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Note: A new version of this document applies to all proposals submitted or due on or after January 30, 2023. Learn more about the PAPPG

National Science Foundation
Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide
Significant Changes and Clarifications
PAPPG - Introduction
A. About the NSF
B. Foreword
C. Acronym List
D. Definitions
E. NSF Organizations
Table of Contents
Part I: Proposal Preparation and Submission Guidelines
I. Pre-Submission Information
II. Proposal Preparation Instructions
III. NSF Proposal Processing and Review
IV. Non-Award Decisions and Transactions
V. Renewal Proposals
Part II: Award, Administration and Monitoring of Grants and Cooperative Agreements
VI. NSF Awards
VII. Grant Administration
VIII. Financial Requirements and Payments
IX. Grantee Standards
X. Allowability of Costs
XI. Other Post Award Requirements and Considerations
XII. Grant Administration Disputes and Misconduct
Subject Index
Privacy Act and Public Burden Statements

NSF 20-1 June 1, 2020

Part I sets forth NSF's proposal preparation and submission guidelines. The coverage provides guidance for the preparation and submission of proposals to NSF. Some NSF programs have program solicitations that modify the general provisions of the PAPPG, and, in such cases, the guidelines provided in the solicitation must be followed.

A. NSF Proposal Preparation and Submission

Unless specified in an NSF program solicitation, proposals submitted to NSF must be submitted via use of either the NSF FastLane System, Research.gov or Grants.gov. Further information on each system is provided below.

  • Proposal Preparation and Submission via the NSF FastLane System. The policy and procedural guidance contained in Part I of the PAPPG pertains to proposals submitted via the NSF FastLane System and Research.gov (see below). FastLane may be used for proposal preparation, submission, proposal file updates, and select postaward administrative activities. Detailed information about the FastLane System is available from the FastLane website.
  • Proposal Preparation and Submission via the NSF Research.gov System. Proposal Preparation and Submission in Research.gov is an alternative to the NSF FastLane System for proposal preparation, submission, and proposal file updates. The policy and procedural guidance contained in Part I of the PAPPG pertains to proposals submitted via the NSF FastLane System and Research.gov. On-screen instructions in Research.gov may vary from what is stated in the PAPPG; however, the content requirements of the proposal remain the same. The on-screen instructions in Research.gov must be followed. The Research.gov Proposal Preparation and Submission site is being incrementally enhanced to increase the number of proposal and submission types supported. Proposers are reminded to check the Research.gov website for the latest list of capabilities.
  • Proposal Preparation and Submission via Grants.gov. The policy and procedural guidance contained in the NSF Grants.gov Application Guide pertains specifically to proposals submitted via Grants.gov. Detailed information about Grants.gov is available from the Grants.gov website.

B. NSF Programs and Funding Opportunities

The NSF website provides the most comprehensive source of information on NSF Directorates/Offices (including contact information), programs, funding opportunities and Dear Colleague Letters. Use of this website by potential proposers is strongly encouraged. In addition, "NSF Update" is an information-delivery system designed to keep potential proposers and other interested parties apprised of new NSF funding opportunities and publications, important changes in proposal and award policies and procedures, and upcoming NSF Grants Conferences. Subscribers are informed each time new publications are issued that match their identified interests. "NSF Update" is available on NSF's website at: https://public.govdelivery.com/accounts/USNSF/subscriber/new?qsp=823.

C. Categories of Funding Opportunities

NSF utilizes a variety of mechanisms to communicate opportunities for research and education support, as well as to generate proposals. A brief description of each category of funding opportunity follows.

1. Program Descriptions

The term "program description" includes broad, general descriptions of programs and activities in NSF Directorates/Offices and Divisions. Program descriptions are posted on Directorate/Division websites to encourage the submission of proposals in specific program areas of interest to NSF.

Program descriptions utilize the generic eligibility and proposal preparation instructions specified in Part I of the PAPPG, as well as the National Science Board (NSB)-approved merit review criteria. See Chapter III for additional information.

2. Program Announcements

The term "program announcement" refers to formal NSF publications that announce NSF programs. Program announcements and program descriptions (see C.2 above) are the primary mechanisms used by NSF to communicate opportunities for research and education support, as well as to generate proposals. Program announcements utilize the generic eligibility and proposal preparation guidelines specified in Part I of the PAPPG and incorporate the NSB-approved merit review criteria.

