Frequently Asked Questions (Full List) - Electronic Submission of Grant Applications
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Last Revised: September 27, 2012 Related NIH Staff FAQs Related NIH Staff FAQs        

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On This Page:

I. Preparing to Apply

  A. Registration Basics

  1. What do I need to do before I can submit an application through Grants.gov?

    Grants.gov and eRA Commons registrations are required for all applicant institutions prior to application submission. Grants.gov registration provides the ability to submit applications electronically. eRA Commons registration provides access to submission status and the assembled application image. It is also used for post submission electronic communication between applicant/grantee and staff. 

    Principal Investigators (PIs) must have an active eRA Commons account that is affiliated with the applicant organization. The PD/PIs eRA Commons username must be included in the Credential field of the R&R Senior/Key Person Profile form within the application to facilitate appropriate application processing.

  2. Does a Project Director/Principal Investigator (PD/PI) have to register in Grants.gov and eRA Commons?

    A PD/PI does NOT need to register in Grants.gov but MUST be registered in the eRA Commons prior to electronic submission of a grant application. If the PD/PI does not already have an eRA Commons account, he/she should register in eRA Commons through the organization’s Signing Official (SO; Commons equivalent to Grants.gov Authorized Organizational Representative) or Account Administrator (AA). If the PD/PI already has an eRA Commons account, he/she should ensure their account is 'affiliated' with the applicant organization.

    If the PD/PI and the organization's SO are the same person (sometimes the case, especially in small businesseses), then two eRA Commons accounts are needed - one with the scientific role of PI and the other with the administrative role of SO.

  3. When should applicant organizations begin the registration process?

    Applicants are highly encouraged to start the registration process at least six weeks prior to the application due date. Foreign organizations and new businesses [i.e. those applying to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) to complete the SAM registration] should allow even more time to complete the process. NIH will not make any allowances for submission delays due to incomplete registrations.

    Also see FAQs on Submission Deadline.


  B. Registration in Grants.gov

  1. What is Grants.gov?

    Grants.gov is the federal-wide portal to find and apply for Federal grant funding. Grants.gov is used by all 26 Federal grant-making agencies.

  2. What is involved in the Grants.gov registration process?

    Applicant Organizations need to complete a one-time only registration process for Grants.gov that includes obtaining a Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) number, registering in System for Award Management (SAM) and registering in Grants.gov. Detailed steps for Grants.gov registration can be found on the Grants.gov website at: http://www.grants.gov/web/grants/applicants/organization-registration.html.

    Please note that this is a one-time only registration for all Federal agencies using Grants.gov. If your organization has already completed the Grants.gov registration process to submit electronically for another Federal agency, a separate Grant.gov registration is not necessary for NIH submissions.

  3. Part of the Grants.gov process is registering in the System of Awards Management (SAM). What is SAM and how will an applicant organization know if they have already registered or have successfully registered in the SAM?

    Grants.gov requires that applicant organizations obtain a DUNS number and register with the System for Award Management (SAM). SAM is a free website which consolidates Federal procurement systems and the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance. Currently CCR, FedReg, ORCA and EPLS have been migrated into SAM. Over the coming years, additional system migrations will be completed. Grants.gov uses SAM to establish roles and IDs for those organizations (also know as 'entities' in SAM) electronically applying for grants. 

    A yearly renewal with SAM is needed to keep your Grants.gov registration active. You will not be able to successfully submit an application to Grants.gov if your SAM registration has expired. NIH does not consider an expired SAM registration a valid reason for submitting late.

    Go to www.sam.gov to create a user account, register your entity (organization), renew your registration or search SAM records. The Help tab includes User Guides, Quick Start Guides, helpful hints and webinars to help you navigate the site.

    The Quick Start Guide for Entities Interested in Being Eligible for Grants is a good place to start to learn more about SAM.

  4. How often do I need to update my SAM registration?

    A yearly renewal with SAM is needed to keep your Grants.gov registration active. You will not be able to successfully submit an application to Grants.gov if your SAM registration has expired. NIH does not consider an expired SAM registration a valid reason for submitting late.

  5. My organization already has a DUNS number. Do we need to establish a different one for Grants.gov submissions?

    Your organization will need to determine if the already established DUNS number is being used for grant applications. Keep in mind that since applications to the NIH have required a DUNS number since October 1, 2003 most applicant organizations have already fulfilled this registration step.

    If your organization has multiple DUNS numbers, be aware that the same DUNS number must be used for your Grants.gov and eRA Commons registrations as well as on the application itself.

  6. I seem to be receiving a lot of unnecessary email solicitations and spam after I obtained a Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) number for my organization as part of the Grants.gov registration process. How can I prevent this spam?

    As a result of obtaining a DUNS number, you might be included on D&B’s marketing list that is sold to other companies [Dun and Bradstreet (D&B) is the commercial company that provides the DUNS number]."

    If you do not want your name or company name included on this marketing list, D&B has asked that you contact them anytime at 1-866-705-5711 to request removal from that list.


  C. Registration in Commons

  1. What is involved in the NIH eRA Commons registration process?

    Applicant organizations submitting grants to NIH must complete a one-time registration in the eRA Commons (Register Grantee Organization). Be sure to follow all instructions, including responding to the email verification email and providing a Signing Official signature for our records.

    • To find out if an organization is already registered in eRA Commons, check this query 'List of Commons Registered Organizations.'.
    • The individual designated as the Project Director/Principal Investigator (PD/PI) on a grant application must also be registered in eRA Commons. The PD/PI must hold a PI account and be affiliated with the applicant organization. This registration must be done by an organization official or their delegate who is already registered in the Commons. To register PIs in the Commons, refer to the User Guide found at: http://era.nih.gov/commons/user_guide.cfm.

  2. Who needs to be registered in the eRA Commons?

    The applicant organization, Signing Official (SO) and the PD/PI(s) must be registered in the NIH eRA Commons in order to submit a grant application. In the case of multi-project applications, the component leads must also be registered.

    Post Docs must be registered in order to meet annual reporting reporting requirements.

  3. Do the PD/PI and SO require separate accounts in Commons (even if the PD/PI and SO are the same person)?

    Yes, both the PI and SO need separate accounts in Commons. Only an SO has the ability to 'reject' an application in Commons to address warnings or if the assembled application does not reflect the submitted application package due to eRA Commons or NIH system issues. If an SO is given a PI role, it overrides the SO’s privileges such as the ability to reject the application, submit eSNAPs or Just-In-Time information and request No Cost Extensions. Therefore, if you are the SO for your organization as well as a PD/PI of the grant, you will need two separate accounts with different user names — one with SO authority and one with PI authority. When an institution is registered, an SO account is created. Log on to the account with the SO authority role and create another account with PI authority.

  4. I have an Internet Assisted Review (IAR) account. Will this satisfy the requirement for an eRA Commons account?

    No, the Program Director/Principal Investigator (PD/PI) designated on a grant application must have a PI role on the eRA Commons account in addition to the Internet Assisted Review (IAR) role. The PD/PI should work with the Signing Official to verify that they have a PI role.

