See eSubmission Items of Interest for January 7, 2015.
See eSubmission Items of Interest for December 9, 2014.
Pull together your biosketch Information centrally and let SciENcv do the formatting for you
SciENcv biosketches work great with eRA systems.
SciENcv Takes the Guesswork Out of Biosketches
The easiest way to navigate the biosketch changes is to use the Science Experts Network Curriculum Vitae (SciENcv). SciENcv serves as an interagency system designed to create biosketches for multiple federal agencies. Support for NIH’s new biosketch format and NSF’s current format is expected later this month.
I realize folks are sometimes leery of using new systems, especially with something as important as a grant application. You really need not worry. There are already over 8,000 profiles in SciENcv and NIH tests submissions with applications that include biosketch PDF attachments generated through SciENcv. I’m a trust but verify person myself. I’ve personally tested a few submissions with SciENcv biosketches and can confidently say “they work great with eRA systems”!
As we transition from one biosketch format to another, it really is the perfect time to let a tool take the guesswork out of your biosketch attachment. Pull together your information centrally and let SciENcv do the formatting for you.
Need help spreading the word within your institutions? You’re welcome to use the flyer our Grants Information team has brought to recent outreach events.
Commons IDs Required for Fellowship Sponsors
For those of you keeping score…eRA Commons IDs are now required on competing grant applications for:
For all other Sr/Key personnel, including the Commons ID in the Credential field of the R&R Sr/Key Person Profile form is optional, though encouraged if you have the information handy.
New Applications = Fresh Start!
By all means use reviewer feedback to improve your application. Just keep it to yourself where you got the ideas for improvement. A New application is a fresh start.
Yes, Dr. Seuss is one of my all-time favorite authors. What can I say – I’m a kid at heart.
I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. I certainly embraced the “gobble ‘till you wobble” concept.
The original budget instructions stated:
The Items of Interest sent on October 2nd included the following statement that we need to retract:
“Similarly, the ‘Estimated Project Funding’ section of the SF424 R&R cover form need only reflect the K99 funding request.”
We actually DO need the ‘Estimated Project Funding’ section of the SF424 R&R cover form (item 15) to reflect both the K99 and R00 phases (i.e., the detailed budget total for the K99 phase plus up to $249,000 total costs per year for each year of the R00 phase).
The Proposed Project Period (item 12 of the cover form) should span both the K99 and R00 phases, as well.
New K99/R00 applications are due next week (October 12 falls on a Sunday and October 13 is a federal holiday, so applications are due October 14). Some of you have already submitted your K99/R00 applications (way to go you, for actually submitting early). Our Division of Receipt and Referral staff are checking each application received and will reach out to any applicants whose application is missing the required budget information on the SF424 R&R cover form.
We realize that all these last minute course changes and clarifications make it very difficult to figure out exactly what we are looking for in these applications. Once we get through this round of applications, we will step back and reevaluate the K99/R00 application requirements.
Thought for this day…
"I don't see much sense in that," said Rabbit.
"No," said Pooh humbly, "there isn't. But there was going to be when I began it. It's just that something happened to it along the way."
-Winnie the Pooh
Are you planning to apply to the NIH Pathway to Independence Award (Parent K99/R00) opportunity? If so, you may be wondering just what we are looking for in the budget.
The original budget instructions stated:
In the initial application, an itemized budget is not required for the R00 phase. The applicant should indicate a minimum of 9-months effort for him/herself for each project period. The exact amount of direct and indirect costs does not need to be specified, and a zero may be used as a placeholder in these sections. Total costs of $249,000 should be entered in Total Direct and Indirect Costs. At the time of transition to the R00 phase, the R00 applicant institution will submit a detailed budget for each budget period of the R00 project period that reflects the direct and indirect costs at the R00 applicant institution.
Unfortunately, since the Direct Costs (item G), Indirect Costs (item H), and Total Direct and Indirect Costs (item I) of the R&R Budget are all system calculated and don't accept direct input we issued a clarification notice which stated:
In the initial application, an itemized budget is not required for the R00 phase. At the time of transition to the R00 phase, the R00 applicant institution will submit a detailed budget for each budget period of the R00 project period that reflects the direct and indirect costs at the R00 applicant institution.
Yet we are still getting questions as to how to fill out the budget for the R00 phase. The simple answer is you don't. You don't even need to include the budget periods in the application. Just include the budget periods for the K99 phase and leave it at that.
Similarly, the 'Estimated Project Funding' section of the SF424 R&R cover form need only reflect the K99 funding request. As indicated in section VI.2 of the FOA, a R00 application must be submitted by the R00 phase grantee organization prior to the proposed activation date and that application will include the detailed budget for that phase.
Many of the career development Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOAs) promoting diversity [e.g., PAR-12-050 (K01), PAR-12-051 (K08), and PAR-12-052 (K23), PAR-12-062 (K22), PAR-12-163 (K22)] include the following instruction regarding the submission of a required letter certifying eligibility of the applicant:
Information must be submitted by the applicant Institution in a letter certifying that the applicant belongs to one of the above groups. The letter should be inserted in the application immediately before the Checklist as a PDF file. Application processing may be delayed or the application may be returned if it does not comply with this requirement.
Given our application form packages no longer contain the PHS Checklist form and applicants can't control how their application images are assembled, this instruction is, well, problematic. In the Related Notices section of each of the FOAs you should find a link to a clarification notice with instructions similar to the sample instruction below.
Information must be submitted by the applicant Institution in a letter certifying that the applicant belongs to one of the above groups. The certification letter (titled: EligibilityCertification.pdf) must be attached via "Other Attachments" in the SF424 Other Project Information form. The letter must be on institutional letterhead and scanned so that an institutional official signature is visible. Application processing may be delayed or the application may be returned if it does not comply with this requirement.
Be sure to follow the guidance in those (and any other notices) in the Related Notices section of your FOA.3
- Conformance to all instructions documented in the following is required and strictly enforced:
- Funding Opportunity Announcement
- Pay special attention to FOA-specific requirements in section IV
- Notices in the NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts
- Application guides and supplemental instructions
- The Extramural Training Mechanisms page includes information specific to Career Development Awards, including links to the K Kiosk and the Career Award Wizard.
