The IRS has a neat web page on the life cycle of a private foundation. There is also a handy 5-page graphic overview of the whole process.
My recent experience with setting up private foundations is that the IRS is pretty quick in getting applications approved. The Franchise Tax Board, however, is a different matter. They DO get it done, but they are slower. No nit-picky questions, either — the whole thing just flies through the IRS and FTB.