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A. Overview

1. Unsolicited Proposals

The Grant Proposal Guide (GPG) provides guidance for preparation of unsolicited proposals to NSF. Proposals submitted in response to NSF program announcements are considered unsolicited and are prepared in accordance with GPG formatting and other requirements. Proposers should be aware that awards resulting from unsolicited research proposals are subject to statutory cost sharing. (See Section II.D.7.l and Grant Policy Manual (GPM) Section 330.) Unsolicited proposals are evaluated in accordance with the general evaluation criteria identified in Chapter III and compete with each other, but less directly than do solicited proposals.

2. Solicited Proposals

NSF also solicits proposals for support in NSF targeted areas through issuance of specific program solicitations. Program solicitations are specifically designated as such, are more definitive than program announcements and generally describe types of projects the program wishes to fund. Competition among proposals is more focused and special evaluation and selection procedures are often used. Statutory cost sharing is not required; however, there may be other cost sharing/ matching requirements.

Note: The NSF Custom News Service is an information-delivery system designed to keep potential proposers and other interested parties apprised of the issuance of new program announcements and solicitations (as well as other NSF publications and policies) through Internet e-mail or the userís Web browser. Subscribers are informed each time new publications are issued that match their identified interests. To subscribe to the Custom News Service, go to NSF's Web site at: <https://www.nsf.gov/> and click on "Custom News" on the toolbar.

3. General

The Foundation considers proposals submitted by individuals or groups for support in most fields of research. (See Appendix A for programs.) Interdisciplinary proposals are also eligible for consideration.

NSF does not normally support technical assistance, pilot plant efforts, research requiring security classification, the development of products for commercial marketing or market research for a particular project or invention. Research with disease-related goals, including work on the etiology, diagnosis or treatment of physical or mental disease, abnormality, or malfunction in human beings or animals, is normally not supported. Animal models of such conditions or the development or testing of drugs or other procedures for their treatment also are not eligible for support. Research in bioengineering, with diagnosis or treatment-related goals, however, that applies engineering principles to problems in biology and medicine while advancing engineering knowledge is eligible for support. Bioengineering research to aid persons with disabilities is also eligible.

Research proposals to the Biological Sciences Directorate (not proposals for conferences or workshops) cannot be duplicates of proposals to any other Federal agency for simultaneous consideration. The only exceptions to this rule are: (1) when the proposers and program managers at relevant Federal agencies have previously agreed to joint review and possible joint funding of the proposal; or (2) proposals from beginning investigators (individuals who have not been a principal investigator (PI){2} or co-principal investigator (co-PI) on a Federally funded award with the exception of doctoral dissertation, postdoctoral fellowship or research planning grants). For proposers who qualify under this latter exception, the box for "Beginning Investigator" should be checked on the Cover Sheet for Proposal to the National Science Foundation, NSF Form 1207.

NSF expects strict adherence to the rules of proper scholarship and attribution. The responsibility for proper attribution and citation rests with authors of a research proposal; all parts of the proposal should be prepared with equal care for this concern. Serious failure to adhere to such standards can result in findings of misconduct in science. NSF policies and rules on Misconduct in Science and Engineering are discussed in GPM Section 930.

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B. The Proposal

The proposal should present the (1) objectives and scientific or educational significance of the proposed work; (2) suitability of the methods to be employed; (3) qualifications of the investigator and the grantee organization{3}(4) effect of the activity on the infrastructure of science, engineering and education; and (5) amount of funding required. It should present the merits of the proposed project clearly and should be prepared with the care and thoroughness of a paper submitted for publication. Sufficient information should be provided so that reviewers will be able to evaluate the proposal in accordance with the two merit review criteria established by the National Science Board. (See Chapter III.) As a matter of convenience, a checklist is provided as Appendix B, to help assure that proposals are complete before submission to NSF.

Proprietary or Privileged Information

Patentable ideas, trade secrets, privileged or confidential commercial or financial information, disclosure of which may harm the proposer, should be included in proposals only when such information is necessary to convey an understanding of the proposed project. Such information should be clearly marked in the proposal or included as a separate statement accompanying the proposal and should be appropriately labeled with a legend such as,

"The following is (proprietary or confidential) information that (name of proposing organization) requests not be released to persons outside the Government, except for purposes of review and evaluation."

The box for "Proprietary and Privileged Information" should be checked on the proposal Cover Sheet (NSF Form 1207) when the proposal contains such information. This feature also may be accomplished for proposals submitted electronically via FastLane. While NSF will make every effort to prevent unauthorized access to such material, the Foundation is not responsible or in any way liable for the release of such material.

(See also Section VII.J, "Release of Grantee Proposal Information.")

