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NSF 08-1 January 2008

Chapter I - Pre-Submission Information

A. NSF Proposal Preparation and Submission Mechanisms

The following two electronic mechanisms are available for use by proposers in the preparation and submission of proposals to the NSF:

1. 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 may be used for proposal preparation, file update, submission and status checking, project reporting, and post-award administrative activities. All FastLane functions are accessed by using a Web browser on the Internet. Detailed information about the FastLane System is available from the FastLane website at Proposals submitted via FastLane should be prepared and submitted in accordance with this Guide.

2., part of the President’s Management Agenda to improve government services to the public, provides a single Government-wide portal for finding and applying for Federal grants online. Proposals submitted via must be prepared and submitted in accordance with the NSF Application Guide, available through as well as on the NSF website at: The Application Guide contains important information on:

  • general instructions for submission via, including, the registration process and software requirements;

  • NSF-specific instructions for submission via, including creation of PDF files;

  • grant application package instructions;

  • required SF 424 (R&R) forms and instructions; and

  • NSF-specific forms and instructions.

Upon successful insertion of the submitted proposal in the NSF FastLane system, no further interaction with is required. All further interaction is conducted via the NSF FastLane system.

Except where specifically noted in the funding opportunity, all NSF funding opportunities (including program descriptions, announcements and solicitations) will either authorize, or, in some cases require, use of to prepare and submit proposals. In determining whether to utilize or the NSF FastLane system for the electronic preparation and submission of a proposal, proposers should note that all collaborative proposals submitted as separate submissions from multiple organizations must be submitted via FastLane. (See GPG Chapter II.D.3 for additional information on collaborative proposals.)

Contact with NSF program personnel prior to proposal preparation and submission is encouraged. Some NSF programs have program solicitations that modify the general provisions of the NSF Application Guide or the GPG, and, in such cases, the guidelines provided in the solicitation must be followed. (See GPG Section C.4 below for further information on NSF program solicitations.)

B. NSF Programs and Funding Opportunities

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. However, research in bioengineering, with diagnosis- or treatment-related goals, 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 also is eligible. For further information about the National Science Foundation, see the Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide Introduction Section A, About the National Science Foundation.

The NSF website provides the most comprehensive source of information on NSF Directorates (including contact information), programs and funding opportunities. Use of this website by potential proposers is strongly encouraged. In addition, "My NSF" 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 Regional Grants Conferences. Subscribers are informed through e-mail or the user's Web browser each time new publications are issued that match their identified interests. "My NSF" also is available on NSF's website at provides an additional electronic capability to search for Federal government-wide grant opportunities. NSF funding opportunities may be accessed via this mechanism. Further information on may be obtained at

C. Categories of Funding Opportunities

NSF utilizes a variety of mechanisms to generate proposals. A brief description of each category of funding opportunity follows:

1. Dear Colleague Letter

Dear Colleague letters 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. In addition, they are often used to draw attention to an impending change in NSF policies or programs.

2. Program Description

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

Program descriptions, like program announcements, utilize the generic eligibility and proposal preparation instructions specified in the Grant Proposal Guide (GPG), as well as the National Science Board (NSB) approved merit review criteria. See GPG Chapter III for additional information.

3. Program Announcement

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 the GPG and incorporate the NSB approved merit review criteria.

4. Program Solicitation

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 the Grant Proposal Guide;

  • Contains additional specially crafted review criteria relevant to the program;

  • Requires submission of a letter of intent or preliminary proposal;

  • Deviates from (or restricts) the standard categories of proposers specified in Section E. below;

  • Limits the number of proposals that may be submitted by any organization and/or researcher/educator; 1

  • Specifies additional award conditions or reporting requirements;

  • Anticipates use of a cooperative agreement; or

  • Permits inclusion of the payment of fees to awardees, when appropriate.


1. Letter of Intent

Some NSF program solicitations require or request submission of a letter of intent (LOI) in advance of submission of a full proposal. The predominant reason for its use is to help NSF program staff to gauge the size and range of the competition, enabling earlier selection and better management of reviewers and panelists. In addition, the information contained in a LOI is used to help avoid potential conflicts of interest in the review process.

A LOI normally contains the 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. A LOI is not externally evaluated or used to decide on funding. The requirement to submit a LOI will be identified in the program solicitation, and such letters are submitted electronically via the NSF FastLane System.

