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NSF 02-151 July 2002

Chapter II - NSF Awards

This chapter discusses the award process and specifically highlights the following topics:



The types of activities funded by NSF and the purposes of NSF funding vary. Consequently, the degree of NSF responsibility for and the management control of such activities also varies. NSF traditionally uses grants for fundamental research and other support activities. The key factor in determining the appropriate award terms and conditions is the type of project that is to be funded, not the type of performing organization which will be the recipient of the award or the NSF program recommending the award.


  1. An AUTHORIZED ORGANIZATIONAL REPRESENTATIVE is the administrative official who on behalf of the proposing organization is empowered to make certifications and assurances and can commit the organization to the conduct of a project that NSF is being asked to support as well as adhere to various NSF policies and grant requirements.

  2. ASSISTANCE AWARDS are awards that entail the transfer of money, property, services or other things of value from the Federal government to a State or local government or other recipient to accomplish a public purpose of support or stimulation. In the case of NSF, assistance awards involve the support or stimulation of scientific and engineering research, science and engineering education or other related activities. NSF is authorized to use grants or coop-erative agreements for this purpose.

  3. A GRANT* is a type of assistance award and a legal instrument which permits an executive agency of the Federal government to transfer money, property, services or other things of value to a grantee when no substantial involvement is anticipated between the agency and the recipient during the performance of the contemplated activity. Grants are the primary mechanism of NSF support. NSF awards the following types of grants:

    1. A STANDARD GRANT is a type of grant in which NSF agrees to provide a specific level of support for a specified period of time with no statement of NSF intent to provide additional future support without submission of another proposal.

    2. A CONTINUING GRANT, is a type of grant in which NSF agrees to provide a specific level of support for an initial specified period of time, usually a year, with a statement of intent to provide additional support of the project for additional periods, provided funds are available and the results achieved warrant further support.

    3. A COST REIMBURSEMENT GRANT is a type of grant under which NSF agrees to reimburse the grantee for work performed and/or costs incurred by the grantee up to the total amount specified in the grant. Such costs must be allowable in accordance with the applicable cost principles (e.g., OMB Circular A-21, Cost Principles for Educational Institutions or A-122, Cost Principles for Non-Profit Organizations). Accountability is based primarily on technical progress, financial accounting and fiscal reporting. Except under certain programs and under special circumstances, NSF grants and cooperative agreements are normally cost reimbursement type awards.

    4. A FIXED AMOUNT AWARD is a type of grant used in certain programs and situations under which NSF agrees to provide a specific level of support without regard to actual costs incurred under the project. The award amount is negotiated using the applicable cost principles or other pricing information as a guide. This type of grant reduces some of the administrative burden and record-keeping requirements for both the grantee and NSF. Except under unusual circumstances, such as termination, there is no governmental review of the actual costs subsequently incurred by the grantee in performance of the project. There typically is a requirement for the grantee to certify that the approximate number of person-months or other activity called for in the grant was performed. Payments are based on meeting specific requirements of the grant and accountability is based primarily on technical performance and results.

  4. A COOPERATIVE AGREEMENT* is a type of assistance award which may be used when the project being supported requires substantial agency involvement during the project performance period. Substantial agency involvement may be necessary when an activity: is technically or managerially complex; requires extensive or close coordination with other Federally supported work; or helps assure suitability or acceptability of certain aspects of the supported activity. Examples of projects which might be suitable for cooperative agreements are systemic reform efforts, research centers, policy studies, large curriculum projects, multi-user facilities, projects which involve complex subcontracting, construction or operations of major in-house university facilities and major instrumentation development.

  5. A GRANTEE* is the organization or other entity that receives a grant and assumes legal and financial responsibility and accountability both for the awarded funds and for the performance of the grant-supported activity. NSF grants are normally made to organizations rather than to individual Principal Investigator/Project Director(s) . Categories of eligible proposers may be found in GPG Chapter I.

  6. PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR/PROJECT DIRECTOR (PI/PD) is the individual designated by the grantee, and approved by NSF, who will be responsible for the scientific or technical direction of the project. The term "Principal Investigator" generally is used in research projects, while the term "Project Director" generally is used in science and engineering education and other projects.