Annotated Form Sets include helpful tips to avoid common errors.
If you have questions about submitting reference letters, check out our FAQs.
"Before beginning a Hunt, it is wise to ask someone what you are looking for before you begin looking for it."
― Winnie the Pooh
Personal note…This time last year I became the grandmother of this adorable, little guy who has rekindled my love of Winnie the Pooh, thus today's theme. Please know, even when we indulge in a little silliness in our communications, we have nothing but respect for all that you do every day. Grants administration and the science it facilitates is serious business. Thanks to NIH-funded research, a baby born in the U.S. today may live to age 79. That's serious - even when you dress that baby in a Tigger suit!
TTFN – Ta-Ta for Now...
Communications & Outreach
NIH Office of Extramural Research
Automated enforcement of business rules by NIH eRA systems plays an important role in the application submission process – it helps you and it helps NIH. Understanding what that role covers can be the difference between your application moving forward to review and not. System-enforced application validations are what they are – nothing more, nothing less.
- Staff can reject an application for not following font, margin and page size requirements outlined in the application guide. Automated validations will give an error for a 15-page Research Strategy on an R01 application, but not for a 12-page Research Strategy with 9 pt font.
- Programmatic or funding opportunity announcement specific requirements, especially those listed in FOA Section IV - Application and Submission Information, are typically highly specialized and manually validated.
- Staff can reject an application for issues with application attachment content, like including additional Research Strategy information in other attachments not restricted by page limits (we internally call this ‘overstuffing’ an application).
- As you submit your application, keep in mind what system-enforced application validations do and don’t provide, then accept them for what they are and use good submission practices to avoid potential problems they can’t and won’t guard against.
Psst…got a minute? How about 7 minutes and 40 seconds? That’s how long it will take to watch the new ‘Tips for Electronic Grant Submission Success’ video.
If you follow all 10 tips in the video then you shouldn’t have any problems with the submission process. How many of the tips are you already following?
Is following Tip #3 really harder than dealing with the potential consequences?
In order for eRA systems to identify a Project Director/Principal Investigator (PD/PI) on a R01 or DP2 application as having Early Stage Investigator (ESI) status,the PD/PI’s degree completion and/or the end of residency date must be correctly entered in their eRA Commons profile at the time of submission.
If you have already submitted an application and it doesn't reflect the correct ESI status, you can open a ticket with the eRA Commons Help Desk to request a correction of the ESI status for the submitted application.
Did you hear the great news from Grants.gov? On July 10th Grants.gov released some exciting changes to the behavior of several forms used in our opportunities. I've personally heard you all ask for some of these changes for quite a while. Well, the wait is over…
Summary of the changes:
- New budget period will be populated with the data from the first budget period.
- Previous Period/Next Period: Improved Navigation for Budget Periods -- enable navigation of previous and following years when the form is partly completed.
- Project Role (Senior Key Person section): Default to PD/PI for the first entry with the capability to over write.
- Add Additional Key Person: Clicking will add a row. Button will be disabled if all rows have been added.
- Add Additional Other Personnel: Clicking will add a row. Button will be disabled if all rows have been added.
- Funds Requested if Equipment item is entered (Removed the validation on Amount to be $5,000 or more)
- Add Additional Equipment: Clicking will add a row. Button will be disabled if all rows have been added.
- Add Additional Indirect Cost: Clicking will add a row. Button will be disabled if all rows have been added.
- Previous Period/Next Period: Improved Navigation -- enable navigation of previous and following key people when the form is partly completed.
Going forward, packages for any new Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOAs) will automatically pick up these changes. But wait, it gets even better… yesterday, the eRA and Grants.gov teams worked together to ensure any new package downloads for all currently posted NIH and AHRQ FOAs will also pick up the new behavior for the forms. If you downloaded an NIH or AHRQ application package before July 17 you won't have the benefit of the new changes, but your application can still be used for submission (i.e., we didn't break your 'in progress' applications).
Our thanks go out to Grants.gov for implementing these improvements and for helping us extend the impact to existing NIH & AHRQ opportunities.
We recently changed our approach for collecting inclusion data (changed with introduction of 'FORMS-C' application packages). In addition to reformatting the data tables themselves, inclusion data is no longer collected in PDF attachments. Instead, each package includes new Planned Enrollment Report and Cumulative Inclusion Enrollment forms. These forms allow NIH to collect the data in a format that can be leveraged throughout the lifecycle of the application/grant.
Applicants must carefully follow application guide and supplemental instructions to ensure the new forms are included when needed.
For additional information including a handy decision tree (What is subject to the inclusion policy?), FAQs, instructions and more, see http://grants.nih.gov/grants/funding/women_min/women_min.htm.
Actual conversation with my son…
Eric: "Mom, I love this new phone. It's a phablet."
Me: "It's ginormous!" (I can combine words, too.)
Eric: "Well, I don't actually talk on it - I'd look ridiculous. But it's great for everything I actually do on my phone because the screen is bigger."
Remember, when folks actually talked on their phones? Now days folks use their phones for everything from getting directions to (dare I say it) looking up NIH grant opportunities. Over the past few months our web posting team has been busy adjusting the grants.nih.gov website, including the NIH Guide for Grants & Contracts, to make the content responsive to the various screen sizes of phones, phablets, tablets, laptops, desktops and other electronic devices.
You may have noticed that newer FOAs have a different look. Some aspects of the old format (e.g., table structure) did not allow for easy page resizing across devices and had to be reworked. The team also has to work within some constraints regarding the order and content of FOA data that is outside NIH control. Despite these challenges, we are headed in the right direction by retaining the integrity of the FOA information in a responsive format.
So, if you are one of those folks that use your handheld electronic gadgets to look up grant stuff – go for it!
If you have any suggestions on improving the usability of any of our resources, please email OER@od.nih.gov. We really love feedback - especially specific, actionable steps we can do to improve.