2. Preliminary Proposal

Some NSF program solicitations require or request submission of a preliminary proposal in advance of submission of a full proposal. The two 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 where the community senses that a major new direction is being identified, or competitions that will result in a small number of actual awards; and

  • increase the overall quality of the full submission.

The NSF program solicitation will specify content and submission requirements when preliminary proposals are to be utilized. 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 his/her Sponsored Projects Office, which then submits the preliminary proposal to NSF.

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 PI's eligibility to submit a full proposal. Only submitters of favorably reviewed preliminary proposals are invited and eligible to submit full proposals. Invite/Not Invite decisions are generally used where large, complex, or limited-award competitions are contemplated, such as those used for "Centers." The PI and the organization's Sponsored Projects Office 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. Encourage/Discourage decisions are typically used when the preliminary proposal is very short, focused on the activity to be proposed, and where use of the preliminary proposal is intended to improve the overall quality of the full proposal. The PI and the organization's Sponsored Projects Office will be notified of NSF's decision to either encourage or discourage submission of a full proposal.

3. Full Proposal

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; 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. The requisite proposal preparation instructions are contained in GPG 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 GPG 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 attribution and citation rests with 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. NSF policies and rules on research misconduct are discussed in the AAG Chapter VII.C, as well as CFR Part 689.

The Metric Conversion Act of 1975, as amended, and Executive Order 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.

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 must be clearly marked in the proposal and 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."

Such information also may be included as a separate statement. If this method is used, the statement must be submitted electronically as a single-copy document in the Proposal Preparation Module in the FastLane System. (See also GPG Chapter II.C.1 for further information regarding submission of single-copy documents.) 2

The box for "Proprietary or Privileged Information" must be checked on the proposal Cover Sheet when the proposal contains such information. 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 GPG Chapter III.G.)

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, individuals and organizations in the following categories may submit proposals:

  1. Universities and Colleges - Universities and two- and four-year colleges (including community colleges) located and accredited in the US, acting on behalf of their faculty members. Such organizations also are referred to as academic institutions. Institutions located outside the US fall under paragraph 6. below.

  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. 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 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 proposer has demonstrated the capability and has access to any necessary facilities to carry out the project; and

    • the proposer agrees to fiscal arrangements that, in the opinion of the NSF Division of Grants & Agreements, 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. 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.

  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). 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 logistic 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. In order to 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 should 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 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. Preliminary inquiry should be made to the appropriate program before preparing a proposal for submission.

F. When to Submit Proposals

Proposers should allow adequate time for NSF review and processing of proposals (see GPG 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 for review by NSF. The deadline date will be waived only in extenuating circumstances. Such a deviation only may be authorized in accordance with GPG Chapter II.A.

    Special Exceptions to NSF’s Deadline Date Policy

    In the event of a natural or anthropogenic disaster that interferes with an organization’s ability to meet a proposal submission deadline, NSF has developed the following guidelines for use by impacted organizations. These guidelines will take the place of the previous NSF practice of posting notices to the NSF website regarding each specific event.

    Flexibility in meeting announced deadline dates because of a natural or anthropogenic disasters may be granted with the prior approval of the cognizant NSF Program Officer. 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 “late proposal.” Such contact should be via e-mail (or telephone, if e-mail is unavailable). Proposers should then follow the written or verbal guidance provided by the cognizant NSF Program Officer. Generally, NSF permits extension of the deadline by 5 business days. The Foundation, however, will work with each impacted organization on a case-by-case basis to address their specific issue(s).

  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.

These target dates, deadlines, and submission windows are published in specific program descriptions, program announcements and solicitations that can be obtained from the NSF Clearinghouse at or electronically through the NSF website.3 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 holiday, it will be extended to the following business day. Unless otherwise specified in a program solicitation that has an identified deadline date, proposals must be received by 5 p.m. submitter's local time on the established deadline date.4

G. How to Submit Proposals

1. Electronic Requirements

Proposals to NSF must be submitted electronically via either the NSF FastLane System or Those programs that require electronic submission via Grants.gov5 will be so noted in the applicable NSF funding opportunity. For proposers who cannot submit electronically, an authorization to deviate from the electronic submission requirements must be approved in advance of submission of the paper proposal in accordance with GPG Chapter II.A.