3. Program Solicitations

The term "program solicitation" refers to formal NSF publications that encourage the submission of proposals in specific program areas of interest to NSF. They generally are more focused than program announcements, and normally apply for a limited period of time. Competition among proposals is more precisely defined than with program announcements, and proposals received compete directly with each other for NSF funding. Program solicitations are issued when the funding opportunity has one or more of the following features:

  • provides supplemental proposal preparation guidance or deviates from the guidelines established in Part I of the PAPPG;
  • contains additional review criteria relevant to the program;
  • requires submission of a letter of intent (see Chapter I.D.1) or preliminary proposal (see Chapter I.D.2);
  • deviates from (or restricts) the standard categories of proposers specified in Section E. below;
  • limits the number of proposals that may be submitted by an organization and/or Principal Investigator (PI) or co-Principal Investigator (co-PI);4
  • requires cost sharing;
  • requires a limitation in indirect (Facilities & Administrative (F&A)) costs;
  • specifies additional award conditions and/or reporting requirements;
  • anticipates use of a cooperative agreement.

4. Dear Colleague Letters (DCLs)

DCLs are intended to provide general information to the community, clarify or amend an existing policy or document, or inform the NSF proposer community about upcoming opportunities or special competitions for supplements to existing awards. They also may be used to announce NSF’s interest in receiving proposals in specified topical areas for the following proposal types contained in Chapter II.E: Rapid Response Research (RAPID); Early-concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER); Research Advanced by Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering (RAISE); and Conference.


1. Letters of Intent

Some NSF program solicitations require or request submission of a letter of intent (LOI) in advance of submission of a full proposal. An LOI is not a binding document. The predominant reason for its use is to help NSF program staff gauge the size and range of the competition, enabling earlier selection and better management of reviewers and panelists. In addition, the information contained in an LOI is used to help avoid potential conflicts of interest in the review process.

An LOI normally contains the Principal Investigator’s (PI’s) and co-PI's names, a proposed title, a list of possible participating organizations (if applicable), and a synopsis that describes the work in sufficient detail to permit an appropriate selection of reviewers. Proposers that plan to submit a collaborative proposal from multiple organizations should submit a single LOI for the entire project, given that NSF considers a collaborative proposal to be a unified research project. An LOI is not externally evaluated or used to decide on funding. The requirement to submit an LOI will be identified in the program solicitation, and such letters are submitted electronically to NSF. Failure to submit a required LOI identified in a program solicitation will result in a full proposal not being accepted or returned without review.

2. Preliminary Proposals

Some NSF program solicitations require or request submission of a preliminary proposal in advance of submission of a full proposal. The three predominant reasons for requiring submission of a preliminary proposal are to:

  • reduce the proposers' unnecessary effort in proposal preparation when the chance of success is very small. This is particularly true of exploratory initiatives when the community senses that a major new direction is being identified, or competitions that will result in a small number of awards;
  • increase the overall quality of the full submission; and.
  • assist NSF program staff in managing the review process and in the selection of reviewers.

The NSF program solicitation will specify content and submission requirements when preliminary proposals are to be used. Preliminary proposals are prepared by the PI using the Proposal Preparation Module in FastLane. On the Cover Sheet, the PI clicks on the "Preliminary Proposal" check box. The PI completes only the sections appropriate to the preliminary proposal. The PI then forwards the proposal to the appropriate office at his/her organization, and the Authorized Organizational Representative (AOR) signs and submits the preliminary proposal via use of NSF’s electronic systems.

One of the following two types of decisions may be received from NSF upon submission of a preliminary proposal. The program solicitation will specify the type of decision to be rendered for a particular program.

a. Invite/Not Invite Decisions

This type of mechanism is used when the NSF decision made on the preliminary proposal is final, affecting the organization's eligibility to submit a full proposal. Only submitters of favorably reviewed preliminary proposals are invited and eligible to submit full proposals. The PI and the organization's Sponsored Projects Office (SPO) will be electronically notified of NSF's decision to either invite submission of a full proposal or decline NSF support.

b. Encourage/Discourage Decisions

This type of mechanism is used when the NSF decision made on the preliminary proposal is advisory only. This means that submitters of both favorably and unfavorably reviewed preliminary proposals are eligible to submit full proposals. The PI and the organization's SPO will be notified of NSF's decision to either encourage or discourage submission of a full proposal.

3. Full Proposals

The full proposal should present the (1) objectives and scientific, engineering, or educational significance of the proposed work; (2) suitability of the methods to be employed; (3) qualifications of the investigator and the grantee organization; (4) effect of the activity on the infrastructure of science, engineering and education, if applicable; and (5) amount of funding required. It should present the intellectual merit and broader impacts of the proposed project clearly and should be prepared with the care and thoroughness of a paper submitted for publication. The requisite proposal preparation instructions are contained in Chapter II. Sufficient information should be provided to enable reviewers to evaluate the proposal in accordance with the two merit review criteria established by the National Science Board. (See Chapter III for additional information on NSF processing and review of proposals.)