  5. Does a PD/PI who moves to another institution have to register again in Commons?

    No.. A PI's Commons account follows the PI throughout their career. The new institution will need to affiliate the PD/PI’s Commons account with their institution. The steps to affiliate a PD/PI to the applicant organization/institution are:

    1. PD/PI gives Commons user ID and email address to the administrator of the applicant institution. (The email address must be the one that is contained in the Personal Profile for the PI.)
    2. Administrator logs into the Commons. (The administrator can be the Signing Official, Administrative Official, or the Accounts Administrator.)
    3. Administrator selects "Administration" tab and then "Accounts" tab.
    4. Administrator selects "Create Affiliation" tab.
    5. Administrator enters the Commons User ID and Email address into the appropriate fields and clicks "Submit."

  6. For consortium/subawards, do the sub-awardees need to be registered with eRA Commons and Grants.gov?

    Sub-awardees are not required to register. However, we do encourage them to be proactive and register to be ready to serve as primary awardees in the future.


  D. Hardware And Software Requirements

  1. What are the minimum hardware requirements for submitting grants electronically to NIH?

    In order to complete and submit grant applications, applicants must download a Grants.gov compatible version of Adobe Reader software. Hardware requirements may vary depending on which compatible version of Adobe reader you choose and your computer's operating system. Visit Adobe's system requirements Link to Non-U.S. Government Site page to determine your specific hardware requirements for electronic submission to NIH through Grants.gov.

  2. What software do I need to have loaded before I can begin using Grants.gov?

    Applicants must download a Grants.gov compatible version of Adobe Reader software. Users can identify and download Grants.gov compatible versions of Adobe Reader by visiting the Download Software page on the Grants.gov Web site.

    NIH requires all text attachments to be submitted as PDF files, so NIH applicants will also need a program to create PDFs. On the Grants.gov Download Software webpage users will find a variety of PDF Conversion Tools that can be downloaded and used to create the required PDFs.


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II. Finding a Funding Opportunity
  1. With electronic submission, all applications must be submitted in response to a Funding Opportunity Announcement. How does one submit applications, especially R01s, which previously came in unsolicited?

    NIH and other HHS Agencies have developed generic Parent Funding Opportunity Announcements for use by applicants who wish to submit what were formerly termed “unsolicited” or "investigator-initiated" applications. See the Parent Announcements page for a list of current NIH Parent Announcements and further information.

  2. Where does NIH post funding opportunities?

    Funding opportunities are posted at Grants.gov and in the NIH Guide to Grants and Contracts.

  3. How does the Grants.gov system populate the field for CFDA numbers?

    The Grants.gov system allows NIH to leave this field blank. NIH staff will complete this field in the eRA system after submission.

  4. Should I look for an opportunity by entering the CFDA number on Grants.gov?

    On Grants.gov, applicants should search by Funding Opportunity Announcement number rather than CFDA. Note that NIH has made it easier for applicants by adding a button titled 'Apply for Grant Electronically' (see button below) to the NIH Guide for Grants & Contracts announcements that allows applicants to access the Grants.gov application package directly from the Guide.
    Apply for Grant Electronically


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III. Downloading the Application
  1. When I download an application package from the FOA and save it for the first time locally, I get this warning message:

    Warning: One or more of the items in this form contains an invalid value. Do you want to proceed anyway?

    Is there something wrong with the forms?

    No, the forms are OK. The message shows because no data has been entered yet. You will actually get this or a similar message every time you save until all data entry is complete. The applicant can ignore this error message until the final save before you submit. If you are ready to submit and are still getting this error message when you save, you should use the "Check Package for Errors" button to determine what may need to be fixed before submitting. If errors are found, a message box will appear telling you the total number of errors found and the details about the first one. Unfortunately there is no way to get a comprehensive list at this time. If you have five errors, you would have to fix the first one, and repeat the "check package for errors" process until all are corrected.


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IV. Application Forms Updates and Choosing the Correct Forms
  1. Why do the SF424 (R&R) Application Forms Change?

    NIH periodically implements updated versions of the SF424 (R&R) grant application forms in order to remain current with the most recent form sets available through Grants.gov and approved by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

  2. How will I know if the SF424 Application Forms are changing?

    Any upcoming forms changes will be announced by NIH well before use of the new forms is required by applicants, so that applicants have time to prepare for the transition.

    Like all major eSubmission news, applicants can expect that forms changes will be announced in the NIH Guide for Grants & Contracts, on the Applying Electronically website, and through various  media outlets listed on our Get Connected page.

  3. How can I ensure that I am using the correct forms?

    NIH gives each set of updated forms a version name for quick identification and easier communication. For example, our most recent version is referred to as 'FORMS-C'. When NIH posts an opportunity and its application package to Grants.gov we provide some basic information (opportunity title and number, key dates, etc.). We also have the ability to provide a 'Competition ID' to further identify an opportunity. NIH uses the Competition ID to convey the form version name.

    The form version name shows up in the Competition ID field found on various screens and within the application package (see  “Do I Have the Right Electronic Forms?” (PDF - 176 KB) document).

    Form changes are announced via a notice in the NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts (e.g., NOT-OD-13-074). The notice will specify when applicants must use the updated forms (e.g., 'use FORMS-C packages for due dates on/after September 25, 2013').

  4. When do I need to use FORMS-C application packages?

    Electronic applications to FOAs with due dates on/after September 25, 2013 must use updated forms (FORMS-C), except:

    • Career Development, Fellowship, and Training FOAs will transition to updated forms for deadlines on/after January 25, 2014.
    • Small Business FOAs will NOT transition to updated forms until Small Business Reauthorization form changes are also available - timing TBD.

    See NOT-OD-13-074.

  5. Will NIH be reissuing each FOA or simply posting a new application package to incorporate the form updates?

    For the activity codes transitioning to updated forms for deadlines on/after September 25, 2013, we will simply expire old application packages and post new ones to most of the existing FOAs (i.e., no new FOA number, but must use the application package with a Competition ID of 'FORMS-C').

    However, NIH has decided to take this opportunity to update the parent announcements with the latest program changes and guidance. Therefore, you will see new parent announcements posted with FORMS-C packages for use for due dates on/after September 25. The old parent announcements with ADOBE-FORMS-B2 packages will remain available during the transition for the September 7 AIDS due date and for applications submitted under the continuous submission policy.

    Planning is still underway for the Fellowship, Training, Career Development and Small Business programs that will transition later. Since those form changes will be made in conjunction with other programmatic changes, it is likely that we will need to post new FOAs as well as application packages for all FOAs affected by those transitions.

  6. When will Application Guides be updated to reflect form updates?

    NIH targets having updated application instructions available at least 60 days before the first due date to use the new forms.

    The Application Guide SF424 (R&R) - Forms Version C was posted on July 25, 2013.

    Applicants should chose the appropriate Application Guide based on their due date, type of grant program (General, SBIR/STTR, Fellowship) and form version (B Series or C Series).

  7. If I'm submitting for the September 9, 2013 AIDS due date (Sept. 7 falls on a Saturday this year), which forms should I use?

    All applicants should use the B Series application form packages for the September 9, 2013 due date.

    Note: The R01 and R21 Parent FOAs were recently reissued.

    Activity Code    Old Parent FOA    Reissued Parent FOA
    R01 PA-11-260 PA-13-302
    R03 PA-11-262 PA-13-304
    R21 PA-11-261 PA-13-303
         

    The B Series application packages associated with the old parent FOAs should be used for the AIDS due date. The old parent FOAs indicate that they expire September 8, 2013 (since the September 7 AIDS deadline is the last official due date). However, since September 7 falls on a Saturday, the due date moves to September 9. The FOAs are set-up with a grace period behind the scenes to allow applications to continue to be accepted beyond the expiration date which accomodates the September 9 due date.