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C. NSF FastLane System

The NSF FastLane system uses Internet/Web technology to facilitate the way NSF does business with the research, education, and related communities. The NSF FastLane system is available for proposal preparation; submission and status checking; project reporting; and post-award administrative activities. All FastLane functions are accessed by using a Web browser on the Internet. There is a link to FastLane on the NSF Web site, or FastLane can be accessed directly at: <http://www.fastlane.nsf.gov/>.

Access to proposal and post-award functions is limited to staff from FastLane-registered organizations and is secured through the use of Personal Identification Numbers (PINs). To register an organization, authorized organizational representatives must complete the registration form that is available through the Registration Information hyperlink on the FastLane Web site. Once an organization is registered, individual staff should contact the organization's sponsored projects office (or equivalent) for assignment of a PIN and information about how to access and use the system for most grant-related activities.

In the future, the Federal Commons project <http://www.fedcommons.gov/> will provide a common interface for grantees in accessing electronic business functions from a variety of federal grant-funding agencies. The Foundation is an active participant in the Federal Commons project and as this project develops, FastLane registration and security will be integrated with the Federal Commons. In anticipation of this, the FastLane PIN system will be moving to a password system. At that time, all references to PINs will be changed to passwords.

Detailed information about the FastLane system is available from the FastLane Web site at: <http://www.fastlane.nsf.gov/>.

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D. Who May Submit Proposals

Scientists, engineers and educators usually initiate proposals that are officially submitted by their employing organization. Before formal submission, the proposal may be discussed with appropriate NSF program staff. Graduate students are not encouraged to submit research proposals, but should arrange to serve as research assistants to faculty members. Some NSF divisions accept proposals for Doctoral Dissertation Research Grants when submitted by a faculty member on behalf of the graduate student. The Foundation also provides support specifically for women and minority scientists and engineers, scientists and engineers with disabilities, and faculty at primarily undergraduate academic institutions. (See Chapter V for information about Special Programs.)

Categories of Proposers

Except where a program solicitation establishes more restrictive eligibility criteria, individuals and organizations in the following categories may submit proposals:

  1. Universities and colleges – US universities and two- and four-year colleges (including community colleges) acting on behalf of their faculty members.
  2. Non-profit, non-academic organizations – Independent museums, observatories, research laboratories, professional societies and similar organizations in the US that are directly associated with educational or research activities.
  3. For-profit organizations – US commercial organizations, especially small businesses with strong capabilities in scientific or engineering research or education. (See Section V.K for specific information on the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program.) An unsolicited proposal from a commercial organization may be funded when the project is of special concern from a national point of view, special resources are available for the work, or the proposed project is especially meritorious. The NSF is interested in supporting projects that couple industrial research resources and perspectives with those of universities; therefore, it especially welcomes proposals for cooperative projects involving both universities and the private commercial sector.
  4. State and Local Governments – State educational offices or organizations and local school districts may submit proposals intended to broaden the impact, accelerate the pace and increase the effectiveness of improvements in science, mathematics and engineering education in both K- 12 and post-secondary levels.
  5. Unaffiliated Individuals – Scientists, engineers or educators in the US and US citizens may be eligible for support, provided that the individual is not employed by or affiliated with an organization and:
    • the proposed project is sufficiently meritorious and otherwise complies with the conditions of any applicable proposal generating document;
    • the proposer has demonstrated the capability and has access to any necessary facilities to carry out the project; and
    • the proposer agrees to fiscal arrangements, which, in the opinion of the NSF Grants Office, ensure responsible management of Federal funds.
    Unaffiliated individuals should contact the appropriate program before preparing a proposal for submission.
  6. Foreign organizations – NSF rarely provides support to foreign organizations. The NSF will consider proposals for cooperative projects involving US and foreign organizations, provided support is requested only for the US portion of the collaborative effort. (For further information, contact the Division of International Programs, Appendix A.)
  7. Other Federal agencies – NSF does not normally support research or education activities by scientists, engineers or educators employed by Federal agencies or Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs). A scientist, engineer or educator, however, who has a joint appointment with a university and a Federal agency (such as a Veterans Administration Hospital, or with a university and a FFRDC) may submit proposals through the university and may receive support if he/she is a bona fide faculty member of the university, although part of his/her salary may be provided by the Federal agency. Under unusual circumstances, other Federal agencies and FFRDCs may submit proposals directly to NSF. Preliminary inquiry should be made to the appropriate program before preparing a proposal for submission.

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E. When to Submit Proposals

Many NSF programs accept proposals at any time. Other programs, however, establish target dates or deadlines for submission of proposals to allow time for their consideration by review panels that meet periodically. These target dates{4} and deadlines{5} are published in specific program announcements and solicitations, which can be obtained from the NSF Clearinghouse at: <pubs@nsf.gov> or electronically through the NSF Web site at: <https://www.nsf.gov/>{6}. Unless otherwise stated in a program announcement, proposals must be received by the specified date. A paper proposal received after a deadline, however, may be acceptable if it carries a legible proof-of-mailing date assigned by the carrier and the proof-of-mailing date is not later than one week prior to the deadline date. If the deadline date falls on a weekend, it will be extended to the following Monday; if the date falls on a holiday, it will be extended to the following work day. The deadline date will be waived only in extenuating circumstances. Inquiry about submission may also be made to the appropriate program.

