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COVID-19 response and guidance update from NSF/OCE


November 23, 2020

Colleagues:
 
This message is to remind PIs of project management latitude and actions they can take regarding pandemic impacts on their projects.  We also address Programs’ response to pandemic impacts, including the possibility of supplemental funding. The current pandemic has affected the entire research establishment.  Ocean sciences has had particular challenges with field work and related travel being cancelled or delayed. Laboratory closures jeopardized planned and ongoing experiments, sample analyses, and living cultures and stocks. We acknowledge that many projects may fall short of their original goals and timelines which were developed before the pandemic. In the absence of additional funding, Programs must consider the tradeoffs of supplementing existing awards against the funding of new awards out of our current year budget. Below, we describe some steps that OCE is taking to support researchers and provide some additional guidance regarding approaches that Investigators working with Program Officers can take to reduce impacts on existing projects. We also ask that you review (and periodically revisit) NSF’s official communications regarding the pandemic at https://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/coronavirus/.
 
Opportunities to support the STEM workforce:
There are several activities that PIs should be aware of that support the scientific workforce. OCE is rejuvenating its Postdoctoral Fellowship program (DCL 20-131).  OCE participates in the new Mid-Career Advancement program (NSF 21-516).  A recent Dear Colleague Letter clarifies and expands the scope of Career-Life Balance Supplements (NSF 21-021) for project support during occasions of family leave/dependent care.
 
Regarding currently funded projects, we ask that you review the following:
Reporting (PAPPG VII.D)
We encourage PIs both to communicate directly with Program Officers and to report the impacts of the pandemic on their projects in annual reports. Impacts can also be recorded via “Interim” reports in Research.gov. The advantage of recording impacts in the reporting system is that the information will become part of your award record, and thus will be easily accessible when communicating with Program Officers about your project in the future, for instance regarding extensions or supplements in the final year of the project.
 
No-cost extensions (PAPPG VI.D.3.c)
We encourage PIs to utilize no-cost extensions to compensate for time lost to closures and delays. For extensions that require NSF approval (generally, beyond the first twelve-month extension), the pandemic clearly falls under the “exceptional circumstances” required to justify the extension. 
 
Re-budgeting (PAPPG X.A.3)
Awardees have considerable flexibility to re-budget funds across budget categories, in accordance with their institutions’ policies and procedures, and in pursuit of their project’s science goals.  
 
Supplement requests (PAPPG VI.E.4)
Please communicate with Program Officers before submitting a supplement request. We do not have new or separate funds for supplements; they must come from the regular program budget, so we do not expect supplements to be common. In general, supplement requests are considered in the last year of a project, after rescheduling and re-budgeting options have been utilized, and a full picture of both progress and impacts for a project can be assessed.  
 
We recognize that each project is unique, and the range of possible impacts is large. It is impossible for us to devise general rules for supplements that would apply uniformly without exceptions. The Programs are committed to working with individual PIs and collectively determining the best course of action that will maximize the science returns and support the well-being of our entire science community. If you think a modest supplement can enhance the science output of your project, we encourage you to email your Program Officer with a brief description of the impacts, the management steps that have already been taken to mitigate them, and a strong justification of the need for and science impact of supplemental funding. Because every supplement has a direct impact on our ability to support new proposals, we ask that PIs exercise restraint, consider a supplement only after exhausting other possibilities as outlined above, and only ask for the minimum level of support needed.   
 
 
Thank you
 
Terry Quinn
Division Director, OCE

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2021 budget of $8.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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