  8. Which forms should applicants submitting under NIH's Continuous Submission policy use?

    Applicants submitting under the Continuous Submission policy should use B Series application packages if submitting before September 25, 2013 and C Series application packages if submitting on/after September 25, 2013.

    Note: The R01 and R21 Parent FOAs were recently reissued.

    Activity Code    Old Parent FOA    Reissued Parent FOA
    R01 PA-11-260 PA-13-302
    R21 PA-11-261 PA-13-303
         

    The old Parent FOAs will indicate that they expire September 8, 2013 (since the September 7 AIDS deadline is the last official due date). However, the FOAs are set-up with a grace period behind the scenes to allow applications to continue to be accepted up to September 24, 2013.

  9. Why am I getting a message from Grants.gov indicating 'The Closing Date of the grant opportunity for which you have applied has already passed and the grantor agency is no longer accepting applications.'?

    Grants.gov gives this error under multiple conditions. In addition to being sent after an FOA has closed/expired, Grants.gov also gives this error when the FOA is still active but the application is submitted using a forms package attached to the FOA that has closed or not yet open. Basically, if you use B packages too late or C packages too early, you may get that message.


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V. Completing the SF424 (R&R) Application

  A. About the SF424 (R&R) Application Form

  1. Which form should be used to submit electronic applications to NIH via Grants.gov?

    Applicants must use the forms posted with the specific Funding Opportunity Announcement to which they want to apply.

    NIH uses the Standard Form (SF) 424 Research & Related (R&R) family of forms. SF424 consolidates grant applications, related data and forms used by Federal grant-making agencies to enable applicants to use familiar forms regardless of the program or agency to which they are applying. The SF424 Research & Related (R&R) is the government-wide data set for research grant applications.

  2. Are SF424 components portable? Can components be reused for other applications?

    Currently there is no way to reuse the forms from one opportunity to another.

  3. Where is the budget justification located?

    In the SF424 (R&R) detailed budget component, the budget justification is item K--a PDF upload. In the PHS398 Modular budget component, budget justifications for Personnel, Consortium and Additional Narrative are requested as separate PDF uploads as part of the Cumulative Budget Information.


  B. Application Instructions

  1. Where will an applicant need to look to find application instructions?

    Application instructions are available in two places: the SF424 (R&R) Application Guide and within each Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA). The Application Guide includes all general instructions and a link to the guide is provided in every FOA. The FOA itself contains Program-specific application requirements.  Both resources should be carefully read before completing an application. However, applicants should be aware that instructions in the FOA “trump” those found in the application guide.

  2. Where is the SF424 (R&R) Application Guide available?

    The application guide can be found on OER’s SF424 (R&R) Application and Electronic Submission Information page. Instructions for completing an application are found in the application guide appropriate for the program (General, SBIR/STTR or Fellowship). The Supplemental Grant Application Instructions apply to all programs and include sections on preparing the protection of human subjects section of the research plan, policies, assurrances, definitions and other information.


  C. Resubmission, Revision, and Renewal Applications

  1. Is there a comparison of the old vs. new application terminology to help me determine which application type I am submitting?

    New Grants.gov Term Old NIH
    Term
    Notes

    New

    New

    An application that is submitted for funding for the first time. Includes multiple submission attempts within the same round. (Type 1)

    Renewal

    Competing Continuation

    Previous years of funding for the project have elapsed. Competing for additional years of funding to continue original project. (Type 2)

    Revision

    Competing Supplement

    Request for additional funds for a current award to expand the scope of work. Applicants should contact the awarding agency for advice on submitting any revision/supplement application. (Type 3)

    Resubmission

    Revision or Amended Application

    Application previously reviewed. A revised or amended application addresses reviewer feedback. (A1/A2)

    Continuation

    Progress Report

    NIH does not use the SF424 (R&R) for Continuation Applications. (Type 5; Progress Reports for Simplified Non-competing (SNAP) are submitted directly to eRA Commons for others paper is still submitted)

  2. What do I do if more than one application type seems to fit my situation?

    Only one option can be selected. An easy rule of thumb is that any application that is submitted in response to review feedback should be marked as a resubmission. So, if an applicant is submitting a resubmission of a renewal or a resubmission of a revision, then resubmission should be chosen as the single application type.

  3. What do I put in the Federal Identifier field of the SF424 (R&R) cover component?

    If "Type of Application" is "New", you can leave the Federal Identifier field blank. If "Type of Application" is "Renewal", "Revision" or "Resubmission", enter the IC and serial number of the prior application/award number (e.g. CA654321). For these types of applications, do not change the Federal Identifier field when submitting Changed/Corrected applications.

  4. When submitting an application again to address errors or warnings, how do I indicate on the form that the current submission supersedes the previous?

    On the SF424 (R&R) cover component, field 1 Type of Submission should be set to "Application" on the initial application submission. Box #1 should be set to "Changed/Corrected" for all subsequent submissions of the same application to address errors or warnings. When submitting a Changed/Corrected application you must provide the Previous Grants.gov Tracking ID (e.g., GRANT12345678) in field 4c.

    Note that field 8 Type of Application remains the same from one submission attempt to the next within the same receipt deadline.

    See the section of the application guide titled "Correcting Errors" for additional information.

  5. What part of the application/award number is the IC and serial number?

    NIH's grant application/award numbers consist of the following parts: <>

    • A single-digit Application Type
    • A three-digit Activity Code
    • A two-letter IC Code
    • A six-digit Serial Number
    • A two-digit Grant Year (preceded by a dash to separate it from the serial number)
    • Additional suffix information that may include the letter "S" and related number for a particular supplement record, the letter "A" and related number to identify an amendment and/or the letter "X" and related number to identify a fellowship's institutional allowance record.

    For example, 3R01CA654321-04S1A1 would indicate an amendment (A1) to a supplemental (Type 3) application for a traditional research project (R01) referred to the National Cancer Institute (CA). The number further identifies the application serially as the 654321 new proposal submitted to the NCI, and indicates that this is the first supplemental application (S1) to the fourth year (-04) of the support to this project. In this example, the IC and serial number would be "CA654321".


  D. Budgets and Subawards

  1. Is a DUNS number required for every subaward/consortium organization?

     

    Ideally yes. The 'Organization DUNS' is a required field on the 'Research & Related Budget' form, regardless of the budget "type"-project or subaward/consortium. However, at the subaward level, neither Grants.gov nor NIH currently validates on the accuracy of that field. For subaward organizations, eRA Commons only validates that the DUNS field contains a value and that the value is not the same DUNS number provided by the prime applicant. At this time the eRA Commons does not do any further validations on the accuracy of the number. So for now, if a subaward/consortium organization is unable to secure a DUNS number in time, then a value of nine zeros can be entered in the DUNS field on the subaward/consortium budget component. This requirement may change over time.

    Remember that the prime applicant uses the R&R Subaward Budget Attachment form to generate a copy of the Research & Related Budget form that can be sent to the subaward/consortium organization, filled out, sent back to the prime and attached to the R&R Subaward Budget Attachment form.