Proposers should allow up to six months for programmatic review and processing (see Chapter III for additional information on the NSF merit review process). In addition, proposers should be aware that the NSF Division of Grants and Agreements generally makes awards to academic institutions within 30 days after the program division makes its recommendation. Grants being made to organizations that have not received a NSF award within the preceding two years, or involving special situations (such as coordination with another Federal agency or a private funding source), cooperative agreements, and other unusual arrangements may require additional review and processing time. Proposals that are time sensitive (e.g., conference, group travel, and research involving ephemeral phenomena) will only be accepted for review if, in the opinion of the cognizant Program Officer, they are received in sufficient time to permit appropriate NSF review and processing to support an award in advance of the activity to be supported. Every effort is made to reach a decision and inform the proposer promptly. Until an award is made, NSF is not responsible for any costs incurred by the proposing organization.

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F. How to Submit Proposals

In September 1998, the NSF Director issued Important Notice 123, Working Towards a Paperless Proposal and Award System <https://www.nsf.gov/cgi-bin/getpub?iin123> that describes NSF's vision for the future in electronic business and outlines the schedule for implementation. As stipulated in this Notice, all proposals will be required to be submitted via FastLane effective October 1, 2000. Some NSF programs may require electronic submission of all or part of a proposal, including unsolicited proposals prior to this date. Please check the FastLane Web site prior to proposal submission for a listing of programs and program announcements and solicitations that require submission via FastLane. NSF recommends that all proposers and grantee organizations review Important Notice 123 to be aware of the implementation timelines stipulated in this document.

In the interim, for standard unsolicited proposals, electronic proposal submission via FastLane is the preferred method and is strongly encouraged{7}. Unless otherwise specified by a program or in a program announcement or solicitation, however, proposals may continue to be submitted in paper form.

A proposal needs to be submitted only once to NSF, even if the proposer envisions review by multiple programs. The submission of duplicate or substantially similar proposals concurrently for review by more than one program without prior NSF approval may result in the return of the redundant proposals. (See Section IV.B for further information on proposal return.)

The following are specific instructions regarding the submission and receipt of electronic and paper proposals to NSF:

  1. Electronic submission. A proposal is considered complete when the proposal, including the Project Description, has been submitted to NSF. If the Project Description is included in the electronic submission, unless otherwise specified in a program solicitation, the receipt date will be the date the sponsored projects office transmits the proposal to NSF. The signed proposal Cover Sheet (NSF Form 1207) must be postmarked (or provide a legible proof of mailing date assigned by the carrier) within five working days following the electronic submission of the proposal and forwarded to the following address

    National Science Foundation
    DIS-FastLane Cover Sheet
    4201 Wilson Blvd.
    Arlington, VA 22230

    A proposal may not be processed until the complete proposal (including signed Cover Sheet) has been received by NSF.

  2. Paper submission. The delivery address must clearly identify the NSF announcement or solicitation number under which the proposal is being submitted, if applicable. If the proposal is not submitted in response to a specific announcement, proposers should enter the NSF Program(s), using Appendix A as a guide, to which the proposal should be directed. Appendix A also indicates the required number of copies of proposals to be forwarded to NSF, including the original signed copy. NSF will determine which program(s) will evaluate each proposal.

    Unless stated otherwise in a program solicitation, proposals should not be addressed or sent directly to the cognizant Program Officer. If copies of the proposal are mailed or delivered in more than one package, the number of packages and the NSF announcement or solicitation number, if applicable, should be marked on the outside of each package. Proposals must be sent prepaid, not collect. Proposals sent by special messenger or courier should be delivered to the below address, weekdays, except Federal holidays, between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. ET. Contact the NSF Mail Room, 703.306.0657, with any questions regarding the mailing or delivery of proposals.

    Proposals must be addressed exactly as follows:

    Announcement/Solicitation No________________
    4201 WILSON BLVD. ROOM P60
    ARLINGTON VA 22230

  3. Acknowledgment of proposal receipt. The acknowledgment of the receipt of the proposal will reference both the NSF proposal number and the cognizant NSF program to which the proposal has been assigned. Once the proposal is submitted, PIs can access the proposal number via the "View Submitted Proposal" list in the FastLane proposal preparation module.

    When the proposal is assigned to a NSFprogram, the cognizant program information is available through the FastLane "Proposal Status Inquiry" function for PIs and through the "Recent Proposals" report for sponsored projects offices. Communications about the proposal should be addressed to the cognizant Program Officer with reference to the proposal number. Proposers are encouraged to use FastLane to verify the status of their submission to NSF.
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