* For purposes of this Manual, except where explicitly noted, the term "grant" is interchangeable with the term "cooperative agreement", and the term "grantee" is interchangeable with the "awardee" of a cooperative agreement.


221 Basic Requirements
  1. Grants will be used by NSF when the accomplishment of the project objectives requires minimal NSF involvement during performance of the activities. Grants establish a relationship between NSF and the grantee in which:

    1. NSF agrees to provide up to a specified amount of financial support for the project to be performed under the conditions and requirements of the grant. NSF will monitor grant progress and assure compliance with applicable standards.

    2. The grantee agrees to the performance of the project, to the prudent management of the funds provided and to carry out the supported activities in accordance with the provisions of the grant. (See GPM 230, "Grant Instrument", for the documents that comprise an NSF grant.)

  2. Cooperative agreements will be used by NSF when the accomplishment of the project objectives requires substantial NSF technical or management involvement during performance of the activities.

    1. Cooperative agreements will specify the extent to which NSF will be required to advise, review, approve or otherwise be involved with project activities, as well as require more clearly defined deliverables.

    2. Although active NSF involvement may be necessary under cooperative agreements, awardees still have primary management responsibility for conduct of their projects. To the extent that NSF does not reserve responsibility for coordinating or integrating the project activities with other related activities or does not assume a degree of shared responsibility for certain aspects of the project, all such responsibilities remain with the awardee. As appropriate, NSF may provide advice, guidance or assistance of a technical, management, or coordinating nature and require NSF approval of specific decisions, milestones, procedures or subawards. While NSF will monitor cooperative agreements, it will not assume overall control of a project or unilaterally change or direct the project activities. All cooperative agreements will state the nature and extent of expected NSF involvement to ensure that the responsibilities of each party are fully understood.

    3. Some cooperative agreements are funded through the Foundation's Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) account. The MREFC appropriation provides a separate budget account for major research equipment and facilities. Once an award for an MREFC project is established with MREFC funds, no other funding will be commingled with these funds. Operating funds for MREFC activities and supplements will be funded under a separate award to support the MREFC activities. The awardee is required to segregate MREFC from Operations accounts to avoid the commingling of MRE funds with other appropriations under NSF assistance awards. In special cases, as in the awards for the NSF-supported Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs), a Basic Ordering Agreement (BOA) will be used as an umbrella award, establishing the overall basic provisions of the agreements. Separate Task Orders with specific terms and conditions will be issued for MREFC and Operations activities.

222 Acceptance of Assistance Agreements
  1. Grant Acceptance. Grantees are free to accept or reject the grant. Normally, a request to drawdown NSF funds constitutes acceptance, however, in limited circumstances, NSF may require formal acceptance of a grant.

  2. Cooperative Agreement Acceptance. All new cooperative agreements must be signed by an Authorized Organizational Representative at the recipient organization before the agreement becomes binding.


  1. Composition of an NSF grant includes:

    1. the grant letter, including any special conditions applicable to the award and any numbered amendments thereto;

    2. the budget, which indicates the amounts, by categories of expense, on which NSF has based its support;

    3. the proposal referenced in the grant letter;

    4. the applicable NSF conditions referenced in the grant letter (see GPM 240, "NSF Grant Conditions," for listing); and

    5. any NSF program announcement/solicitation or other documents or special requirements incorporated by reference in the grant letter.

  2. Grant Transmission. NSF transmits grants to organizations via e-mail. In addition to the e-mail notification, grantees can access NSF award letters in FastLane. Sponsored projects offices are able to view, print and/or download NSF award letters for their organizations.

  1. NSF Grant Conditions. Each NSF grant letter specifically identifies certain conditions that are applicable to, and become part of, that award. When these conditions reference a particular GPM section, that section becomes part of the grant requirements through incorporation by reference.