NSF expects strict adherence to the rules of proper scholarship and attribution. The responsibility for proper scholarship and attribution rests with the authors of a proposal; all parts of the proposal should be prepared with equal care for this concern. Authors other than the PI (or any co-PI) should be named and acknowledged. Serious failure to adhere to such standards can result in findings of research misconduct. Research misconduct refers to fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism in proposing or performing research funded by NSF, reviewing research proposals submitted to NSF, or in reporting research results funded by NSF. Reporting results include but is not limited to: annual/final project reports and Project Outcomes Reports submitted to NSF, as well as the publication of results from the NSF-funded projects. NSF policies and rules on research misconduct are discussed in the Chapter XII.C, as well as 45 CFR Part 689.

NSF will not tolerate research misconduct. Allegations of research misconduct are taken seriously and are investigated by NSF’s Office of Inspector General (OIG). OIG refers completed investigations of research misconduct to NSF for action. Upon findings of research misconduct, NSF will take appropriate action against individuals or organizations.

The Metric Conversion Act of 1975, as amended, and EO 12770 of 1991 encourage Federal agencies to use the Metric System (SI) in procurement, grants and other business-related activities. Proposers are encouraged to use the Metric System of weights and measures in proposals submitted to the Foundation. Grantees also are encouraged to use metric units in reports, publications and correspondence relating to proposals and awards.

E. Who May Submit Proposals

NSF welcomes proposals on behalf of all qualified scientists, engineers and educators. The Foundation strongly encourages women, minorities and persons with disabilities to participate fully in its programs. In accordance with Federal statutes, regulations and NSF policies, no person on grounds of race, color, age, sex, national origin or disability shall be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under, any program or activity receiving financial assistance from NSF, although some programs may have special requirements that limit eligibility.

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.

Categories of Proposers

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

  1. Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs) - Two- and four-year IHEs (including community colleges) accredited in, and having a campus located in the U.S., acting on behalf of their faculty members. IHEs located outside the U.S. fall under paragraph 6. below.
  2. Special Instructions for International Branch Campuses of U.S. IHEs

    If the proposal includes funding to be provided to an international branch campus of a U.S. institution of higher education (including through use of subawards and consultant arrangements), the proposer must explain the benefit(s) to the project of performance at the international branch campus and justify why the project activities cannot be performed at the U.S. campus. Such information must be included in the project description. The box for "Funding of an International Branch Campus of a U.S. IHE, including through use of a subaward or consultant arrangement" must be checked on the Cover Sheet if the proposal includes funding for an international branch campus of a U.S. IHE.

  3. Non-profit, Non-academic Organizations - Independent museums, observatories, research laboratories, professional societies and similar organizations located in the U.S. that are directly associated with educational or research activities.
  4. For-profit Organizations - U.S. commercial organizations, especially small businesses with strong capabilities in scientific or engineering research or education. 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. NSF is interested in supporting projects that couple industrial research resources and perspectives with those of IHEs; therefore, it especially welcomes proposals for cooperative projects involving both IHEs and the private commercial sector.
  5. 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.
  6. Unaffiliated Individuals - Unless specifically authorized in an NSF solicitation (e.g., NSF postdoctoral fellowship programs), unaffiliated individuals in the U.S. and unaffiliated U.S. citizens are not eligible to receive direct funding support from NSF. Recipients of Federal funds must be able to demonstrate their ability to fully comply with the requirements specified in 2 CFR § 200, Uniform Administrative Requirements, Cost Principles, and Audit Requirements for Federal Awards. As such, unaffiliated individuals are strongly encouraged to affiliate with an organization that is able to meet the requirements specified in 2 CFR § 200.

    Unaffiliated individuals must contact the cognizant Program Officer prior to preparing and submitting a proposal to NSF.

  7. Foreign organizations - NSF rarely provides direct funding support to foreign organizations. NSF will consider proposals for cooperative projects involving U.S. and foreign organizations, provided support is requested only for the U.S. portion of the collaborative effort. In cases however, where the proposer considers the foreign organization’s involvement to be essential to the project (e.g., through subawards or consultant arrangements), the proposer must explain why local support is not feasible and why the foreign organization can carry out the activity more effectively. In addition, the proposed activity must demonstrate how one or more of the following conditions have been met:
    • The foreign organization contributes a unique organization, facilities, geographic location and/or access to unique data resources not generally available to U.S. investigators (or which would require significant effort or time to duplicate) or other resources that are essential to the success of the proposed project; and/or
    • The foreign organization to be supported offers significant science and engineering education, training or research opportunities to the U.S.