Has this ever happened to you? You are submitting your grant application forms to Grants.gov. You hit Save and Submit and fill out the login box, only to get a yellow box saying "Some features have been disabled to avoid potential security risks. Only enable these features if you trust this document." So, you select 'Trust this document always' and start again. Then you get to repeat the process for each and every application you submit. With each submission, your frustration level rises just a little bit and you start berating your computer like a crazy person. (Ok, that last part may just be me.)
Our friends at Grants.gov recently provided some advice on this in another forum and it worked so well for me with my test submissions, that I feel compelled to spread the word…Evidently, Adobe made some security enhancements a while back which introduced the scenario above. Luckily, what has been done can be undone. Go into Edit -> Preferences -> Security (Enhanced) and disable the 'Enable Enhanced Security' feature by unchecking the box next to it (it is checked by default). Afterwards, the trust confirmation message will stop stalking you and you may even find yourself talking nice to your computer again. Ah, harmony!
Joe, myself and some eRA friends had the pleasure of participating in NIH's Regional Seminar on Program Funding and Grants Administration held in Baltimore, MD last month. Shout out to any participants at that event – I hope you had as much fun as we did. If you missed last month's seminar, consider joining us next year…we'll be posting our plans for future conferences later this fall.
In the meantime, we've posted a few presentations we gave at the conference that you may find useful.
Please feel free to use any of the information in these slide sets for your own internal training.
Thought for the Day
Behold the turtle. He makes progress only when he sticks his neck out. -James Bryant Conant
I had the privilege of spending some time last week with the eRA Commons Help Desk and posed the question - "If you could tell the applicant community one thing about application submission what would it be?" I was a bit surprised to hear the same key messages that we have been pushing for years. On the other hand, that's why we consider them 'the eSubmission basics'.
So, here's a quick reminder…
- Watch out for form fields required by NIH that are not marked required on federal-wide forms (e.g. Credential for PD/PIs and Organization for all entries on R&R Sr/Key Person Profile form; primary site DUNS on Project/Performance Sites form).
- Use PDF format for all attachments. Follow PDF Guidelines.
- Submit early – days, not minutes – to allow time to correct unforeseen errors.
- Track your submission in eRA Commons. Email can be unreliable.
- Check your entire assembled application image in eRA Commons. If you can't view it, we can't review it!
- If federal system issues threaten your on-time submission you need to notify the help desk and follow the Guidelines for Applicants Experiencing System Issues.
Did you see in the NIH Guide (NOT-OD-14-091) or in Rock Talk (Changes to the Biosketch) that NIH is piloting a new biosketch format? The pilot directly impacts applicants applying to a few Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOAs) (e.g., RFA-NR-15-001), but there is an immediate indirect impact to all applicants as well. In order to accommodate the pilot applications, eRA has changed the way we systematically validate the biosketch page limit for all applications. Specifically, a warning will fire if you submit a 5 page biosketch and an error will fire if your biosketch is over 5 pages. Applicants to pilot FOAs can ignore the 5-page warning, but everyone else should take action or risk post-submission rejection of their applications. After your application moves forward to NIH staff, we will do a manual check of the biosketches in applications to FOAs not participating in the pilot. If your non-pilot FOA requires 4 pages, but you included 5 and ignored the warning, then your application may not be reviewed.
Applicants must read and follow all FOA and application guide instructions – even those that aren't enforced by electronic systems.
Although NIH systems now support a broader character set including Greek and other non-standard characters, Grants.gov systems currently do not. When completing application form fields type content directly from your keyboard. Avoid cutting and pasting from Word and other word processors- they often convert your plain text to rich text (e.g. Word converts quotes to 'smart quotes' that curve towards the text between them and combines two dashes into one long em-dash.)
Also, keep your text as simple as possible. The following characters are typically 'safe': letters, numbers, spaces, underscores, periods, dashes (not em-dashes), quotes (not smart quotes), parentheses, brackets, ampersands, tilde, exclamation points, commas, colons, semicolons, at signs, number signs, dollar signs, percent signs, plus signs, equal signs, and asterisks.
Limit your use of fancier characters to the body of your PDF attachments.
Although NIH typically allows only 5 budget periods to be submitted with grant applications, from time to time you will come across a FOA that allows more than 5 budget periods. Most NIH FOAs include the R&R Budget form which only accommodates data collection for 5 budget periods leaving applicants wondering what to do with the rest of the data. Applicants have been forced to use a rather clunky 'workaround' that includes adding the additional budget period information in the budget justification.
eRA has just added system support for Grants.gov's R&R Budget 10YR form that will allow for the collection of up to 10 budget periods of data. Going forward, this form will be included with the few, special FOAs that allow more than 5 budget periods. The bulk of NIH FOAs will continue to use the standard R&R Budget form.
If it seems like I've been talking about transitioning to FORMS-C for a year – I have. On May 30, 2013, we announced our first transition to updated application forms (FORMS-C) for application due dates on/after September 25, 2013 (NOT-OD-13-074). The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs are our last remaining programs to use the older forms. These programs are scheduled to transition to FORMS-C for due dates on/after August 5, 2014 (NOT-OD-14-089) marking the end of a rather lengthy transition.
Believe it or not, this summer my friends in policy will start pulling together requirements for the next OMB clearance of the PHS (agency-specific) forms used in our applications (they expire in August 2015). Before you know it we'll be talking about 'FORMS-D' forms. For now, let's celebrate getting through this one. Woo-hoo!
Cover Your Application - that's what you thought I was talking about – right? NIH form packages no longer use a separate, agency-specific PHS Cover Letter form. The version of the SF424 (R&R) cover form included in FORMS-C packages has a new Cover Letter Attachment (item #21 at the very bottom of the form). If you plan to include a cover letter with your application – use this Cover Letter Attachment only! The eRA systems know to keep this attachment separate from your assembled application image and to limit access to it. If you attach it someplace else (e.g., Pre-application attachment on the SF424 (R&R) cover form, Other Attachments on the R&R Other Project Information form) it will become part of your assembled application image and will be visible to everyone with access to your application including reviewers.