  2. Basic Conditions. The following types of basic conditions may be made a part of an NSF grant, as appropriate.

    1. General Conditions.

      1. Grant General Terms and Conditions (GC-1) are used in most NSF grant awards;

      2. Federal Demonstration Partnership General Terms and Conditions (FDP) and NSF Agency Specific Requirements are used in most grants to participants in the FDP; and

      3. Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II Grant General Conditions are used in Phase II grants under the SBIR program.

    2. Standard Conditions. These types of conditions may either supplement or modify the applicable General Conditions described above.

      1. Administration of NSF Conference or Group Travel Award Grant Special Conditions (FL 26) are used for conference or travel grants.

      2. Construction Conditions are used for grants which include rearrangements/alterations over $25, 000 (construction).

      3. Fixed Amount Award General Conditions (FAA) are used in NSF fixed amount grants. (Note: these conditions may establish different financial and other requirements that are not generally used in cost reimbursement type grants.)

      4. Cooperative Agreement Conditions3 (CA-1) are used under NSF cooperative agreements.
  3. Availability. The latest version of each set of these general and standard conditions, as well as prior archived versions, is available electronically on NSF's website at


251 Definitions
  1. EFFECTIVE DATE is the date specified in the grant letter on or after which, except for fixed amount awards, expenditures may be charged to the grant. With the exception of PI transfers, the effective date used by NSF is normally either the 1st or the 15th day of the month. If no effective date is specified, then the date of the grant letter is the effective date. (See, however, GPM 602.2, "Pre-Award Costs.")

  2. EXPIRATION DATE is the date specified in the grant letter after which expenditures may not be charged against the grant except to satisfy obligations to pay allowable project costs committed on or before that date. The expiration date is normally the last day of a month.

  3. GRANT PERIOD is the period of time between the effective date and the expiration date of an NSF grant shown as the duration.

252 Significance of Grant Period

  1. Except in fixed amount awards, an NSF grant gives authority to the grantee to commit and expend funds for allowable costs (see Chapter VI) in support of the project up to the grant amount specified in the grant letter at any time during the grant period.

  2. Except as provided in GPM 602.2, "Pre-Award Costs", GPM 602.3, "Post-Expiration Costs",or GPM 617, "Publication, Documentation and Dissemination", expenditures may not be charged prior to the effective date or subsequent to the expiration date under an NSF cost reimbursement grant.

253 Changes in Grant Periods

253.1 Expiration Date

The expiration date may be changed as a result of approval of a request for continued support of a continuing grant, for a no-cost grant extension, or, in some cases, by renewed support of a standard grant, or by approval of a request for supplemental support. If approved, the NSF Grants Officer will issue an amendment to the grant.

253.2 No-Cost Extension

  1. Grantee-Approved Extension. Grantees may authorize a one-time extension of the expiration date of the grant of up to 12 months if additional time beyond the established expiration date is required to assure adequate completion of the original scope of work within the funds already made available. This one-time extension may not be exercised merely for the purpose of using the unliquidated balances. Grantees are not authorized to extend an award that contains a zero balance. The grantee shall notify NSF, providing supporting reasons for the exten-sion and the revised expiration date, at least ten days prior to the expiration date specified in the grant to ensure accuracy of NSF's grant data. All grantee-approved extension notifications must be submitted via the FastLane system. For grantee-approved extensions, no amendment will be issued.

  2. NSF-Approved Extension.

    1. If additional time beyond the extension provided by the grantee is required and exceptional circumstances warrant, a formal request must be submitted to NSF. The request must be submitted to NSF at least 45 days prior to the expiration date of the grant. The request must explain the need for the extension and include an estimate of the unobligated funds remaining and a plan for their use. As indicated above, that unobligated funds may remain at the expiration of the grant is not in itself sufficient justification for an extension. The plan must adhere to the previously approved objectives of the project. All requests for NSF-approved extensions must be submitted via the FastLane system. Grantees are not authorized to extend an award that contains a zero balance.

    2. Any NSF-approved no-cost extension will be issued by an NSF Grants Officer in the form of an amendment to the grant specifying a new expiration date. Grantees are cautioned not to make new commitments or incur new expenditures after the expiration date in anticipation of a no-cost extension.

