by Committee. Evaluation committee members shall be determined by the State awarding agency, tailored to the particular grant application, and include, as appropriate, persons with the appropriate technical expertise to ensure a comprehensive evaluation of applicants.


A)        Conflict of Interest. Evaluation committee members shall not have any conflicts of interest or apparent conflicts of interest.


i)          Except when required by statute, evaluation committee members must neither have submitted an application nor represent an entity that has submitted an application for the grant program during the grant cycle under review.


ii)         Committee members must sign the Merit Based Review confidentiality agreement and conflict of interest disclosure form provided by GATU. Evaluation Committee members must not have a conflict of interest or apparent conflicts of interest. The form documents the individual's attestation and commitment to confidentiality in the review of grant applications.  


B)        Confidentiality. Committee members shall be assigned a code for identification in the evaluation process. Evaluator names shall be disclosed only when required by audit, litigation, or public records request pursuant to FOIA (see Section 7000.430(e)).


C)        The head of a State awarding agency or a designee may remove committee members for due cause, such as failure to comply with the directions of the grant application or evaluation process or failure to ensure the integrity of the awarding process. The reasons for removing a committee member must be stated in writing.


6)         Evaluation Based on Numerical Rating. Applications shall be assigned a numerical rating, unless another scoring methodology is more appropriate due to the unique circumstances of a particular grant program. In any case, the rating system must meet the following requirements:


A)        Any scoring tool must reflect the evaluation criteria and ranking of priorities set forth in the grant application.


B)        Committee members must have an individual score sheet that is completed independently.


C)        A summary score sheet must be completed that shows the comparative scores and identifies the resulting finalists for the grant award.


D)        Any significant or substantial variance among evaluator scores shall be reviewed and documented, along with any resulting revision of individual scores.


7)         Verification that the entity has completed pre-award requirements, including grantee pre-qualification, conflict of interest and mandatory disclosures, fiscal and administrative risk assessment, and programmatic risk assessment.


f)         Award


1)         Awards shall be made pursuant to a written determination by the evaluation committee based on the evaluation set forth in the grant application and the finalists' completion of all pre-award requirements.


2)         The agency shall issue a Notice of State-Issued Award (NOSA) to finalists that enables the finalists to make an informed decision whether to accept the grant. The NOSA shall include:


A)        The terms and conditions of the award; and


B)        If applicable, any specific conditions assigned to the finalist based on the fiscal, administrative and programmatic risk assessments and the merit review.


3)         Upon finalists' acceptance of the grant awards, the State awarding agency shall announce the grant awards in the CSFA.


4)         The agency shall send a written Notice of Denial to applicants not receiving awards.


g)         Appeals Process


1)         Appeals of discretionary grants are limited to the evaluation process. Evaluation scores may not be protested. Only the evaluation process is subject to appeal.


2)         Appeals Review Officer (ARO). The agency head or a designee may appoint one or more AROs to consider the grant-related appeals and make a recommendation to the agency head or designee.


3)         Submission of Appeal


A)        An appeal must be submitted in writing and must comply with the appeal requirements included in the grant application document. It must include, at a minimum:


i)          the name and address of the appealing party;


ii)         an identification of the grant (i.e., CSFA number); and


iii)        a statement of reasons for the appeal.


B)        Appeals must be received within 14 calendar days after the date of publication of the grant award.


4)         Response to Appeal


A)        The State awarding agency must acknowledge receipt of the appeal within 14 calendar days after it received the appeal.


B)        The State awarding agency shall respond to the appeal within 60 days. If this is impracticable, the agency must supply to the appealing party a written explanation of why additional time is required.


C)        The appealing party must supply to the State awarding agency any additional information requested within the time period identified in the request for additional information.


5)         Stay of Grant Agreement/Contract Execution

When an appeal is received, the execution of the grant in contention shall be stayed until either:


A)        The appeal is resolved; or


B)        The agency head or designee determines that the needs of the State require that the grant program move forward despite the appeal. This determination, and its rationale, must be documented in writing.


6)         Resolution


A)        The ARO shall make a recommendation to the agency head or designee as quickly as possible after receiving all relevant and requested information.


B)        In determining this recommendation, the ARO shall consider the integrity of the discretionary grant process and the impact of the recommendation on the agency.


C)        The State awarding agency shall resolve the appeal through a written determination. This determination shall include, but not be limited to, the following:


i)          Review of the appeal;


ii)         Appeal determination; and


iii)        Rationale for the determination.


7)         Effect of Judicial Proceedings

If an action concerning the appeal has commenced in a court or administrative body, the State awarding agency head or designee may defer resolution of the appeal pending the judicial or administrative determination.


h)         State awarding agencies shall maintain a file of the grantmaking process that includes the written determination of grant issuance, grant application and requirements.  The grantmaking file shall be available for audit-related purposes.


i)          State awarding agencies may impose specific conditions on the awardee based on the merit review (see Section 7000.340(e) (Specific Conditions)).


(Source:  Amended at 47 Ill. Reg. 7893, effective May 26, 2023)