  2. Is SAM & Grants.gov registration required for subaward/consortium institutions?

    Subaward/consortium organizations need not register with SAM or Grants.gov, unless they plan to submit some day as an applicant organization. This requirement may change over time.

  3. Is a Commons registration required for every subaward/consortium organization?

    Subaward/consortium organizations need not register in the eRA Commons, unless they plan to submit some day as an applicant organization. This requirement may change over time.

  4. For the Indirect Cost Rate (%) field in the budget form, I can only enter up to 2 numbers. Our rate is 110%. How can I enter 110%?

    Grants.gov is working on a solution. Until one is implemented, the recommended workaround is to split the Indirect Cost Rate into 2 lines on the budget form.

  5. Where should I enter the subawardee's indirect costs in the main project budget?

    When a grant involves a subcontract, the total costs (Direct + Facilities & Administrative Costs) of all subcontracts are considered Direct Costs for the prime applicant. Therefore, for the parent budget, line F.5 (Subawards/Consortium/Contractual Costs) must reflect the total costs for all subcontracts. NIH continues to have a policy that excludes the consortium F&A costs from any direct cost limit. Our systems will do this calculation for us.

  6. An applicant may see both detailed and modular budget component options as part of the SF424 (R&R) application package. Which should be used?

    Applicants should refer to the instructions in their specific Funding Opportunity Announcement FOA and should carefully read the application guide for detailed instructions. As a general rule, if an application meets the modular limit of $250K or under, the applicant must submit a modular budget. Likewise, if an application exceeds $250K, it must come in as a detailed budget. The applicant should complete the budget component appropriate to their situation.

  7. The R&R cumulative budget page is 'automatically' filled-in by the system – correct?

    The cumulative budget is system-generated and PIs will see it as part of the R&R detailed budget component or a modular component. They do not have to do any data entry.

  8. On the page for the Research & Related Budget, Sections F-K, Budget Period 1, there is a box in the upper right hand corner that states ‘Next Period.’ However, it is grayed out and we cannot access the next period forms. How does one navigate to the screens for the next budget period?

    You must complete all the required information (i.e., those fields that are highlighted and noted with an "*") on this page before the "Next Period" button is activated.

  9. How do I enter Equipment on the R&R Budget form that costs less than $5000?

    If using an application package with a Competition ID of ADOBE-FORMS-B1 or B2 you can enter equipment that costs less than $5000 in section C of the R&R Budget form.

    However, Grants.gov is enforcing that only equipment items that cost $5000 or more can be entered in section C of the version of the R&R Budget form used in application packages with a Competition ID of FORMS-C.

    The Work-Around:  For institutions that have an equipment threshold under $5,000, include these costs in the F.1 Materials and Supplies category instead and provide an explanation in K. Budget Justification, itemizing those items that are actually equipment.  Please make certain these items are appropriately excluded from the F&A base calculation.


  E. PDF Attachments, Cover Letters and Other Additional Materials

  1. There are a number of places where an attachment is uploaded. What type of attachments does NIH accept?

    NIH only accepts PDF attachments. See PDF Guidelines for tips on creating PDF attachments that work with eRA systems.

    Users will find a variety of information on tools and software that can be used to generate PDF attachments on Grants.gov’s PDF Conversion Software webpage (http://www.grants.gov/web/grants/support/technical-support/software/pdf-conversion-software.html).

  2. All attachments must be in PDF form. Who is responsible for generating the PDF documents.

    Responsibility for generating PDF attachments falls on the applicant.

  3. How do I make sure that my PDF transmits successfully and avoid potential PDF problems?

    To avoid PDF problems follow these guidelines closely.

  4. How is appendix material accommodated?

    There is an attachment upload available for Appendix material. Up to 10 separate PDF attachments can be included. The appendix attachment upload feature is in the PHS 398 Research Plan Component.

  5. How is supplemental/additional/correction material submitted after application submission accommodated?

    The current practice has not been altered.  Supplemental/additional/correction material may only be submitted through and at the discretion of the assigned Scientific Review Officer(SRO), and the submission is made directly to the SRO.  Please note that some FOAs prohibit the submission of supplemental/additional/correction materials.  Refer to your specific FOA for additional guidance.

  6. How does an applicant submit appendix material that cannot be transmitted electronically?

    "Hard" appendix materials like a video or heart valve have to be physically sent to the Scientific Review Officer and then to the reviewers.

  7. How will administrative supplements be handled?

    For single-project activity codes, applicants now have the option of submitting their administrative supplement requests electronically either through Grants.gov using the same process as electronic competing applications or through the eRA Commons. Funding Opportunity Announcements specific to administrative supplements include instructions for the various submission methods.

  8. Do applicants have the opportunity to include a cover letter?

    Yes. The Cover Letter is an attachment on the SF424 R&R cover form. If multiple corrective submissions are necessary, only the last cover letter submitted will be retained in the system.


  F. File Size, Page Limits and Special Characters

  1. Is there a limit on application files size?

    Grants.gov recommends limiting the total size of application packages (including attachments) to 200 MB.

    If you have difficulty submitting your application and believe application size may be an issue, please open a ticket with the eRA Helpdesk at http://itservicedesk.nih.gov/era/. Helpdesk staff will escalate the issue to appropriate technical resources and can work with you to get your application submitted.

  2. Does eRA electronically enforce page limits?

    Most page limits are enforced by the eRA system. For example, the system will check the combined page limit for the Specific Aims, Background and Significance, Preliminary Studies/Progress Reports and Research Design Methods sections but will not enforce the recommendations provided in the Application Guide for each of these subsection Note that while these computer validations will help minimize incomplete and/or non-compliant applications, they do not replace the validations conducted by NIH staff. Applications found not to comply with the requirements may be delayed in the review process.

  3. How Do I Track Page Limitations When I Have to Submit All of the Various Sections of the Research Plan as Separate PDF Files?

    Separate attachments have been designed for the Research Plan sections to maximize automatic validations conducted by the eRA system. When the application is received by the agency, all of the Research Plan sections will be concatenated in the appropriate order so that reviewers and agency staff will see a single cohesive Research Plan.

    While each section of the Research Plan needs to eventually be uploaded separately, applicants are encouraged to construct the Research Plan as a single document, separating sections into distinct PDF attachments just before uploading the files. In this way the applicant can better monitor formatting requirements such as page limits.

  4. Is there a character limit on organization names in the R&R Budget form and the R&R Senior/Key Person Profile (Expanded) forms?

    Yes. You can only use 60 or less characters in the following fields:

    • 'Enter name of Organization' field on the Research & Related Budget - Section A & B form
    • 'Organization Name' field on the Research & Related Senior/Key Person (Expanded) form


  G. Application checks (Validations)

  1. What are validations?

    Validations are system checks against specific business rules that may result in an application receiving errors or warnings. Currently, applications go through two rounds of validations. The application is first checked for Federal-wide requirements by Grants.gov immediately upon its submission. Once the application is forwarded to NIH, it is checked against NIH-specific business rules.

  2. Could you provide details of what will be the validations that an application will be checked for - such as page limits?

    The list of errors and warnings that an applicant may encounter during the validation process, along with tips to help you understand these better, are available on our Validations page.