253.3 Two-Year Extensions For Special Creativity

A Program Officer may recommend the extension of funding for certain research grants beyond the initial period for which the grant was awarded for a period of up to two years. The objective of such extensions is to offer the most creative investigators an extended opportunity to attack adventurous, "high-risk" opportunities in the same general research area, but not necessarily covered by the original/current proposal. Awards eligible for such an extension are generally three-year continuing grants. Special Creativity Extensions are generally initiated by the NSF Program Officer based on progress during the first two years of a three-year grant; PIs will be informed of such action a year in advance of the expiration of the grant.


261 Types of Additional Funding Support

Additional funding of a project beyond the original grant period will be in the form of renewed support, continued support or supplemental support.

262 Renewed Support (Standard Grants)

  1. Renewed support is defined as additional funding for a support period subsequent to that provided by a standard grant. Renewals to standard grants, if any, will be in the form of a new grant with a new grant number. Costs incurred under the old grant cannot be transferred to the new grant. Residual funds remaining in the old grant cannot be transferred to the new grant.

  2. A proposal for renewed support of a project is evaluated in competition with all other pending proposals. Instructions for preparation of renewal proposals are contained in the GPG, Chapters II and V.

263 Continued Support (Continuing Grants)

  1. Funding increments for projects being supported under continuing grants, as defined in GPM 210, "Definitions", receive high priority within NSF and normally are not considered in competition with proposals for new grants or for renewed support of standard grants.

  2. Unless otherwise provided for in the original grant letter, each increment of a continuing grant will be funded at the level indicated in that letter without a formal request, provided the required annual project report has been received and subject to NSF's judgment of satisfactory progress and availability of funds. NSF makes every attempt to honor continuing grant commitments. In order to adjust to changes in the general level of funds for a particular field of science or engineering or to major new opportunities in that field, however, NSF may reduce continuing grant increments below the levels indicated in original grant letters. This requires full written justification by program staff and management review and approval. In the absence of major unanticipated fiscal year constraints, reductions are rare.

  3. In order to obtain a committed funding increment and ensure continuity of funding, an annual project report must be submitted electronically via the NSF FastLane System by the PI at least three months before the end of the period currently being funded. (See GPM 340, "Technical Reporting Requirements" for additional information on submission of project reports.)

264 Supplemental Support

  1. In unusual circumstances, small amounts of supplemental funding and up to six months of additional support may be requested to assure adequate completion of the original scope of work. Such requests for supplemental funding support should be submitted to the cognizant NSF Program Officer at least two months prior to the need for the additional funds and must be adequately justified. Program Officers may make decisions regarding whether or not to recommend a small supplement without merit review of the supplemental request. Requests for larger supplements may require external merit review.

  2. A request for supplemental support must be submitted electronically via FastLane and must include:

    1. A summary of the proposed work;

    2. A justification of the need for the supplemental funds; and

    3. A budget, highlighting the use by budget category of the additional funding as distinguished from the original funding provided in those categories of cost. While a paper signed budget is no longer required to be submitted to NSF, AORs are required to electronically sign the supplemental funding request via the Authorized Organizational Representative Functions in FastLane.

  3. NSF will not approve requests for supplemental support for such purposes as defraying the costs of increases in salaries, wages or staff benefits or for additional indirect cost reimbursement, whether caused by a change in the indirect cost rate or by changes in direct cost expenditures which affect the indirect cost base. (See GPM 602.1, "Maximum Obligation," and GPM 635, "Rebudgeting of Indirect Cost Funds Provided Under NSF Grants.")

  4. If approved, the NSF Grants Officer will amend the grant to provide additional funding for the current support period. The amendment letter will specify both the amount of supplemental funding and the cumulative amount awarded through the expiration date, which normally will remain unchanged.

  5. Special NSF programs such as Research Experiences for Undergraduates may provide their funding through supplements to other NSF grants. In such instances, the guidance in this section may not be applicable.

3 See also the section above on cooperative agreements that involve MREFC and operations activities. Back to Text