Thought for the Day
"The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance." -Alan Watts, Philosopher
If you're at the NIH Regional Seminar on Program Funding and Grants Administration in Baltimore this month, please stop by and say hello.
"No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn."
It sure feels like spring lost its place and went to the back of the line. It's March 17 and Federal offices are closed again today due to snow. As I look outside at the white blanket covering, well, everything, I find it hard to believe that the cherry blossom trees are expected to peak in three weeks. My sweater-clad, humiliated hound dogs and I are ready for warm weather and walks in the park and I'm sure we're not alone. For now, it's hot chocolate and teleworking…so, let me take this opportunity to get you caught up on some stuff going on in NIH's world of electronic grant application submission.
Application Due Dates and Weather
Despite the icky weather today, Federal staff are teleworking, help desks are open, grant application due dates are on and our standard submission policies are in place. If your organization is closed due to weather, you can submit on the first day your organization reopens. Don't forget to document your reason for the late submission in your cover letter.
NIH's eRA systems can now accept project titles (item 11 on the SF424 R&R cover form) of up to 200 characters. That's right – eRA systems will no longer truncate your project titles to 81 characters. Over the years we have seen some rather unfortunate truncations so this is a welcome and long overdue change.
Keep in mind that when submitting a Revision application, you must use the exact project title displayed in eRA Commons for the awarded application. If the project title of the awarded grant was truncated to 81 characters, then only those 81 characters can be used for the Revision application.
Over the long Memorial Day weekend, eRA systems will be upgraded to support the Unicode character standard (see NOT-OD-14-071). Unicode is a computing industry standard for the consistent encoding, representation and handling of text expressed in most of the world's writing systems (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unicode). What did we do before Wikipedia? Anyway, the bottom line is we will soon be able to recognize and store Greek and other scientific characters our systems can't handle today.
Although Grants.gov limits the characters allowed in application form fields, you can (and do) use a broader range of characters in your PDF attachments within your applications. eRA systems already extract information from your Project Summary/Abstract, Specific Aims and other application attachments for use in Summary Statements and reporting systems. However, since our databases don't currently recognize all the characters, quite a bit of manual manipulation of the data is needed. The Unicode character support will greatly reduce the need to manually edit the data pulled from these attachments.
The effort to implement Unicode support touches every eRA service from eRA Commons through all our internal grants administration systems. Each of these systems will be updated over the Memorial Day weekend downtime. We have made some adjustments to our application due dates to accommodate the downtime and to ensure all our systems are ready to go (see NOT-OD-14-070).
We will also be bringing down our non-production environments, including eRA Commons Demo and External User Acceptance Test (Ext-UAT), for an extended period (March 25-April 5) to update these systems and use them as a 'practice run' for our production changes.
Along with our upgrade to the latest OMB-approved application forms (FORMS-C), there was a change to our handling of reference letters for Fellowship applications. In the past, NIH had required the use of a specific 'Fellowship Reference Form' to be filled out by referees. NIH is no longer requiring that specific reference letter format. Be sure, however, to follow the new instructions outlined in the Individual Fellowship Application Guide SF424 (R&R) Section 5.4 Letters of Reference, Part B. Instructions for Referees.
Submitting Change of Institution (Type 7) Requests & Relinquishing Statements Electronically
Do you need to submit a post-award Change of Institution (Type 7) request to NIH? If so, have you tried the electronic processes NIH has in place? NIH announced the piloting of electronic Type 7 applications (NOT-OD-12-134) and associated Relinquishing Statements (NOT-OD-12-132) in August 2012. We are moving towards requiring electronic processes for these actions and now is the time to become familiar with them.
Don't forget, you must use the Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) specifically published for Type 7 requests – Change of Grantee Organization (Type 7 Parent) – PA-14-078.
NIH will be back in Baltimore, MD June 25-27 for the 2014 NIH Regional Seminar on Program Funding and Grants Administration. I know budgets are tight, but this is a great event for anyone new to the NIH grant process.
Hope to see you there!
In the meantime, think Springy, happy, warm thoughts and take care.
Communications & Outreach
NIH Office of Extramural Research
Grants.gov plans to take their service offline from Friday, December 6, 2013 at 12:01 am until Sunday, December 8, 2013 at 11:59 pm Eastern Time to perform critical maintenance (Grants.gov Calendar).
To accommodate this extended downtime, we have made some adjustments to due dates, including moving the standard December 8 Fellowship due date to December 10 (NOT-OD-14-022).
The new FORMS-C application packages use a different approach for collecting inclusion data. In addition to reformatting the data tables themselves, inclusion data is no longer collected in PDF attachments. Instead, each package includes new Planned Enrollment Report and Cumulative Inclusion Enrollment forms. These forms allow NIH to collect the data in a format that can be leveraged throughout the lifecycle of the application/grant.
The forms are included in the application packages as 'Optional' and eRA systems no longer provide an error when inclusion data is omitted. However, our policies on when to include the data in your application have not changed. Applicants must carefully follow application guide and supplemental instructions to ensure the new forms are included when needed. A handy decision tree was recently posted that can also help determine whether the inclusion reporting policies apply to your specific application.
The latest version of the R&R Budget form developed by Grants.gov includes some changes in how data is entered. Although the PD/PI name provided on the SF424 R&R cover form is still used to auto-populate the first Senior/Key Person entry in Section A, the Project Role filed for that entry no longer defaults to 'PD/PI' and must be manually entered. As a result, more applicants have been running into the following error:
There must be a Personnel entry (with a role of "PD/PI") listed for the PI or PD on the 424 RR Detailed Budget Page (section A&B) for budget year <x>. (5.7.1)
It is critical to type the string 'PD/PI' – NOT 'PI' or 'PI/PD' or 'Principal Investigator' or 'Co-PD/PI' – you must use 'PD/PI' or you will get that dreaded error. So, please add this to your pre-submission application checks to avoid a corrective submission.
A reminder notice regarding the transition of Career Development (Ks), Fellowship (Fs), Training (Ts/Ds) programs to updated electronic application forms has been posted (NOT-OD-14-027).
