Proposals received by the NSF Proposal Processing Unit are assigned to the appropriate NSF
program for acknowledgement and, if they meet NSF requirements, for review. All proposals are
carefully reviewed by a scientist, engineer, or educator serving as an NSF Program Officer,
and usually by three to ten other persons outside NSF who are experts in the particular fields
represented by the proposal. Proposers are invited to suggest names of persons they believe
are especially well qualified to review the proposal and/or persons they would prefer not
review the proposal. These suggestions may serve as one source in the reviewer selection
process at the Program Officer's discretion. Program Officers may obtain comments from
assembled review panels or from site visits before recommending final action on proposals.
Senior NSF staff further review recommendations for awards.
- REVIEW CRITERIA
The National Science Board approved revised criteria for evaluating proposals at its
meeting on March 28, 1997 (NSB 97-72). All NSF proposals are evaluated through use of the two
merit review criteria. In some instances, however, NSF will employ additional criteria as
required to highlight the specific objectives of certain programs and activities. For example,
proposals for large facility projects also might be subject to special review criteria
outlined in the program solicitation.
On July 8, 2002, the NSF Director issued Important Notice 127, Implementation of new
Grant Proposal Guide Requirements Related to the Broader Impacts Criterion. This Important
Notice reinforces the importance of addressing both criteria in the preparation and review of
all proposals submitted to NSF. NSF continues to strengthen its internal processes to ensure
that both of the merit review criteria are addressed when making funding decisions.
In an effort to increase compliance with these requirements, the January 2002 issuance of
the GPG incorporated revised proposal preparation guidelines relating to the development of the
Project Summary and Project Description. Chapter II of the GPG specifies that Principal
Investigators (PIs) must address both merit review criteria in separate statements within the
one-page Project Summary. This chapter also reiterates that broader impacts resulting from the
proposed project must be addressed in the Project Description and described as an integral part
of the narrative.
Effective October 1, 2002, NSF will return without review proposals that do not separately
address both merit review criteria within the Project Summary. It is believed that these
changes to NSF proposal preparation and processing guidelines will more clearly articulate the
importance of broader impacts to NSF-funded projects.
The two NSB-approved merit review criteria are listed below. The criteria include
considerations that help define them. These considerations are suggestions, and not all will
apply to any given proposal. While proposers must address both merit review criteria, reviewers
will be asked to address only those considerations that are relevant to the proposal being
considered and for which he/she is qualified to make judgments.
What is the intellectual merit of the proposed activity?
How important is the proposed activity to advancing knowledge and understanding within its
own field or across different fields? How well qualified is the proposer (individual or team)
to conduct the project? (If appropriate, the reviewer will comment on the quality of prior
work.) To what extent does the proposed activity suggest and explore creative and original
concepts? How well conceived and organized is the proposed activity? Is there sufficient
access to resources?
What are the broader impacts of the proposed activity?
How well does the activity advance discovery and understanding while promoting teaching,
training, and learning? How well does the proposed activity broaden the participation of
underrepresented groups (e.g., gender, ethnicity, disability, geographic, etc.)? To what
extent will it enhance the infrastructure for research and education, such as facilities,
instrumentation, networks, and partnerships? Will the results be disseminated broadly to
enhance scientific and technological understanding? What may be the benefits of the proposed
activity to society?
NSF staff will give careful consideration to the following in making funding decisions:
Integration of Research and Education
One of the principal strategies in support of NSF's goals is to foster integration of
research and education through the programs, projects and activities it supports at academic
and research institutions. These institutions provide abundant opportunities where individuals
may concurrently assume responsibilities as researchers, educators, and students, and where all
can engage in joint efforts that infuse education with the excitement of discovery and enrich
research through the diversity of learning perspectives.
Integrating Diversity into NSF Programs, Projects, and Activities
Broadening opportunities and enabling the participation of all citizens, women and men,
underrepresented minorities, and persons with disabilities, are essential to the health and
vitality of science and engineering. NSF is committed to this principle of diversity and
deems it central to the programs, projects, and activities it considers and supports.
- ADMINISTRATIVE CORRECTIONS TO PROPOSALS
NSF recognizes that minor, non-content-related errors may occur in proposal development and that these errors may not be discovered until after the proposal submission to NSF. To enable organizations to correct such errors, FastLane provides a 60-minute "grace period," that begins immediately following proposal submission. This grace period does not extend the proposal deadline (e.g., if a proposal deadline is 5:00 p.m. proposer's local time, the proposal must be submitted by 5:00 p.m., and administrative corrections are allowed until 6:00 p.m., proposer's local time). During this grace period, authorized sponsored project office personnel are authorized to make administrative corrections to proposal Cover Sheet and Budget data. These corrections do not include changes to identified PIs, co-PIs, or other senior project personnel. Access to the Administrative Corrections utility is via the Research Administration module on the FastLane Website through use of the "Submit Proposals/Supplements/File Updates/Withdrawals" function.