  H. Congressional District

  1. The SF424 (R&R) cover component requires you to enter your Congressional District as well as the Congressional District of your project's primary site. How do I locate my Congressional District?

    One way to locate your Congressional District is to go to the U.S. House of Representatives website at http://www.house.gov/writerep/, select your state and enter your zip code. Then click the “Contact My Representative” button. The screen that pops up will list your representative as well as your congressional district.


  I. Person Months

  1. How should we list partial person months?

    Please refer to the OER FAQs on the subject of listing partial months.


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VI. Submitting Your Application

  A. Submission Deadline

  1. What is the submission deadline?

    Error free applications must be successfully submitted to Grants.gov on the application submission/receipt date listed in the Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA). Per standard NIH policy, if the submission/receipt date falls on a weekend or Federal holiday, the submission deadline is automatically extended to the next business day.

  2. What is the earliest date I can submit an application?

    When NIH issues a new funding opportunity announcement (FOA), the open date (the first date an application may be submitted) is generally set for one month in advance of the application due date. Many FOAs are open for up to three years, with multiple due dates each year, but we recommend you submit within the month prior to the due date you are targeting. If you need to submit earlier, please include a cover letter so we know the application is not late for the previous due date.

    NOTE: Reviewers and others eligible for continuous submission may submit at any time but MUST include a cover letter identifying their eligibility.

  3. What is on-time submission?

    For an application to be on-time, an error free application must be accepted by Grants.gov with a timestamp on or before 5:00 p.m. local time of the submitting organization on submission deadline date. All registrations must be completed prior to initial submission in order for an application to be considered on-time.

  4. What is the application viewing window?

    Once an error-free application is submitted through Grants.gov to eRA, the eRA system assembles an application image and posts it in the PD/PI’s eRA Commons account. The PD/PI, any delegated Assistants and the Signing Official (SO) have a two (2) business day “application viewing window” during which they can view the assembled application in the Commons – just as a reviewer would see it. The application viewing window is linked to the time of submission (i.e., the window begins the day after the assembled application image is posted in the Commons).

    Within the viewing window, the SO can “reject” the application, stopping the application from moving forward to the final steps of the submission process. Rejections cannot be reversed, so this action should be taken cautiously. Once an application has been rejected, applicants can submit a changed/corrected application to Grants.gov. However, if the final submission is not made by the submission deadline, the application will not be considered on time and will be subject to the NIH policy for late applications.

    Once the application viewing window has passed, the application automatically moves forward for further consideration and the submission process is complete. Any subsequent changes to the application must be made through and are at the discretion of the assigned Scientific Review Officer (if not prohibited in the Funding Opportunity Announcement).

  5. What is NIH's policy for late applications?

    The NIH late policy is explained in the following NIH Guide Notices:

    • NIH Policy on Late Submission of Grant Applications (Jan. 14, 2011)

  6. Can I still submit my application to Grants.gov if the opportunity has expired?

    NIH posts all opportunities in a way that allows submissions through Grants.gov to continue for a short period of time following the expiration date. This grace period accommodates late submissions allowed under NIH’s late policy (when applicable), and submissions made under NIH’s Continuous Submission policy. The grace period also provides NIIH with the flexibility to institute contingency plans if needed.  The grace period allows for the submission of applications to Grants.gov; however, applications will be accepted at the discretion of NIH.


  B. System problems

  1. What contingency plans are in place in case the Grants.gov and/or eRA Commons systems have technical problems on a submission/receipt date? If an application has to be submitted again because of system problems, will it be considered "late"?

    Most system issues are technical problems with federal systems used for electronic submission of grant applications (Grants.gov or eRA Commons) that keep an application from successfully submitting online. If you think that you are experiencing a systems issue that could threaten your ability to submit on-time, please be sure to follow the guidelines available on the "Need Assistance with Your Application Submission?" page.

    BE ADVISED - Problems with computer systems at the applicant organization, failure to follow instructions in the Application Guide or Funding Opportunity Announcement, or failure to complete required registrations by the submission deadline are not considered system issues. NIH is under no obligation to accept applications that are late for these reasons.

    If Grants.gov or eRA Commons is unavailable for a significant period of time leading up to a deadline, then NIH may extend the deadline or allow additional time for applicants to check submission status, address errors and view their applications. The NIH Guide, Electronic Submission Program email lists and Electronic Submission Web site will be the primary vehicles used to communicate any deadline extensions.

  2. I experienced a problem with the submission of my application and contacted the Help Desk, but have not yet received a response and the submission deadline has now passed. What should I do?

    The eRA Help Desk makes every effort to respond to all inquiries in a timely manner. However, applicants should remember that Help Desk demand is greatest on and around large submission deadlines and occasionally response times may slow down as a result of the increased call volume during those busy times. As always, we encourage applicants to submit their applications early to allow extra time to work through any unforeseen issues. Additionally, applicants are reminded that the answers to their questions can often be found in their Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) or in the SF424 Application Guide, and are encouraged to check these resources before contacting the Help Desk or while waiting for a response.

    Lack of Help Desk response does not excuse applicants from on-time submission requirements if the applicant’s question is addressed in the application guide or FOA. Federal system issues that are beyond an applicant’s control will be evaluated and considered on a case-by-case basis. Please remember that all system issues must be reported to the eRA Help Desk on or before the submission deadline and only the eRA Help Desk can determine if an encountered problem qualifies as a system issue.


  C. Letters of Reference

  1. Can I submit a reference letter for any type of grant application?

    Reference letters are only permitted when specifically requested in the funding opportunity announcement or SF 424 (R&R) application guide instructions.

  2. Is a specific form or format required for reference letters?

    No. A business process change was implemented during the most recent application form update (FORMS-C). Prior to moving to FORMS-C, the reference letters submitted with Fellowship applications had to be submitted using a specific Reference Form. The Reference Form is no longer requried.

    Letters should be submitted on organization letterhead and should provide any specific information requested in  funding opportunity announcement and application guide instructions.  

  3. How does a referee submit a reference letter for an applicant?

    See the demo on Submitting Reference Letters through eRA Commons.

    Referees must submit a reference letter directly to eRA Commons, using the Submit Reference Letter link on the home page. Letters must be submitted by the same deadline as the grant application and can be submitted before the application itself, as early as the opening date of the Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA).

    The referee does not need to be registered in Commons to submit a reference letter. The referee will enter the following information online at the time of submission:

    Referee Information:

    • Referee First Name (Required)
    • Referee Last Name Required)
    • Referee MI Name (Not Required)
    • Referee Email (Required)
    • Referee Institution/Affiliation (Required)
    • Referee Department (Required)

    Applicant Information:

    • PI Commons User ID (Required)
    • PI Last Name, as it appears on the PI’s Commons account (Required) (will be validated to ensure they match)
    • Funding Opportunity Announcement Number (Required, and this must be the same as the FOA used for the application submission)
    • Reference letter/form Confirmation # (Required only if re-submitting a letter or form; not required otherwise)
    • Reference letter (For Career and other select programs) – two pages maximum; PDF format
    • Reference form (for individual fellowships only; see FAQ #2) – two pages maximum; PDF format

    After the referee submits the reference letter (or reference form for individual fellowship programs), both the referee and the applicant will receive a confirmation of receipt by email. The confirmation email sent to the applicant will include the name of the referee and the name and the date the letter or form was submitted. However, the letters and forms are confidential and the applicant will not be able to access the letters or forms themselves. The email confirmation will include a Reference Letter Confirmation Number. The confirmation number will be required when correcting previously submitted letters or forms. Please print the confirmation email for your records.