- All F, K, T and D submissions for due dates on or after January 25, 2014 must use the new application forms. Applications submitted using incorrect application forms will not be accepted.
- Research Training (T), Career Development (K) and Fellowship (F) Parent Announcements will be reissued under new Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) numbers. All other active F, K, T and D FOAs will be updated to include a FORMS-C package with the existing announcement (i.e., no FOA number change). NIH is making every effort to have the new FOAs and packages in place 45-60 days prior to the first due date that falls on/after January 25, 2014.
- For the January 7, 2014 AIDS due date, applicants should continue to use the ADOBE-FORMS-B packages found in the old Parent Announcements or that remain available in non-parent announcement.
The second group of activity codes in our transition timeline (G12, P30, P40, P41, P42, P51, P60, R28, S06, U10, U41, U42, U45, U56, UC7) move to electronic application submission for due dates on/after January 25, 2014 (NOT-OD-13-075).
If you are planning to apply to a multi-project program in the near future, you may want to become familiar with the resources available to help you through the electronic submission process:
- Special multi-project supplemental section (#9) in the Application Guide
- ASSIST FAQs including a new set of multi-project budget FAQs
- Annotated form set that helps applicants navigate through most of the system business rule validations
- Multi-project Application Images document that describes how NIH assembles a multi-project application for funding consideration
- ASSIST Training resources including a recorded webinar on the process and instructions for 'playing' with ASSIST in a demonstration environment
- ASSIST User Guide
I hope you have a great holiday season! Catch you in 2014!
I have budget phobia. There I said it. It is a bit embarrassing to admit – I work with grants after all, but it's true. I'm actually pretty good at math, I like money and I know quite a bit electronic grant application submission - but there is something about the mix that makes my brain hurt. I think it's the lingo – F&A rates, direct costs, modified total direct costs, fringe benefits, cost principles – yikes!
When we were building ASSIST, I knew that our help desk would get more content and policy questions about application preparation, some of which would find their way to my desk. What I wasn't prepared for was how many of those questions would be related to budgets. Thankfully, NIH employs lots of grants management and policy professionals that not only know the budget lingo and what all those crazy terms mean (without looking them up like I do), they actually like to talk about budgets – go figure.
I know ASSIST and how eRA systems process multi-project applications. They know budgets. Together we've prepared the following ASSIST Budget FAQs that we hope you will find useful.
Q: What is the best way to structure my multi-project application from a budget perspective?
A: NIH has provided a basic framework for multi-project applications. However, there is some flexibility within that framework regarding how to put together an application. Some applicants decide to structure their applications with the applicant organization leading every component within the application. Other applicants have collaborating organizations lead a subset of components within their applications.
Many factors can influence how you decide to structure your application. An application's budget is important, but it should not be the primary consideration in your decision. Funding Opportunity Announcement guidelines, NIH policy, your own organization's policies, the role any collaborating organizations will play in the proposed research, where the research will be carried out, and other factors should also be considered. In the end, your multi-project application should be structured to reflect the scientific and administrative needs of the proposed research.
Once you decide how you are going to structure your application, filling out the component forms (including budgets) is fairly straightforward. Treat each component like it is a standalone application. If the applicant organization is leading a component, then all the forms in that component should be completed from the perspective of the applicant organization. If a collaborating organization is leading a component, then all the forms in that component should be completed from the perspective of the collaborating organization.
Q: When a collaborating organization leads an entire component, is it still considered a subaward/consortium to the applicant organization?
A: Yes. The R&R Cover form within each component is used to identify which organization is leading the component. Having a DUNS on the component R&R Cover that is different than the DUNS provided on the Overall R&R Cover form informs NIH systems that the budget information included in the component should be considered subaward/consortium costs to the applicant organization. Even when a collaborating organization leads a component, the applicant organization is still ultimately responsible for the entire application.
Q: When a collaborating organization leads an entire component, should the Budget Type on the R&R Budget form be set to 'Project' or 'Subaward/Consortium'?
A: ASSIST automatically marks the Budget Type field on the R&R budget form to 'Project'. The 'Project' designation simply indicates it is the main budget for the component. NIH systems use the DUNS number and not the Budget Type field to determine if the budget form is completed from the perspective of the applicant organization or a collaborating organization.
Q: Why doesn't the Overall component include a budget form?
A: Electronic multi-project applications are made up of an Overall component that describes the entire application and some number of additional components where the work is actually carried out. Although the SF424 R&R Cover form includes an estimated Project Funding section that must be completed, the Overall component doesn't have a dedicated budget form that applicants can fill out. Instead, applicants fill out an R&R Budget form for each of the additional components and any related subaward budget forms. NIH systems present a summary of the budget information with the Overall component.
Q: How are the system-generated summaries that are displayed with the Overall component calculated?
A: Assembled application images include three budget summaries: a Composite Application Budget Summary, a Component Budget Summary and a Categories Budget Summary. A resource that describes the different parts of a multi-project assembled application image (including the various system-generated summaries) can be found at: http://grants.nih.gov/grants/ElectronicReceipt/files/Electronic_Multi-project_Application_Image_Assembly.pdf.
Q: Why don't budgets marked Subaward/Consortium show in the Component Budget Summary?
A: The summaries provide a roll-up of the activity across the components of the application. The Component Budget Summary is just that - a summary of the main budgets for each component. It is not meant to be a listing of the cumulative budget pages of every budget form included in the application. The detailed budget forms supporting the summaries are included in the application image within their components.
Q: How do you change the DUNS and Organization information displayed on a component budget form?
A: In ASSIST, the DUNS and Organization Name fields from the R&R Cover automatically populate the DUNS and Organization Name fields on the R&R Budget form. Although the fields on the budget form are not editable, edits to the R&R Cover form are reflected on the R&R Budget form.
Q: Why is the R&R Budget form tab missing from my component?
A: You may not have the authority to view or edit budget data for the component. Have a Signing Official (SO) or someone with the Access Maintainer role check your privileges using the Manage Access action in ASSIST.
Q: How do you add subaward budget forms to a component in ASSIST?
