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A message from the NSF Division of Earth Sciences to the research community

December 4, 2020

A message from the NSF Division of Earth Sciences to the research community

The Division of Earth Sciences (EAR) is well aware that COVID-19 has had major impacts on our funded projects, and we are considering our options to best support the scientific community through these trying times. While the pandemic has affected the entire research establishment, the geosciences, which supports field-, lab-, and observation-based projects, has been especially impacted. We acknowledge that many projects may be unable to meet their proposed deadlines or face substantial challenges to achieving proposed goals. This year has been particularly hard on our early-career PIs, students, and postdocs. In the absence of additional funding, Principal Investigators (PIs) should be flexible and consider the options available to them, and NSF programs will have to consider the tradeoffs between supplementing existing awards and funding new awards.

Below we describe some steps that EAR is taking to support researchers, and provide additional guidance regarding approaches that investigators working with Program Directors can take to reduce impacts on existing projects. We also ask that PIs and research offices review (and periodically revisit) NSF’s official communications regarding the pandemic.

For those currently funded by the Division of Earth Sciences, we ask that you review the following sections of NSF's Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide (20-1):

Reporting (PAPPG VII.D)

We encourage PIs to communicate directly with Program Directors to report the impacts of the pandemic on their projects and to document them in annual reports. Impacts can also be recorded via “Interim” reports in, whereby the information will become part of the award record. It thus will be easily accessible when communicating in the future with Program Directors about the project, for instance regarding extensions or supplements in its final years.

No-cost extensions (PAPPG VI.D.3.c)

We encourage PIs to utilize no-cost extensions to compensate for time lost due 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)

Requests for supplemental funding should only be considered after all of the above options have been explored. Though we cannot guarantee supplemental support, if a modest supplement is needed immediately in order to continue the project, we encourage PIs to email their Program Director with a brief description of the need, the management steps that have been taken to mitigate the situation, and a strong justification for supplemental funding. Please keep in mind that we do not have new or separate funds for supplements, so these funds will have to come from the regular program budget. Normally, supplement requests are considered in the last year of a project, after rescheduling and re-budgeting options have been utilized. Note that a recent Dear Colleague Letter clarifies and expands the scope of Career-Life Balance Supplements (NSF 21-021) for project support during time away from a project due to family leave or dependent care.

EAR recognizes the uniqueness of every project and is committed to working with investigators to determine a best course of action that will maximize the science returns and support the well-being of our science community. We continue to consider possible steps to support our researchers.

Dr. Steven Goldstein
Director, Division of Earth Sciences
National Science Foundation

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 2023 budget of $9.5 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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