    Please check the SF 424 (R&R) application guide  for complete instructions.

  4. Does a referee need to register in eRA Commons to submit a reference letter for the applicant?

    No. The referee does not need to register in Commons to submit a reference letter. However, the referee does need to know the Commons User ID of the applicant.

  5. Can reference letters be submitted prior to the submission of the application and if so, how long before?

    Yes. Reference letters can be submitted as soon as the Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) opens. Letters submitted prior to the agency recieving an applicatin for the PI Commons ID & FOA number for which the letter is being sent will be held until a matching application is submitted.

  6. How are the letters linked to an application, and what happens to letters that are not linked to applications?

    Reference letters are linked to an application using the Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) number and the Commons User ID of the applicant, as supplied by the referee. It is very important that the referee provide accurate information; if this information is not provided or is provided incorrectly, the reference letter  will never be linked to the application. Letters  that are not linked to an application will be deleted from eRA Commons after six months.

    Note: If the applicant must submit Changed/Corrected application(s) to address eRA identified errors/warnings, the reference letters  will automatically transfer to the most recent application submission for a specific opportunity deadline.

  7. Can reference letters be sent on paper or via email directly to NIH?

    No. Reference letters for SF424 (R&R) grant applications  must be uploaded electronically via eRA Commons.

  8. What is the deadline for reference letters to be submitted?

    Reference letters, including corrected or revised letters or forms, must be submitted by the application submission deadline. Reference letters can be submitted as of the FOA open date, regardless of when the application is submitted.

  9. How does the applicant track the reference letters submitted by his or her referees in eRA Commons?

    The applicant may track the status of reference letters submitted by his or her referees by logging into his or her Commons account, clicking the Personal Profile tab and clicking on the Reference Letters tab on the second header row. On the List of Reference Letters screen, the applicant will see the referee’s name, grant number, Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) number, project title, organization/affiliation, department, the referee’s e-mail address, and the date the reference letterwas submitted. While the applicant is able to track the status of the letters, he or she will not be able to see the letters or forms themselves due to the confidentiality of their contents.

    The applicant also can track the status of reference letters  matched to a specific application by clicking on the application ID number (once a number has been assigned) from the List of Applications/Grants screen in Commons Status. On the Status Information page, reference letter or reference form information is available for the PD/PI, PD/PI’s assistant(s) (ASSTs) and SO to view, including: referee’s name, organization/affiliation, department, the referee’s e-mail address, and the date the reference letter or reference form was submitted.

    The applicant is responsible for tracking his or her reference letters  in the eRA Commons and contacting referees to ensure that the letters are submitted and matched to the application by the application due date.

  10. Can reference letters be transferred between FOAs (i.e., if the referee submits a reference letter using the incorrect FOA information, or if the applicant decides to change the opportunity to which he or she is applying)?

    Referees and/or applicants who need reference letters to be transferred must contact the eRA Commons Help Desk before the application due date.

  11. If the applicant’s original application was not funded and they submit a Resubmission application, can the reference letter submitted with the original application be used?

    No. New reference letters  must be submitted for each opportunity deadline.

    Note: Attempts to use the Reference Letter Confirmation Number associated with reference letters  submitted to previous deadlines will result in an error.

  12. How does a referee make a correction to a submitted letter?

    To correct/update a letter  (i.e., replace original letter  submitted), the referee needs to know the Reference Letter Confirmation Number.

    On the Submit Reference Letter screen in Commons, the referee should enter all the required fields, as well as the confirmation number, and click on ‘Continue.’ A second screen where he/she can upload the revised letter  will appear. Once the revised letter  is uploaded, it overrides the previously submitted letter.

    Note: It is extremely important that the referee use the confirmation number in submitting the revised reference letter. Applicants are allowed only a specific number of reference letters, and if the referee submits a second letter  without entering the confirmation number, both letters  will be counted toward the number of letters  allowed with the application, but two letters submitted by the same referee will not both count toward the required three letters.

  13. What is the deadline for correcting/revising a letter?

    Corrected/revised reference letters  must be submitted by the application submission deadline.

  14. Why is the applicant being informed that a reference letter has not been submitted, when the applicant has been notified via email that the referees' letters have been received?

    Signing Officials and Principal Investigators (PIs) should first check the detailed Status Information screen for the application in eRA Commons to ensure the reference letters  were properly submitted and linked to the application. If the reference letters are not listed, the PI can check the Reference Letter section of their Profile to see if the reference letter(s)  was received and the correct Funding Opportunity Number (FOA) was used in their submission. The issue may be that the referees were given an expired FOA number (e.g., the old FOA expired and the opportunity reissued under a new FOA number.

  15. May a mentor or co-mentor submit a reference letter?

    No, the mentor and any co-mentors provide their input via the application. If a mentor or co-mentor submits a reference letter, this will NOT be counted toward the three required reference letters. Since an application is allowed only a specific number of reference letters, reference letters written by mentors and/or co-mentors may block the submission of the required reference letters by other individuals.


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VII. Submission Status

  A. Email Notifications

  1. What kind of email notifications are sent to applicants by Grants.gov and eRA Commons during the submission process?

    A detailed listing of the email notifications sent by both Grants.gov and eRA Commons can be found at Chart of Email Notifications.

  2. I am an AOR/SO and I have received my email notification from Grants.gov but have not received any notifications from eRA Commons indicating the application has been processed. What do I do?

    Since email can be unreliable, it is the applicant’s responsibility to periodically check the eRA Commons for the status of these applications. If you do not receive any notifications from eRA Commons and do not see the application status in eRA Commons after two days, contact the eRA Commons Helpdesk.


  B. Checking Your Submission Status

  1. How can a PI or a Signing Official track their application?

    Authorized Organizational Representatives can track their applications through Grants.gov. The AOR also gets an email confirmation both when Grants.gov receives the application and when it passes to NIH. After the application is processed by eRA Commons, the PI or SO can log in to the eRA Commons and view the status of their application. eRA Commons sends email notifications to both the AOR/SO and PI at different stages of processing. Note: It is the applicants' responsibility to track their application through Grants.gov and NIH eRA Commons.

  2. I submitted my application to Grants.gov but cannot see any status regarding the application within the eRA Commons.

      If you cannot see the status of your application, it may be due to one of these two reasons:

    • The application did not contain a valid Principal Investigator (PI) eRA Commons user ID. This field is not marked as required on the government-wide form, but it is required by NIH.

      Action: Check the 'Credential, e.g., agency login:' field in the 'Profile - Project Director/Principal Investigator' section of the Senior/Key Person Profile(s) component of your application to ensure a valid PD/PI eRA Commons user ID was included and entered in all capital letters. It is important to include the PD/PI user ID and not the Signing Official (SO) user ID in this field. You will need to submit the corrected application through Grants.gov in order to view application status in the eRA Commons.

      Be sure to check the Changed/Corrected application box in the Type of Submission field of the SF 424 (R&R) cover component. Once that box is checked you will notice that Grants.gov will require data in the Federal Identifier field. If you are submitting a new project application (including corrected submissions for new applications) simply enter “N/A” in this field. For a continuation, revision, or renewal application, enter the assigned Federal Identifier number or award number (e.g., 1 R01 CA 123456-01).