A: Use the Add Optional Form action available while on the component Summary tab to add additional budget forms for subawards. ASSIST automatically marks the Budget Type field of each subaward budget form to Subaward/Consortium. Carefully enter the DUNS number of the subaward organization. eRA systems use the DUNS information when doing summary roll-ups.
Q: Does ASSIST automatically add up the costs of subawards within a component to populate line F5 – Other direct Costs Subaward/Consortium/Contractual Costs on the main budget form?
A: No. Remember, F5 - Other Direct Costs Subaward/Consortium/Contractual Costs can include contractual costs in addition to the Subaward/Consortium costs found on the subaward budget forms; auto calculating this field would limit the ability to add those additional costs. The total direct and indirect costs for all subaward/consortium budgets within a component (along with appropriate contractual costs) must be manually entered on line F5 of the component's main budget (the one with Budget Type Project).
Q: How can I tell if my application falls within the direct cost limit designated in an FOA?
A: NIH continues to support the policy established in 2004 regarding applications that involve consortium/contractual F&A costs (see NOT-OD-05-004). This policy allows applicants to exclude consortium/contractual F&A costs when determining if an application falls at or beneath any applicable direct cost limit.
Although the Composite Application Budget Summary found in the assembled application image does not include a line item specific to this calculation, you can take the Direct Costs line item from the summary and manually subtract the F&A amounts of all direct consortiums to the applicant organizations.
Q: How do I complete the R&R Budget form for a component or subaward that is not active for all periods of the entire application?
A: Simply fill out the minimal required information for the inactive budget periods and complete all information for the active periods.
For example, let's say Project-004 of your multi-project application does not start until budget period 2. In the Project-004 R&R Budget form for period 1 you would:
- Select the appropriate Budget Type (the selection of Project or Subaward/Consortium is already made for you in ASSIST)
- Provide the Budget Period 1 Start and End Dates (the Start Date is already pre-populated for you in ASSIST)
- In Section A - Senior/Key Person, include the project lead specifying their role, .01 effort under Calendar months, $0 for Requested Salary and $0 for Fringe Benefits
- Attach your Budget Justification including an explanation for the delayed start
Complete the remaining budget periods following standard instructions.
Q: Our organization's F&A rate uses a modified total direct cost base which excludes sub-recipient charges after the first $25,000. How do I account for the first $25,000 in my multi-project budget?
A: Many negotiated F&A rate agreements use a modified total direct cost (MTDC) base rate and include the following language:
"Modified total direct costs, consisting of all salaries and wages, fringe benefits, materials, supplies, services, travel and subgrants and subcontracts up to the first $25,000 of each subgrant or subcontract (regardless of the period covered by the subgrant or subcontract). Modified total direct costs shall exclude equipment, capital expenditures, charges for patient care, student tuition remission, rental costs of off-site facilities, scholarships, and fellowships as well as the portion of each subgrant and subcontract in excess of $25,000."
Section H - Indirect Costs on the R&R Budget forms allow you to specify an Indirect Cost Type, Rate and Base and multiple entries in this section are allowed. The first $25,000 of the Total Direct and Indirect Costs of each Subaward/Consortium organization for which you have an agreement can be included in the Indirect Cost Base. This is pretty straight forward and works well for single project applications. However, it is a bit more complicated with multi-project applications. Let's look at a few scenarios.
Scenario 1: Organization A is the applicant organization on a P01 and has structured their application such that they lead all the components of the application. Organization B is a subaward on Project-001 with a total cost of $50,000 and a subaward on Project-002 with a total cost of$25,000.
Although A has listed B under two projects, generally A can only apply the first $25,000 of organization B's total costs to the Indirect Cost Base.
Scenario 2: Organization A is the applicant organization on a P01 and has structured their application such that they lead all but two components of the application. Organization B leads the remaining two components with total costs of $50,000 and $25,000. None of the components have subawards.
In this scenario, Organization B is actually a subaward to organization A and the Overall budget (calculated by eRA systems and presented as the Composite Budget Summary) should allow for the first $25,000 of organization B's costs to be applied to the Indirect Cost Base. However, an issue has been identified with the system-generated Composite Budget Summary. When an application includes components that are for organizations that have different DUNS than the Applicant Organization DUNS, the Indirect Cost calculation may appear less than expected since the first $25,000 of those organization costs are not applied to the applicant budget. No action is required from the applicant, although applicants always have the option to document any concerns over system-calculated information in the budget justification of any component. The application review is not affected by this issue and NIH will correct the budget calculations administratively.
Q: Based on internal organization rules, we do not allow collaborating organizations to lead components within our multi-project applications. For components where the project lead and all incurred costs are actually at a collaborating organization, how do I fill out the budget form? ASSIST does not allow the R&R Cover of a component and the main R&R Budget form to have different DUNS.
A: If you feel strongly about retaining leadership of all components, then you will need to fill out the Project budget for the component using the information from the applicant organization with the minimum required information and fully complete the subaward budget for the collaborating organization.
Q: Should a budget phobic person ever talk to more than one grants management person at a time?
A: No. When you ask a question, you will get what sounds like a reasonable answer and then the 'except whens' start flowing...my institute does it this way...mine allows this but not that unless it's a leap year... and they don't notice you are now cowering in the corner rubbing your temples. Of course, I'm just kidding...they did, in fact, notice my cowering and temple rubbing. They also said something that made me feel surprisingly better.
"There really isn't such a thing as a 'perfect' application budget. Instruct applicants to follow the general NIH guidelines and any FOA-specific instructions. The budget needs to be reasonably close and must convince reviewers and staff that they have a good sense of the actual costs. Rarely is an application awarded exactly as it is presented in the application budget. Once a funding decision is made, grants management folks get busy with their spreadsheets and rule books and make necessary adjustments."
With that, I took a deep breath and my brain didn't hurt quite so much.
For Frequently Asked Questions related to ASSIST and multi-project applications (that aren't all about the numbers), see: http://grants.nih.gov/grants/ElectronicReceipt/faq_full.htm#assist.
Are you ready for our move to updated electronic application forms (FORMS-C)?
