Doron Zeilberger seems to be thinking along similar lines to me (apparently by coincidence, though he does link to one of my posts). He’s willing to take things a step further than me, though, and filled out a FOIA request for grant proposal of a colleague who declined a request to share his.
While I don’t plan on filling out a bunch of such requests (apparently somewhat unpleasant for the recipient), I think this makes a very important point: grant proposals are by law public information. If you don’t want to share their contents, you shouldn’t make them part of the business of the federal government, and thus subject to FOIA. I don’t plan on trying to force peoples’ hands, but I think the world would be a better place if we could change our norms from thinking of grant proposals as something which is by default private to something which is by default public. This has the advantage of having a basis in law.
I think Doron also has a very good answer to why it is beneficial to make such applications public: grant applications are the only time in a person’s life when there is truly a good incentive for writing good exposition. Of course, I can’t really judge the quality of most people’s grant applications, but I suspect the first couple of pages would be pretty educational reading in a lot of cases.
I actually think it’s an interesting thought experiment to ponder the world where the NSF posted peoples’ full proposals online rather than just abstracts; certainly that would be a reasonable thing for them to do. Would people write them differently? Maybe yes, maybe no. I’m curious how much support there would be for this idea. There are various accommodations that could be made for people; we could make it opt out, and of course, by the time the grant was approved, a pretty reasonable amount of time would have elapsed, and the delay could be increased.