- PROPOSAL FILE UPDATES
It is the responsibility of the proposing organization to thoroughly review each proposal
prior to submission. On occasion, however, a problem is identified with a portion of the
proposal after the proposal has been electronically submitted to NSF.
The FastLane Proposal File Update module allows the organization to request the replacement
of files associated with a previously submitted proposal. Proposal file update requests must
be submitted by an individual who is authorized to submit proposals on behalf of the
organization, and electronically signed by the Authorized Organizational Representative (AOR).
Update requests must contain a justification that addresses:
1. why the file replacements are being requested; and
2. any changes between the original and proposed replacement files.
A proposal file update request will be automatically accepted if submitted prior to the deadline/target date of the program announcement or solicitation, or anytime prior to review in the case of an unsolicited proposal. A request for a proposal file update after an established target or deadline date will require acceptance by the cognizant NSF Program Officer. Such requests only may be submitted in cases where a technical problem has been identified with the proposal (i.e., formatting or print problems). Therefore, changes to the content of a previously submitted proposal after the established deadline or target date should not be requested. When a request is accepted, the proposed files will immediately replace the existing files and become part of the official proposal.
PIs can access the proposal file update utility via the "Proposal Functions" section of
FastLane. Authorized individuals in the organization's sponsored projects office (or
equivalent) can initiate or review proposal file update requests using the
"Submit Proposals/Supplements/File Updates/Withdrawals" module via the FastLane "Research
NSF will consider only one proposal file update request per proposal at a time. It is
anticipated that it will be a rare occurrence for more than one file update request to be
submitted for a proposal.
- REVISIONS TO PROPOSALS MADE DURING THE REVIEW PROCESS
In the event of a significant development (e.g., research findings, changed circumstances,
unavailability of PI or other senior personnel, etc.) that might materially affect the outcome
of the review of a pending proposal, the proposer must contact the cognizant Program Officer to
discuss the issue. Submitting additional information must not be used as a means of
circumventing page limitations or stated deadlines.
Before recommending whether or not NSF should support a particular project, the NSF Program
Officer may, subject to certain constraints outlined below, engage in discussions with the
Negotiating budgets generally involves discussing a lower or higher amount of total support
for the proposed project. The NSF Program Officer may suggest reducing or eliminating costs
for specific budget items that are clearly unnecessary or unreasonable for the activities to be
undertaken, especially when the review process supports such changes; however, this would
generally not include faculty salaries, salary rates, fringe benefits, or tuition. Note:
indirect cost rates are not subject to negotiation. The NSF Program Officer may discuss with
PIs the "bottom line" award amount, i.e., the total NSF funding that will be recommended for a
project. NSF Program Officers may not renegotiate cost sharing or other organizational
When such discussions result in a budget reduction of 10% or more from the amount originally
proposed, a corresponding reduction should be made in the scope of the project. Proposers
must use the FastLane Revised Proposal Budget module to submit this information. The
components of a revised proposal budget generally consist of the following: the revised budget,
and a Budget Impact Statement that describes the impact of the budget reduction on the scope
of the project.
In situations when the budget has been reduced by 10% or more and the NSF Program Officer,
PI and AOR, however, clearly agree that the project as proposed can be carried out at a lesser
level of support from NSF with no expectation of any uncompensated organizational contribution
beyond that formally reflected as cost sharing, the "Budget Impact Statement" section of the
Revised Proposal Budget module must be used to document that agreement.
Note: Revised Proposal Budgets must be electronically signed by the AOR. Paper copies of
the revised budget should not be mailed to NSF.
- AWARD RECOMMENDATION
After scientific, technical and programmatic review and consideration of appropriate
factors, the NSF Program Officer recommends to the cognizant Division Director whether the
proposal should be declined or recommended for award. Normally, final programmatic approval is
at the division level. Because of the large volume of proposals, this review and consideration
process may take up to six months. Large or particularly complex proposals may require
additional review and processing time. For example, proposals for large facility projects also
might require review in accordance with NSF's Guidelines for Planning and Managing the Major
Research Equipment Account. If the program recommendation is for an award and final division
or other programmatic approval is obtained, then the recommendation goes to the Division of
Grants and Agreements for review of business, financial and policy implications and the
processing and issuance of a grant or cooperative agreement. The 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
an 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.
Proposers are cautioned that only an appointed Grants Officer in the Division of Grants and Agreements may make commitments, obligations or awards on behalf of NSF or authorize the expenditure of funds. No commitment on the part of NSF or the Government should be inferred from technical or budgetary discussions with an NSF Program Officer. A PI or organization that makes financial or personnel commitments in the absence of a grant or cooperative agreement signed by the NSF Grants Officer does so at its own risk.
- COPIES OF REVIEWS
When a decision has been made (whether an award or a declination), verbatim copies of reviews, excluding the names of the reviewers, and summaries of review panel deliberations, if any, are provided to the PI. Proposers also may request and obtain any other releasable material in NSF's file on their proposal. Everything in the file except information that directly identifies either reviewers or other pending or declined proposals is usually releasable to the proposer.