We've been busy preparing for our transition to updated application forms for most grant programs (NOT-OD-13-074). Our FOAs now have FORMS-C application packages and old B1 and B2 packages have been set to expire.
Here are some updated resources you may want to check out:
- Updated FAQs for Application Forms Updates and Choosing the Correct Forms
- Pay special attention to the FAQs on choosing the appropriate forms for applications submitted for the September 9 AIDS deadline and under the continuous submission policy
- New Application Guides for Forms Version C in both Word and PDF format
- Annotated Form resources for C Series applications
Watch out for the dreaded 'The Closing Date of the grant opportunity for which you have applied has already passed and the grantor agency is no longer accepting applications.' message from Grants.gov. This message is sent under multiple conditions. In addition to being sent after an FOA has closed/expired, Grants.gov also gives this error when the FOA is still active but the application is submitted using a forms package attached to the FOA that has closed or not yet open. Basically, if you use B packages too late or C packages too early, you may get that message.
If you are submitting to one of the few NIH programs (Fellowship, Career Development, Training and Small Business) that aren't moving to FORMS-C yet, use the B package available with your FOA. Otherwise…please, please, please use B application packages for due dates before September 25, 2013 and C packages for due dates on/after September 25, 2013.
My dad is a collector of quotes. He keeps long lists of them and every year at Christmas he presents me with a bundle of purple day planner pages with my name on the top, a little picture of Tigger in the corner (I'm a huge Tigger fan), and one of the quotes across the bottom. I am blessed to be able to face each day with a little 'hug' from my dad.
Last Tuesday (the day I gave the ASSIST webinar), this was the quote I saw…
'You can promote and explain a software product, but it eventually speaks for itself.'
Sometimes dad has really freaky timing! After all the requirements gathering, system building, pilot conducting, feedback gathering and system tweaking, it's finally time to let ASSIST speak for itself.
The September 25, 2013 due date for multi-project P01, P20, P50, U19, P2C and U2C is just around the corner (note P2C and U2C are new activity codes that will be used as the multi-project equivalent of R24 and U24). Many of you are likely getting into ASSIST for the first time to prepare your applications.
Here's a list of handy ASSIST Links & Resources:
- ASSIST: public.era.nih.gov/assist
- Slides and recording of August 13 webinar: http://grants.nih.gov/grants/webinar_docs/webinar_20130813.htm
- ASSIST Online help: http://era.nih.gov/erahelp/ASSIST/
- Application Guide: http://grants.nih.gov/grants/funding/424/index.htm
Be sure to check out the new section in the application guide on Multi-project applications.
- Applying Electronically Website for Multi-project Applications: http://grants.nih.gov/grants/ElectronicReceipt/index.htm
- Annotated form set: grants.nih.gov/grants/ElectronicReceipt/files/annotated_multi-project.pdf
- Description of how your multi-project application image will be assembled: http://grants.nih.gov/grants/ElectronicReceipt/files/Electronic_Multi-project_Application_Image_Assembly.pdf
- Multi-project Application Demonstration Resources: http://grants.nih.gov/grants/ElectronicReceipt/training.htm#multi
Yesterday I asked a pilot applicant what advice she'd pass along to new ASSIST users. Denise is a wise woman...
- Don't get overwhelmed by the data entry for all the components and forms. Take it one component at a time and treat each component like a stand-alone single project application.
- Once all the data entry is complete it takes time to finalize each component and go through the appropriate steps and statuses to prepare the application for submission. You can't wait until the last minute.
- Be prepared for an onslaught of emails.
I must admit that we did get a bit carried away with the email notifications and we know we still need to make some changes in that area. Yes, sometimes ASSIST has too much to say.
For nearly a decade our application guides have included specific formatting instructions for documents included with applications. We've been very specific on such things as the font type (Arial, Helvetica, Palatino Linotype, or Georgia), font size (11 points or larger), type density (15 characters per inch), line spacing (no more than six lines per inch), margins (at least one-half inch on top bottom, left and right) and paper size (standard paper size of 8.5 x 11 inches).
If you forgot (or never knew) that last bit about paper size and you submitted an application after July 18, then our systems may have reminded you with the following error message:
Filename <filename> cannot be larger than U.S. standard Letter paper size of 8.5 x 11 inches. Please see our PDF guidelines at http://grants.nih.gov/grants/ElectronicReceipt/pdf_guidelines.htm for additional information. (0.1.7)
We set formatting requirements for a number of reasons. Perhaps the most important one being our strict page limits for Introduction, Specific Aims, Research Strategy and other documents.
Before July we did not systematically enforce the 8.5 x 11 inch paper size. In some cases, our systems even resized documents to the appropriate size for you. Consequently, we had cases where applications got through our systems that were returned post-submission because of incorrect page size or because, after system resizing, the font was no longer in the acceptable range. Applicants were upset because our validations did not catch the issues up front and provide the opportunity to make corrections before the deadline. So, we implemented the systematic enforcement of 8.5 x 11 paper size.
What we didn't realize was just how many documents we receive that are larger (often very slightly) than 8.5 x 11 inches. The most common offenders – Letters of Support, Cover Letters, Appendices and other places where scanning or concatenating from a variety of sources is common. You all apparently do a good job at self-policing paper size for the documents with page limits (kudos to you).
So, here's what we are going to do…we will continue to systematically enforce paper size. However, we will not throw an error until the file is well out of range (bigger than 9 x 12 or 12 x 9 inches). NIH staff will continue to strictly enforce 8.5 x 11 inches for the attachments with page limits. We are phasing out the resizing of documents. If you submit an attachment that is bigger than 8.5 x 11 inches and the assembled image doesn't look quite right (e.g., text falls of the page or our footers overwrite some of your text) we will not consider it a system issue and will not allow corrections after the deadline. As always, we highly recommend submitting early and carefully checking your application image in eRA Commons before the deadline when corrections are still possible.
We plan to have the validation change in place by the end of this week (August 23, 2013) for applications that use FORMS-B application packages and by the end of next week (August 30, 2013) for applications that use FORMS-C application packages. We have taken steps through timing and monitoring to ensure that all applications for the same opportunity/due date have equal systematic enforcement of business rules.