    • NIH has not yet processed the application.

      Action: If the AOR has not yet received an email notification from Grants.gov that the grantor agency has retrieved the application, the AOR should work with Grants.gov to check on application status. Applicants can track the status of the application at Grants.gov through the Grants.gov “Track My Application” page.  Otherwise, continue to periodically check the eRA Commons for application status.


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VIII. Viewing Your Assembled Application
  1. Can I see my complete application as it will be seen by reviewers?

    Yes. After NIH receives an error-free application package, it assembles the final application the way a reviewer would see it. The PI and SO have two full weekdays (Monday - Friday, excluded Federal holidays) to view the application after which the submission process is complete and the application moves forward to NIH Receipt and Referral.

  2. Are holidays included in the two weekday application viewing window?

    Federal holidays are excluded in the two weekday period. For example, if July 4 (Independence Day) falls during the two weekday period, it is not counted towards the two weekdays.

  3. Will the AOR/SO and PD/PI be notified to check the assembled application?

    Yes, both the AOR/SO and the PD/PI will be sent an email notification to check the application for completeness. However, applicants are reminded that email can be unreliable and it is their responsibility to check their submission status in the eRA Commons.

  4. What can I do if I find a problem after the application moves forward for processing?

    You should contact the Scientific Review Officer assigned to your application for advice and guidance. Once the application moves to the Division of Receipt and Referral, the helpdesk staff can no longer assist with changes to the application.

  5. The bookmarks in my assembled application in eRA Commons do not work as expected; I am sometimes sent to the incorrect page. What should I do?

    This is an issue that some users have run into, especially if using Adobe Acrobat Professional. The control icons at the bottom of the Adobe display allow you to set the viewing mode to Single Page, Continuous, Continuous Facing or Facing. The default, Single Page, is the viewing mode that has given users trouble. You can click on the icons to change the viewing mode setting. Applicants are advised to set the page layout option to Continuous mode to ensure that the bookmarks function properly (just to the right of Single page mode; the Continuous mode icon shows one page on top of the other).


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IX. Rejecting an Application
  1. Who can “Reject” an application?

    Only the AOR/SO has the ability to “reject” an application.

    Can I “Reject” the application if the two day application viewing window falls after the submission deadline?
    Remember that any application submitted after the deadline will be subject to the NIH Policy on Late Submission of Grant Applications.

    The AOR/SO can “reject” the application within the two weekdays viewing window if the assembled application in eRA Commons does not correctly reflect the submitted application package due to system issues with eRA Commons or Grants.gov (i.e. some part of the application was lost during the submission process or did not transfer correctly). Learn about what to do if you believe that you have experienced a system issue on our Need Help? page.

  2. What happens if I accidentally Reject the wrong application?

    Once an application is Rejected, the action cannot be reversed. If prior to the deadline, the application that was Rejected by mistake can be submitted again as a Changed/Corrected application. NIH does not consider having an application Rejected by mistake sufficient cause for a late submission.


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X. Submitting Changed/Corrected Applications
  1. How are changes or corrections to applications submitted?

    It is sometimes necessary to submit changes or corrections to an application submission. For example, if any errors are identified in a submission they must be corrected and the entire application submitted again on or before the submission deadline in order to complete the process.

    Steps to submit a corrected application are available at: http://grants.nih.gov/grants/ElectronicReceipt/steps_errors_warnings.htm

  2. Is a cover letter required with Changed/Corrected applications?

    Changed/Corrected applications submitted before the submission date do not require a cover letter. Any application submitted after the submission date must include a cover letter. The cover letter is not saved from one application submission attempt to the next, so the cover letter submitted with the final assembled application should include ALL the information that you want to convey to NIH. For electronic submissions, the cover letter is an attachment (in PDF format) on the SF424 R&R cover form.

  3. If the original application came in on the PHS398, how does a resubmission come in?

    Once a grant program/mechanism transitions to electronic submission, all new, renewal, resubmission or revision applications must use the electronic SF 424 (R&R) application (even if the original application was submitted in paper PHS 398 format).



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XI. System-to-System (S2S)
  1. Where can I find information on the XML schema used for system-to-system transmissions?

    The development of a system-to-system interface with Grants.gov is between the applicant institution and Grants.gov. Therefore, the best source for this information is the Applicant System to System Integration webpage on the Grants.gov website.

  2. How will System-to-System Trading Partners know if forms changes are planned?

    All of the Grants.gov form components are subject to change, including the SF424 (R&R) and agency-specific forms used by NIH (labeled PHS 398). Although NIH is an active member of the Research and Related Working Group that makes form change recommendations to Grants.gov, Grants.gov has responsibility for change management of the government-wide form components. For the PHS 398 components, NIH will have to schedule requested changes with the Grants.gov forms development team. When any such plans are made, NIH will post the pending change and approximate timing on our Applying Electronically website.

  3. Which forms will NIH use for its opportunities?

    For each grant program (activity code or mechanism) NIH will use a combination of government-wide and agency-specific forms (PHS 398 and SBIR/STTR) listed on the Grants.gov website under SF424 R&R Family. Since NIH requires eRA Commons registration for electronic submission, the Research & Related Personal Data government-wide form will not be used by NIH.

  4. Each funding opportunity announcement lists both mandatory and optional forms within the application package. Can NIH notify system-to-system providers of the mandatory and optional components to be used for each grant program?

    The specific mandatory and optional forms for each grant program are set by NIH and regularly reviewed for additions/deletions during form updates and during the implementation of major NIH initiatives. 

  5. Will a System-to-System Trading Partner need to accommodate different versions of application forms?

    Yes. A System-to-System Trading Partner will need to have the flexibility to develop and maintain multiple schemas in order to support different form versions. Remember that some NIH funding opportunities stay in place for up to three years. NIH will not always go back to previously posted opportunities to have them pick up the latest forms, so System-to-System developers will want to be able to support either form - the original and the latest form.

  6. If a System-to-System Trading Partner generates the application image, does the applicant also need to check the image in Commons?

    Although some System-to-System Trading Partner may have built their own system to generate applicant images, NIH strongly recommends that the applicant still check out the grant image of their assembled application in eRA Commons and not rely solely on the developer-generated image.


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XII. Multi-project Applications & ASSIST

  A. About ASSIST

  1. What is ASSIST?

    NIH is now accepting some multi-project (also known as multi-component or complex) applications electronically through Grants.gov using the SF424 R&R form set.  The Grants.gov downloadable forms currently used for most NIH opportunities cannot support our multi-project requirements. Consequently, we have developed a web-based front-end called ASSIST (Application Submission System & Interface for Submission Tracking) for the preparation and submission of multi-project applications.

    ASSIST allows applicants to:

    • Use current eRA Commons credentials to access ASSIST
    • Delegate application preparation responsibilities to multiple users within and outside the applicant organization while maintaining appropriate access control and security
    • Populate data from established eRA Commons profiles
    • Run validations on federal-wide and agency business rules prior to submission
    • Take advantage of automatic generation of the table of contents, headers, footers, page numbers, etc.
    • Print/preview applications in the format used by the agency prior to submission
    • Present to reviewers clear, color PDF images, rather than scanned versions of the application
    • Avoid the hassle of preparing and shipping multiple paper copies

  2. When can I start using ASSIST?

    NIH piloted ASSIST with eight specific Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOAs) from November 2012 to August 2013.