    Such information must be included in the project description section of the proposal. The box for "Funding of a Foreign Organization, including through use of a subaward or consultant arrangement" must be checked on the Cover Sheet if the proposal includes funding for a foreign organization.

  8. Other Federal Agencies - NSF does not normally support research or education activities by scientists, engineers or educators employed by Federal agencies or FFRDCs. Under unusual circumstances, other Federal agencies and FFRDCs may submit proposals directly to NSF. A proposed project is only eligible for support if it meets one or more of the following exceptions, as determined by a cognizant NSF Program Officer:

    • Special Projects. Under exceptional circumstances, research or education projects at other Federal agencies or FFRDCs that can make unique contributions to the needs of researchers elsewhere or to other specific NSF objectives may receive NSF support.
    • National and International Programs. The Foundation may fund research and logistical support activities of other Government agencies or FFRDCs directed at meeting the goals of special national and international research programs for which the Foundation bears special responsibility, such as the U.S. Antarctic Research Program.
    • International Travel Awards. To help ensure appropriate representation or availability of a particular expertise at an international conference, staff researchers of other Federal agencies may receive NSF international travel awards.

    Proposers who think their project may meet one of the exceptions listed above must contact a cognizant NSF Program Officer before preparing a proposal for submission. In addition, a scientist, engineer or educator who has a joint appointment with an IHE and a Federal agency (such as a Veterans Administration Hospital, or with an IHE and a FFRDC) may submit proposals through the IHE and may receive support if he/she is a faculty member (or equivalent) of the IHE, although part of his/her salary may be provided by the Federal agency. Preliminary inquiry must be made to the appropriate program before preparing a proposal for submission.

F. When to Submit Proposals

Proposers should allow adequate time for processing of proposals (see Chapter I.H for further information). Many NSF programs accept proposals at any time. Other programs, however, establish due dates for submission of proposals. The following types of due dates are utilized by NSF:

  1. Target dates: dates after which proposals will still be accepted, although they may miss a particular panel or committee meeting.

  2. Deadline dates: dates after which proposals will not be accepted or will be returned without review by NSF. The deadline date will be waived only in extenuating circumstances. Such a deviation only may be authorized in accordance with Chapter II.A.

  3. Submission windows: designated periods of time during which proposals will be accepted for review by NSF. It is NSF’s policy that the end date of a submission window converts to, and is subject to, the same policies as a deadline date.

  4. These target dates, deadlines, and submission windows are published in specific program descriptions, program announcements and solicitations that can be obtained through the NSF website.5 Unless otherwise stated in a program announcement or solicitation, proposals must be received by the specified date. If the deadline date falls on a weekend, it will be extended to the following Monday; if the date falls on a Federal holiday, it will be extended to the following business day. Proposals must be received by 5 p.m. submitter's local time on the established deadline date. Failure to submit by 5.p.m. submitter’s local time will result in the proposal not being accepted. See Chapter IV.B for additional information. Letters of intent or preliminary proposals also follow the 5 p.m. submitter's local time standard.

    Special Exceptions to NSF's Deadline Date Policy

    In the event of a natural or anthropogenic disaster, or when NSF is closed due to inclement weather or other reason that interferes with an organization's ability to meet a proposal submission deadline, NSF has developed the following guidelines for use by impacted organizations.

    Natural or Anthropogenic Disasters - Flexibility in meeting announced deadline dates because of a natural or anthropogenic disaster that impacts a proposer’s ability to submit a proposal to NSF may be granted with the approval of the cognizant NSF Program Officer. Where possible, such requests should be submitted in advance of the proposal deadline. Proposers should contact the cognizant NSF Program Officer in the Division/Office to which they intend to submit their proposal and request authorization to submit a proposal after the deadline date. Proposers should then follow the written or verbal guidance provided by the cognizant NSF Program Officer. The Foundation will work with each impacted organization on a case-by-case basis to address its specific issue(s). Generally, NSF permits extension of the deadline by up to five business days.

    To submit the proposal after the deadline date, proposers must check the "Special Exception to the Deadline Date Policy" box on the NSF Cover Sheet, indicating NSF approval has been obtained. A statement identifying the nature of the event that impacted the ability to submit the proposal on time should be uploaded under Nature of Natural or Anthropogenic event in the Single Copy Document section in FastLane. If available, written approval from the cognizant NSF Program Officer also should be uploaded under the Additional Single Copy Documents in the Single Copy Document section in FastLane.

