Table of Contents
- About the National Science Foundation
- Listing of Acronyms
- Definitions & NSF-Grantee Relationships
- NSF Organizations
Part I - Grant Proposal Guide
Part II - Award & Administration Guide
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent Federal agency created by the National Science Foundation Act of 1950, as amended (42 USC 1861-75). The Act states the purpose of the NSF is "to promote the progress of science; [and] to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare by supporting research and education in all fields of science and engineering."
From those first days, NSF has had a unique place in the Federal Government: it is responsible for the overall health of science and engineering across all disciplines. In contrast, other Federal agencies support research focused on specific missions such as health or defense. The Foundation also is committed to ensuring the nation’s supply of scientists, engineers, and science and engineering educators.
NSF funds research and education in most fields of science and engineering. It does this through grants and cooperative agreements to more than 2,000 colleges, universities, K-12 school systems, businesses, informal science organizations and other research organizations throughout the US. The Foundation accounts for about one-fourth of Federal support to academic institutions for basic research.
The Foundation considers proposals1 submitted by organizations on behalf of individuals or groups for support in most fields of research. Interdisciplinary proposals also are eligible for consideration.
NSF does not normally support technical assistance, pilot plant efforts, research requiring security classification, the development of products for commercial marketing, or market research for a particular project or invention. Research with disease-related goals, including work on the etiology, diagnosis or treatment of physical or mental disease, abnormality, or malfunction in human beings or animals, is normally not supported. Animal models of such conditions or the development or testing of drugs or other procedures for their treatment also are not eligible for support. 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.
NSF does not have any programs involving the construction of public works in metropolitan areas, no development assistance programs, no programs requiring State plans as a condition of assistance, none involving coordination of planning in multi-jurisdictional areas and no programs of grants to State and local governments as defined in Section 6501(4) of Title 31 of the United States Code (USC).
NSF receives approximately 55,000 proposals each year for research, education and training projects, of which approximately 11,000 are funded. In addition, the Foundation receives several thousand applications for graduate and postdoctoral fellowships. The agency operates no laboratories itself but does support National Research Centers, user facilities, certain oceanographic vessels and Antarctic research stations. The Foundation also supports cooperative research between universities and industry, US participation in international scientific and engineering efforts, and educational activities at every academic level.
NSF is structured much like a university, with grants-funding divisions/offices for the various disciplines and fields of science and engineering and for science, math, engineering and technology education. NSF also uses a variety of management mechanisms to coordinate research in areas that cross traditional disciplinary boundaries. The Foundation is assisted by advisors from the scientific and engineering communities who serve on formal committees or as ad hoc reviewers of proposals. This advisory system, which focuses on both program directions and specific proposals, involves approximately 50,000 scientists and engineers each year. NSF staff members who are experts in a certain field or area make award recommendations; PIs receive unattributed verbatim copies of peer reviews.
Grantees are wholly responsible for conducting their project activities and preparing the results for publication. Thus, the Foundation does not assume responsibility for such findings or their interpretation.
Facilitation Awards for Scientists and Engineers with Disabilities provide funding for special assistance or equipment to enable persons with disabilities to work on NSF-supported projects. See GPG Chapter II.D.3 for instructions regarding preparation of these types of proposals.
NSF has Text Telephone (TTY) and Federal Information Relay Service (FIRS) capabilities that enable individuals with hearing or speech impairments to communicate with the Foundation about NSF programs, employment or general information. TTY may be accessed at (703) 292-5090 and (800) 281-8749, FIRS at (800) 877-8339.
The NSF Information Center may be reached at (703) 292-5111.
The Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide2 is comprised of documents relating to the Foundation's proposal and award process. It has been designed for use by both our customer community and NSF staff and consists of two parts:
- Part I, the NSF Grant Proposal Guide (GPG) contains NSF’s proposal preparation and submission guidelines. The GPG provides guidance for the preparation and submission of proposals to NSF. Some NSF programs have program solicitations that modify the general provisions of the GPG, and, in such cases, the guidelines provided in the solicitation must be followed.
- Part II, the NSF Award and Administration Guide (AAG), contains guidance on managing and monitoring the award and administration of grants and cooperative agreements made by the Foundation. Coverage includes the NSF award process, from issuance and administration of an NSF award through closeout. Guidance regarding other grant requirements or considerations that either is not universally applicable or which do not follow the award cycle also is provided.
The policy and procedural guidance contained in the NSF Grants.gov Application Guide should be followed when preparing and submitting proposals to NSF via Grants.gov.
General information about NSF programs may be found on the NSF website at https://www.nsf.gov/funding/browse_all_funding.jsp. Additional information about special requirements of individual NSF programs may be obtained from the appropriate Foundation program offices. Information about most program deadlines and target dates for proposals are available on the NSF website at https://www.nsf.gov/funding/pgm_list.jsp?org=NSF&ord=date . Program deadline and target date information also appears in individual program announcements and solicitations and on relevant NSF Divisional/Office websites.
Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance
NSF programs fall under the following categories in the latest Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA) issued by the Office of Management and Budget and the General Services Administration:47.041 -- Engineering Grants
47.049 -- Mathematical and Physical Sciences
47.050 -- Geosciences
47.070 -- Computer and Information Science and Engineering
47.074 -- Biological Sciences
47.075 -- Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences
47.076 -- Education and Human Resources
47.079 -- Office of International & Integrative Activities
47.081 –- Office of Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research
A listing of applicable NSF CFDA numbers, is available on the NSF Website at: https://www.nsf.gov/bfa/dias/policy/cfda.jsp.
Any questions or comments regarding the NSF Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide should be addressed to the Policy Office, Division of Institution & Award Support, at (703) 292-8243 or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
AAG - Award & Administration Guide
ABR - Accomplishment-Based Renewal
ACH - Automated Clearing House (U.S. Treasury)
ACMS - Award Cash Management $ervice
AD - Assistant Director
ADPE - Automatic Data Processing Equipment
AOR - Authorized Organizational Representative
AUO - Area Utilization Officer (GSA)
BFA - Budget, Finance & Award Management
CAAR - Cost Analysis & Audit Resolution Branch
CAFATC - Cooperative Agreement Financial/Administrative Terms and Conditions
CAPTC - Cooperative Agreement Programmatic Terms and Conditions
CEQ - Council on Environmental Quality
CFR - Code of Federal Regulations
CGI - Continuing Grant Increment
CMIA - Cash Management Improvement Act
COI - Conflict of Interest
Co-PD - Co-Project Director
Co-PI - Co-Principal Investigator
DACS - Division of Acquisition and Cooperative Support
DAS - Division of Administrative Services
DD - Division Director
DFM - Division of Financial Management
DGA - Division of Grants and Agreements
DHHS - Department of Health and Human Services
DIAS - Division of Institution and Award Support
DOC - Department of Commerce
DUNS - Data Universal Numbering System
EAGER - EArly-Concept Grants for Exploratory Research
EFT - Electronic Funds Transfer
E.O. - Executive Order
F&A - Financial & Administrative Costs
FAQs - Frequently Asked Questions
FAR - Federal Acquisition Regulations
FASED - Facilitation Awards for Scientists and Engineers with Disabilities
FCCOM - Facilities Capital Cost of Money
FDP - Federal Demonstration Partnership
FEMA - Federal Emergency Management Agency
FIRS - Federal Information Relay Service
FOIA - Freedom of Information Act
FWA - Federal-wide Assurance
GC-1 - Grant General Conditions
GOE - Government Owned Equipment
GPG Grant Proposal Guide
GPO - Government Printing Office
GSA - General Services Administration
IACUC - Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee
IBC - Institutional Biosafety Committee
IRB - Institutional Review Board
IRS - Internal Revenue Service
LOI - Letters of Intent
MREFC - Major Research Equipment and Facilities
NEPA - National Environmental Policy Act
NIH - National Institutes of Health
NSB - National Science Board
NSF - National Science Foundation
ODI - Office of Diversity and Inclusion
OGC - Office of the General Counsel
OHRP - Office for Human Research Protections
OIIA - Office of International and Integrative Activities
OIG - Office of Inspector General
OMB - Office of Management and Budget
ONR - Office of Naval Research
PD - Project Director
PHS - Public Health Service
PI - Principal Investigator
PNAG - Prospective New Awardee Guide
PO - Program Officer
RAPID - Rapid Response Research Grants
REU - Research Experiences for Undergraduates
ROA - Research Opportunity Awards
RTC - Research Terms and Conditions
RUI - Research in Undergraduate Institutions
SBA - Small Business Administration
SBIR - Small Business Innovation Research Program
SF - Standard Form
SF LLL - Disclosure of Lobbying Activities
SPO - Sponsored Projects Office
SSN - Social Security Number
STTR - Small Business Technology Transfer
TDD - Telephonic Device for the Deaf
URL - Universal Resource Locator
USC - United States Code
USDA - U. S. Department of Agriculture
a. An AUTHORIZED ORGANIZATIONAL REPRESENTATIVE (AOR)/AUTHORIZED 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.
b. ASSISTANCE AWARDS are awards that entail the transfer of money, property, services or other things of value from the Federal government to a 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 cooperative agreements for this purpose.
c. A GRANT3 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 two types of grants:
(i) 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.