We have not changed our policy. We still expect a paper size of 8.5 x 11 inches or 11 x 8.5 inches for all attachments (yes, landscape is OK as long as you keep it to 11 x 8.5). We just want to acknowledge that size matters, but it matters more for some documents than others. We think this is a compromise we can all move forward with.
Communications & Outreach
NIH Office of Extramural Research
July 5th R01 Deadline is On
With the July 4th federal holiday falling on Thursday, it's quite tempting to make an extra-long weekend and take Friday off, too. Don't forget that NIH's July 5th R01 deadline will take place as scheduled - even if your own organization is closed.
Get your applications in early and enjoy some time off!!
Application Form Update A-B-Cs
It's a basic fact of government forms – they have a limited shelf life. In fact, agencies are required to seek reauthorization from the Office of Management and Budget at least every three years to continue to use existing forms. Add to that the need to update forms to address programmatic and reporting changes and it seems like form versions are continually in flux. We've already been through a few form updates since NIH began to transition grant applications to electronic submission in 2005. If you've been doing this as long as I have you may recall the 'ADOBE-FORMS-A' transition in 2009 when we moved from PureEdge to Adobe-based forms or the 'ADOBE-FORMS-B' transition in 2010 when we implemented the 'Enhancing Peer Review' changes. Now, it's time for FORMS-C (see NOT-OD-13-074).
For many agencies form updates aren't a big deal. They have a small number of programs and their announcements have single due dates. They can simply let current FOAs run their course and use new forms the next time they post an opportunity. NIH isn't like many agencies. We have over 600 active Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOAs) at any given time, hundreds of activity codes with various standard due dates, and opportunities that are open for 3 years. This makes updating forms a major undertaking for NIH and confusing for applicants.
I can't do anything about the need to update forms, but let's see if I can help avoid some of the confusion through this Q&A…
- When do I need to use the updated forms (FORMS-C)?
Applications to FOAs with due dates on/after September 25, 2013 must use updated forms (FORMS-C), except:
- Career Development, Fellowship, and Training FOAs will transition to updated forms for deadlines on/after January 25, 2014
- Small Business FOAs will NOT transition to updated forms until Small Business Reauthorization form changes are also available – timing TBD
- What changes to the forms are included in FORMS-C?
Specific changes are documented at: http://grants.nih.gov/grants/ElectronicReceipt/files/FORMS-C_Changes.pdf.
- How can I tell if my application package was created using the appropriate forms?
NIH gives each set of updated forms a version name for quick identification and easier communications (in this case 'FORMS-C'). When we post an opportunity and its application package on Grants.gov we provide some basic information (opportunity title and number, key dates, etc.). We also have the ability to provide a 'Competition ID' to further identify an opportunity. We use the Competition ID to convey the form version name. The version name shows up in the Competition ID field in various screens and within the application package (see Do I have the Right Electronic Forms for My Application? ). If the Competition ID is ADOBE-FORMS-B1 or B2, then the application was created using the older forms. On the other hand, if it is FORMS-C, then the application was created using the newest forms.
- Will NIH be reissuing each FOA or simply posting a new application package to incorporate the form updates?
For the activity codes transitioning to updated forms for deadlines on/after September 25, 2013, we will simply expire old application packages and post new ones to the existing FOAs (i.e., no new FOA number, but must use the application package with a Competition ID of 'FORMS-C').
Planning is still underway for the Fellowship, Training, Career Development and Small Business programs that will transition later. Since those form changes will be made in conjunction with other programmatic changes, it is likely that we will need to post new FOAs as well as application packages for those transitions.
- When will the Application Guides be updated to reflect the new forms?
The Application Guides currently posted on the SF424 (R&R) Forms/Applications/Instructions page are specifically for use with 'Adobe Forms Version B Series' application packages. NIH staff are working hard to have new Application Guides posted for 'Forms C Series' application packages. The updated guides will be ready no later than mid-July (hopefully sooner).
Be careful to use the correct application guide for your opportunity and due date. Since some programs will transition after September 25, the Forms B Series and the Forms C Series guides will both be available on our Web site for a period of time.
- When will the Applying Electronically web site be updated to reflect the updated forms?
General resources available on the Applying Electronically web site, such as, Avoiding Common Errors, Annotated Forms, and FAQs will be posted in late July to early August. We want to wait until after some of our major summer deadlines are behind us to avoid additional confusion.
- What happens if I try to submit my R01 application for the October 5 deadline using ADOBE-FORMS-B2?
Your application will be Rejected with Errors at Grants.gov. Thank goodness you all submit early to leave time to address unforeseen issues. You will need to move to the updated forms and submit BEFORE the deadline. Finding out that you used the wrong forms right at the deadline will not be considered a valid reason for a late submission.
Form updates are not anyone's idea of a good time, but they don't have to be a huge source of stress. We got through the A and B transitions and we'll get through the C transition, too.
The Same But Different
We are starting to receive some inquiries regarding the new look and feel of Grants.gov application form packages. Don't panic - we haven't jumped the gun and started posting FORMS-C form packages yet. However, Grants.gov has updated the initial Grant Application Package screen used to manage the forms within existing packages. The changes are actually quite nice. Mandatory forms are now automatically included in your application without dragging them from one side of the page to the other and optional forms can be added with a simple check-box. Each form is also hyperlinked for easy access. Basic opportunity information (opportunity title, offering agency, etc.) remains at the top of the screen. This is also where you can find the Competition ID which, at least for now, should say ADOBE-FORMS-B1 or B2.
Since it is the exact same opportunity with the same underlying application forms just presented in a slightly different way, you can continue to use the same application package for your submission regardless of whether the old or new Grant Application Package screen is used.
Stop By and Say Hi
If you are attending NIH's Regional Seminar on Program Funding and Grants Administration in Baltimore at the end of the month, please stop by and say hi. Scarlett Gibb, Joe Schumaker, Vera Holder and I will be at the eRA booth and would love to see you.
Division of Communication and Outreach
NIH Office of Extramural Research