    Closure of NSF – When NSF is closed due to inclement weather or other reason6, deadline(s) that occurred during the closure automatically will be extended to the following business day after the closure ends

G. How to Submit Proposals

1. Submission Instructions

The same work/proposal cannot be funded twice. If the proposer envisions review by multiple programs, more than one program may be designated on the Cover Sheet. The submission of duplicate or substantially similar proposals concurrently for review by more than one program without prior NSF approval will result in the return of the redundant proposals. (See Chapter IV.B for further information.)

In submission of a proposal for funding, the AOR is required to provide certain NSF-specific proposal certifications. (See Chapter II.C.1.d for a listing.) This certification process will occur concurrently with submission of the proposal. Submission of government-wide representations and certifications is addressed below.

2. Requirements Relating to Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) Numbers and Registration in the System for Award Management (SAM)

Proposers must provide a Dun and Bradstreet (D&B) DUNS number when applying for a new or renewal award. NSF requires that organizations registering to use NSF's electronic systems have a valid and active SAM registration and have a valid DUNS number. NSF will validate that each proposer's DUNS number and SAM registration are active and valid prior to allowing submission of a proposal to NSF. Any subrecipients named in the proposal also are required to obtain a DUNS number and register in FastLane. Subrecipients named in the proposal, however, do not need to be registered in SAM.

SAM is the primary registrant database for the U.S. Government. SAM collects, validates, stores, and disseminates data in support of agency acquisition missions, including Federal agency contract and assistance awards. This SAM registration must be maintained with current information at all times during which an organization has an active award or a proposal under consideration by NSF. Failure to comply with SAM registration requirement prior to proposal submission may impact the processing of the proposal. To register in SAM, go to: https://www.sam.gov. Proposers are advised that entity registration will become active after three to five days when the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) validates the Tax ID Number.

Organizations are responsible for maintaining the accuracy of their information in SAM and utilizing SAM to submit government-wide representations and certifications. Prior to proposal submission, all proposing organizations are required to have reviewed and certified compliance with the government-wide financial assistance representations and certifications maintained in SAM. Failure to comply with SAM certification and registration requirements will impact the submission and processing of the proposal. If a registration is not active, an organization will not be able to submit a proposal, nor will NSF be able to take approval actions on any submitted proposals or recommended awards. Additionally, payments will not be able to be processed and approved.

Organizations also are responsible for updating all SAM registration information as it changes. Once an award is made, failure to maintain current and complete information within SAM will impact receipt of funding. To maintain an active status in SAM, an organization’s registration must be renewed and revalidated at least every 12 months from the date of the previous registration, including recertification of the government-wide financial assistance representations and certifications. If the registration is not renewed, it will expire. An expired registration will impact an organization’s ability to submit proposals and/or receive grant payments.

SAM is the NSF system of record for organizational information, including financial and address information. The Legal Business Name and Physical Address information are automatically input into the proposer's SAM registration from D&B, and it is an organization’s responsibility to keep this information updated.


The NSF ID is a unique numerical identifier assigned to users by NSF. The NSF ID is used throughout NSF’s electronic systems as a login ID and identification verification. Each individual user of NSF systems, (e.g., Fastlane and Research.gov) should not have more than one NSF ID. Users with more than one NSF ID should contact the Help Desk at (800) 673-6188 or (703) 292-8142 or by e-mail to fastlane@nsf.gov for assistance.

Submission of Social Security Numbers (SSNs) only will be requested where it is necessary for business purposes, e.g., financial reimbursement. An SSN is solicited under the NSF Act of 1950, as amended.

4. Proposal Receipt

Once the proposal is submitted, PIs can check the status of the proposal via use of NSF’s electronic systems. If a proposal number is not reflected in the electronic systems, contact the Help Desk at (800) 673-6188 or (703) 292-8142 or by e-mail to fastlane@nsf.gov.

Communications about the proposal should be addressed to the cognizant NSF Program Officer with reference to the proposal number. Proposers are strongly encouraged to use NSF's electronic systems to verify the status of their submission to NSF.

H. Proposal Processing

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 within 30 days after the program division/office makes its recommendation. Grants that are being made to organizations that have not received an NSF award within the preceding five 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 and group travel) will be accepted for review only 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.

4 Unless otherwise specified, the term "organization" refers to all categories of proposers. Back to Text
5 A listing of upcoming target dates and deadlines, sorted by date and by program area is available on the NSF website at http://nsf.gov/funding/pgm_list.jsp?org=NSF&ord=date. Back to Text
6 This policy is not intended to cover NSF closures due to lapses in appropriation. In such cases, specific guidance will be issued, as appropriate. Back to Text


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