(ii) 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.
d. A COST REIMBURSEMENT AWARD 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 (2 CFR Part 220) or OMB Circular A-122 (2 CFR Part 230)). 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.
e. 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.
f. A COOPERATIVE AGREEMENT is a type of assistance award which should be used when substantial agency involvement is anticipated during the project performance period. Substantial agency involvement may be necessary when an activity is technically and/or managerially complex and requires extensive or close coordination between NSF and the awardee. Examples of projects which might be suitable for cooperative agreements if there will be substantial agency involvement are: research centers, large curriculum projects, multi-user facilities, projects which involve complex subcontracting, construction or operations of major in-house university facilities and major instrumentation development.
g. 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.
h. 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. If more than one, the first one listed will have primary responsibility for the project and the submission of reports. All others listed are considered co-PI/PD, and share in the responsibility of 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 Guide, PI/co-PI is interchangeable with PD/co-PD.
a. 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:
(i) 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.
(ii) The grantee agrees to perform the project as proposed, to the prudent management of the funds provided and to carry out the supported activities in accordance with the provisions of the grant. (See Award and Administration Guide (AAG) Chapter I.B, for the documents that comprise an NSF grant.)
b. Cooperative agreements will be used by NSF when the accomplishment of the project objectives requires substantial ongoing agency involvement during the project performance period. Substantial agency involvement may be necessary when an activity is technically and/or managerially complex and would require extensive or close coordination between NSF and the awardee. This, however, does not affect NSF’s right to unilaterally suspend or terminate support for cause or consider termination in accordance with AAG Chapter VII, if it is in the best interest of NSF or the Government.
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.
The distinction of a cooperative agreement is that NSF is substantially involved; however, awardees 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 that the awardee obtain NSF prior approval of specific decisions, milestones, or procedures. While NSF will monitor cooperative agreements in accordance with the terms and conditions of the award, 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.
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 MREFC 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 cooperative agreement will be used as an umbrella award, establishing the overall basic provisions of the agreements. Separate cooperative support agreements with specific terms and conditions will be issued for MREFC and Operations activities.
The NSF organizations/offices described below are normally of most direct interest to the NSF proposer and awardee community. Consult the NSF website at https://www.nsf.gov/staff/orglist.jsp for the most current listing of NSF offices/directorates and an organizational chart.
The National Science Board establishes the policies of the National Science Foundation within the framework of applicable national policies set forth by the President and the Congress. The Board is composed of 24 members, representing a cross section of American leadership in science and engineering research and education; appointed by the President to six-year terms, with one third appointed every two years; and selected solely on the basis of established records of distinguished service. The NSF Director is a member ex officio of the Board. In addition to establishing the policies of the Foundation, the Board along with the Director, recommends and encourages the pursuit of national policies for the promotion of research and education in science and engineering.
Program Divisions/Offices are responsible for the scientific, technical and programmatic review and evaluation of proposals and for recommending that proposals be declined or awarded. The scientific, engineering and/or educational aspects of an award will be monitored by the NSF Program Officer identified in the award notice. Integral staff in the program division/office relative to the NSF proposal and award process are:
a. NSF Program Officers. Program Officers conduct merit review of proposals and recommend which projects should be supported by the Foundation. They are considered subject matter experts and they often provide technical and programmatic advice. Carrying out these responsibilities requires a thorough intellectual understanding of the specialty and knowledge of its substantive technical issues, as well as knowledge of NSF’s processes. (See GPG Chapter III for a detailed description of the NSF Merit Review Process.)
b. NSF Division Directors. A Division Director’s responsibilities include:
- long-range planning, contributing to the achievement of the Foundation’s strategic goals and objectives;
- providing stewardship for budgetary and other resources; and
- overseeing merit review of proposals and the award process, if his/her Division is part of a program directorate.
The Division of Grants and Agreements (DGA) provides stewardship of the federal funding awarded by NSF and is responsible for business, financial, and administrative assistance across the continuum of awards from pre-award through closeout. DGA supports a diverse set of stakeholders including Awardees, NSF Directorates and others within the national scientific research and education communities, and maintains a leadership role in the federal grants arena. In carrying out NSF's primary mission of providing basic research support, DGA interacts on a continuing basis with academic and non-academic institutions, private industry, state and local governments, and other Federal agencies. DGA is responsible for the business, financial and administrative review of all recommended grants, most cooperative agreements and other assistance awards and assuring that they are consistent with applicable policies, regulations, directives and fund certifications.
Note that recommendation for an award by an NSF Program Officer does not constitute approval or obligation of Federal funds. Only an NSF Grants and Agreements Officer has the delegated authority to approve grants, cooperative agreements, or other assistance awards that will obligate NSF funds for expenditure by the awardee for proposed project activities. Grants Officers are also responsible for issuing all amendments and certain post award prior approvals under these awards, for monitoring awardee compliance with the terms and conditions of the awards, and for the administration and closeout of these awards.