Special instructions for proposals that contain high-resolution graphics or other graphics where exact color representations are required for proper interpretation by the reviewer

For cost and technical reasons, the Foundation cannot, at this time, reproduce proposals containing color. PIs, therefore, generally should not rely on colorized objects to make their arguments. PIs who must include in their project descriptions high-resolution graphics, or other graphics where exact color representations are required for proper interpretation by the reviewer, must submit the required number of copies of the entire paper proposal, including the proposal Cover Sheet, for use in the review process. This submission is in addition to, not in lieu of, the electronic submission of the proposal via FastLane. Given that many NSF programs have converted to use of a primarily electronic review process, PIs are strongly encouraged to contact the cognizant Program Officer prior to submission of the paper copies of a proposal. The cognizant NSF Program Officer is ultimately responsible for reviewing the color materials submitted and making a determination of whether or not to send the paper copies out for merit review.

Upon submission of the proposal, the proposing organization will be notified of the required number of paper copies of the proposal that must be submitted to NSF. The exact number of copies required will appear in an electronic message at the time of FastLane submission and will depend on the NSF Division/Office selected.6 Such proposals 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.

2. Submission Instructions

The same work cannot be funded twice, so a proposal should be submitted only once to NSF. If the proposer envisions review by multiple programs, more than one program may be designated on the proposal Cover Sheet. 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 GPG Chapter IV.B for further information.)

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 officers at relevant Federal agencies have previously agreed to joint review and possible joint funding of the proposal; or (2) proposals for PIs who are beginning investigators (individuals who have not been a principal investigator (PI) 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" must be checked on the proposal Cover Sheet.

In submission of a proposal for funding, the Authorized Organizational Representative (AOR) is required to provide certain proposal certifications. (See GPG Chapter II.C.1e for a listing.) This process can occur concurrently with submission of the proposal for those organizations where the individual authorized to submit a proposal to NSF also is a designated AOR, or as a separate function for those organizations that choose to keep the certification process separate from the submission function. For those organizations that designate separate authorities in FastLane for these functions, the AOR must provide the required certifications within 5 working days following the electronic submission of the proposal.7

A proposal may not be processed until NSF has received the complete proposal (including the electronic certifications from the AOR.)

3. Registering in the Central Contractor Registration

The Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act (FFATA) of 2006 (P.L. 109-282) requires agencies to make award and subaward information available for search by the public. Agencies must make award data available beginning January 1, 2008 and subaward data available beginning January 1, 2009. FFATA specifies requisite information that must be included for each award and subaward, one of which is the unique identifier for the entity. OMB Memorandum, "Reporting of Data Elements Required by the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act," (dated March 30, 2007) defines the unique identifier for the entity as the Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) number. In accordance with OMB policy, NSF collects DUNS numbers for all awardee.

In order to meet the legislative mandate and Congressional intent of FFATA, NSF must be able to validate the accuracy of the DUNS number provided by the organization. NSF has identified the Central Contractor Registration (CCR) database as the most complete and accurate data source. CCR is the primary registrant database for the U.S. Government. CCR collects, validates, stores, and disseminates data in support of agency acquisition missions, including Federal agency contract and assistance awards.

Any organization that registers with the CCR must have a valid DUNS number. To ensure each organization receiving an NSF award and/or subaward has a valid DUNS number, potential proposers must register in the CCR prior to proposal submission. To register in the CCR, go to Proposers are advised that it takes approximately two business days to complete the registration process. Failure to complete the CCR registration process prior to proposal submission may impact the processing of your proposal.

4. Proposal Receipt

Once the proposal is submitted, PIs can access the number assigned to the proposal via the "Submitted Proposals" list in the FastLane Proposal Preparation module. If a proposal number is not reflected in the FastLane System, contact the FastLane Help Desk at (800) 673-6188 or (703) 292-8142 or by e-mail to

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 strongly encouraged to use FastLane 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 GPG 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/office 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. Proposals that are time-sensitive (e.g., conference, group travel, and research involving ephemeral phenomena) 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.

1 Unless otherwise specified, the term "organization" refers to all categories of proposers. Back to Text
2 Detailed instructions for submission of proprietary or privileged information is available on the FastLane website at to Text
3 A listing of upcoming target dates and deadlines, sorted by date and by program area is available electronically on the NSF website at Back to Text
4 Letters of intent or preliminary proposals, unless otherwise specified, also follow the 5 p.m. submitter's local time standard. Back to Text
5Proposals using should be prepared in accordance with the NSF Application Guide. Back to Text
6 Detailed instructions for submission of proposals that include high-resolution graphics or exact color representations that are required for proper interpretation by reviewers are available on the FastLane website under Technical FAQs at Back to Text
7 Further instructions for this process are available on the FastLane website.Back to Text