NSF Grants and Agreements Officers provide customer service and pre- and post-award technical assistance on the aforementioned policies, regulations, and directives, both to the NSF directorates and awardees through a number of mechanisms. Such assistance is provided through a variety of venues, including on-site visits to awardee institutions, outreach forums and by serving on project advisory teams.
DIAS is responsible for the development and implementation of proposal and award policies & procedures, clearance of NSF proposal-generating documents, risk assessment and post-award monitoring activities, cost analysis and award support, audit resolution, electronic award and systems administration, and outreach to the external community.
A more detailed description of the responsibilities of each of the operating organizations within DIAS follows:
a. DIAS, through the Policy Office, is responsible for the development, coordination, and issuance of NSF pre- and post-award policies for the assistance programs of the National Science Foundation. The Policy Office provides guidance on policies and procedures related to NSF's electronic proposal and award systems. The responsibility for reviewing and providing official clearance approval for all NSF proposal-generating documents also resides in the Policy Office.
Another important function of the Policy Office is the coordination of outreach programs for external stakeholders and NSF staff. Through a variety of mechanisms, the Policy Office coordinates the release of timely and relevant information regarding NSF policies and procedures, proposal preparation, and award management to the broad research community. In addition to working closely with professional research administration associations, the Policy Office coordinates two major grants conferences held at various locations throughout the US (one in the spring and one in the fall).
b. DIAS staff in the Cost Analysis and Audit Resolution (CAAR) Branch perform cost analyses and resolve audit findings pertaining to the allowability, allocability, and appropriateness of costs claimed under all NSF awards, including grants and cooperative agreements. CAAR responsibilities include the performance of accounting systems, financial capability, budget reviews, and award monitoring and business assistance. CAAR also negotiates indirect cost rates for organizations that have numerous Federal awards where NSF provides the preponderance of funding.
c. With regard to electronic award and procurement systems administration, the Systems Office within DIAS is responsible for the administration, oversight, and interpretation of business rules for assistance awards across NSF's corporate systems. In addition, the Systems Office is responsible for systems analysis and requirements development necessary for the implementation of assistance awards business rules across NSF's corporate systems.
DACS provides acquisition and cooperative agreement award support for the Foundation. The Contracts Branch is responsible for planning, solicitation, negotiation, award and administration of research and research support contracts for NSF. The Cooperative Support Branch (CSB) is responsible for planning, solicitation, negotiation, award and administration of cooperative agreements for FFRDCs, major research facilities and various science, technology, engineering and education center programs. CSB provides cooperative agreement management and oversight for supported multi-institutional and international programs. This includes key participation and input on NSF project advisory teams, business process reviews and redesign, risk assessments, financial and administrative assistance to all stakeholders and on-site support for large research facilities and FFRDCs.
DFM is responsible for the financial policy and financial management of NSF. The division is responsible for NSF’s financial reporting, grantee business office relationships and payment of vendors. The Cash Management Branch of DFM is available to assist grantee financial and business officials in matters of payment and financial reporting discussed in Chapter III of the AAG.
OGC is the legal advisor and advocate for the Foundation, providing legal advice and assistance on all aspects of the Foundation's programs, policies, and operations, as well as areas affecting science and technology more broadly. Advice is provided in a wide variety of areas, such as: contracts and grants; intellectual property; conflicts of interest; privacy (including the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the Privacy Act and the Sunshine Act); civil rights; health, safety and environment; public regulation of research; Federal fiscal and administrative law and procedure; international law and agreements; and national security restrictions of scientific research (including export controls).
ODI is responsible for responding to all civil rights matters pertaining to NSF programs or activities receiving Federal financial assistance. (See AAG Chapter VI.A for additional information.)
OIG is an independent oversight office that reports directly to the National Science Board and the Congress. It is responsible for conducting audits, reviews, and investigations of NSF programs and organizations that receive NSF funding. OIG also evaluates allegations of research misconduct, such as plagiarism or the falsification or fabrication of data, involving researchers who request or receive NSF funding (see AAG Chapter VII.C.1). The OIG staff includes scientists, attorneys, certified public accountants, investigators, evaluators, and information technology specialists. OIG audits focus on NSF’s internal agency programs, as well as grants, contracts, and cooperative agreements funded by NSF. Their purpose is to ensure that the financial, administrative, and program activities of NSF and its awardee organizations are conducted efficiently and effectively. OIG investigations focus on program integrity and possible financial or non-financial wrongdoing by organizations and individuals who submit proposals to, receive awards from, conduct business with, or work for NSF. Grant recipients and administrators should contact the OIG (1-800-428-2189) to report any instances of possible misconduct, fraud, waste, or abuse.
1 For purposes of this Guide, the term “proposal” is interchangeable with the term “application.” Back to Text
2 This Guide has been developed is for use with NSF assistance programs; for information relating to NSF contracts, consult the NSF Contracting Process. Back to Text
3 For purposes of this Guide, 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. Back to Text