    NIH is currently transitioning multi-project programs to electronic application submission using the SF424 (R&R) data set on an activity code by activity code basis. Once an acitvity code transitions, all applications (new, resubmission, renewal and revision) to an FOA for that code must be submitted electroinically. No paper applications will be accepted.

    Timeline of NIH Multi-project Activity Codes Transitioning to Electronic Submission

    Guide Notice: NIH Announces an Adjustment to Transition Timeline for Electronic Submission of Multi-Project Applications

    See NIH Announces Plans to Transition to Electronic Submission of Multi-Project Applications (NOT-OD-12-161) for additional details.

  3. Can my organization continue to use our own system-to-system solution to submit multi-project applications or do we need to use ASSIST?

    Grants.gov and NIH can support both single-project and multi-project applications submitted via system-to-system solutions. However, we expect it will take some time for system-to-system solution providers to adjust their systems to accommodate the changes needed to support multi-project applications. Please check with the folks responsible for supporting your solution regarding their ability to support multi-project application preparation and submission.

  4. Why can I only use ASSIST for multi-project applications?

    ASSIST was developed to allow NIH to transition its remaining grant programs that submit using paper forms and the PHS 398 data set to electronic submission using the SF424 (R&R) data set. 

    We already accept single-project applications electronically through Grants.gov using Adobe forms, but multi-project applications could not be supported using that submission model. Right now, we are focused on finally completing our transition to electronic submission of all competing grant applications.

    Although ASSIST currently only supports multi-project applications, NIH hopes to obtain the resources to expand its use to single-project applications in the future.

  5. What is the relationship of ASSIST with Grants.gov?

    To meet NIH’s long standing goal of receiving all grant applications electronically, NIH and the Grants.gov program management staff worked together to develop ASSIST to accommodate electronic submission of NIH’s multi-project applications. Grants.gov made significant changes to their system to accommodate the posting of multi-project Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOAs) and the processing of applications submitted for those FOAs.

    Although NIH developed ASSIST to meet the needs of our applicants, its implementation is flexible enough to allow for expansion to accommodate other agency programs. The Grants.gov Program Management team has expressed interest in leveraging this collaborative effort to develop an online forms capability for the entire federal grants community. NIH looks forward to working with them on this future endeavor.


  B. Multi-project Application Terminology

  1. What is a 'multi-project' application

    A Multi-Project Application is a single submission with multiple, interrelated components that share a common focus or objective.

  2. What is a 'component'?

    For the purposes of applications and progress reports, a component is a distinct, reviewable part of a multi-project application or progress report for which there is a business need to gather detailed information identified in the funding opportunity announcement (FOA).

    • Components typically include general information (component organization, project period, project title, etc.), performance sites, personnel, and budget.
    • The FOA defines the construction and naming convention for the application; the funded application defines the construction and naming convention for the progress report.
    • Components may also be referred to as “cores” or “projects.”

  3. What is a 'component type'?

    A 'component type' is a named, agency-defined collection of forms that may be repeated within an application. 

    Let's say a specific multi-project application includes one Administrative Core, two Core and three Project components. In this example, the application includes 6 components using three different component types (Administrative Core, Core, Project). 

    'Overall' is a special component type with a single occurrence in every multi-project application.

  4. What is a 'form'?

    A 'form' is a named collection of data fields approved by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

    Each component of a multi-project application is made up of a subset of the following forms:

    • SF424 R&R Cover
    • PHS 398 cover Page Supplement
    • R&R Other Project Information
    • Projec/Performance Site Locations
    • R&R Sr/Key Person Profile (Expanded)
    • R&R Budget
    • R&R Subaward Budget Attachment
    • PHS 398 Research Plan
    • Planned Enrollment Report
    • Cumulative Inclusion Enrollment Report


  C. System Requirements & Technical Limitations

  1. What are the browser requirements for using ASSIST?

    ASSIST supports the same browsers as eRA Commons, published at: http://era.nih.gov/browser_support_ext.cfm.

  2. Are there any file size limits with ASSIST?

    We expect most applications will be 100 Mb or less, but the system can handle applications up to 1.2 Gb.

    Individual attachments within an application can be up to 35 Mb.

  3. Does ASSIST have an inactivity timer?

    Save often! ASSIST will log you out after 45 minutes of inactivity. The following activities reset the timer:

    • Saving data on a form
    • Adding an attachment
    • Adding an additional block of data on a form (e.g. Sr/Key person, performance site)
    • Validate application
    • Preview application


    Note that typing information into the fields of a form without taking an action to Save or Add will not reset the timer.


  D. Getting Ready to Use ASSIST

  1. What registrations are required to use ASSIST?

    ASSIST uses the same user authorization service as eRA Commons. All ASSIST users must use their existing eRA Commons IDs or work through their organization to obtain them. In order to submit an application, the submitter must have active Authorized Organization (AOR) credentials in Grants.gov and be a Signing Official (SO) in eRA Commons.

    Commons IDs with any of the following roles can be used to initiate and prepare applications using ASSIST:

    • Signing Official (SO)
    • Administrative Official (AO)
    • Principal Investigator (PI)
    • Assistant Role (ASST)
    • Account Administrator (AA)

    A Commons ID with the SO role and active Grants.gov Authorized Organizational Representative (AOR) credentials are needed to submit an application.

  2. How is access to ASSIST established?

    ASSIST leverages account credentials from eRA Commons and Grants.gov. 

    Work within eRA Commons and Grants.gov to establish your accounts and be sure you log in to those systems before using you accounts with ASSIST.

    If you have password or other account issues, return to eRA Commons or Grants.gov to work through those issues.

  3. How do I register my organization in eRA Commons?

    See http://grants.nih.gov/grants/ElectronicReceipt/com_index.htm.

  4. How do I register my organization in Grants.gov?

    See http://grants.gov/applicants/get_registered.jsp.

  5. Are registrations required for collaborating or contributing organizations that lead components?

    The Grants.gov federal-wide forms do require that each organization have a valid DUNS number.

    Although not required, NIH recommends that all organizations named on a multi-project application be registered in Commons. Commons registration facilitates access to ASSIST for data entry, autopopulation and other system features.

    In addition, a valid eRA Commons ID for the Project Lead of a component must be included. If the project lead of a component does not have a Commons ID and works for an organization that is not registered in Commons, then the collaborating organization can register and provide a Commons ID for the Project Lead or  the applicant organization can create a Commons ID for the Project Lead. Remember, component Project Leads do not need to have the PD/PI role just a valid Commons ID (even an ASST role is acceptable).


  E. Developing Your Application in ASSIST

  1. How are complex applications structured in ASSIST?

    NIH has worked with applicants and staff to define a common application format for multi-project applications that allows for some customization to accommodate the needs of our various programs.  All electronic multi-project applications will include:

    • A single Overall Component: The Overall component will have data collection comparable to a single-project application that describes the entire application and how each of the components fit together.
    • Additional Components: Some number of additional component types (e.g., Admin Core, Project, Core, FOA-specific, etc.) Funding opportunity announcements will clearly specify the types of components that will be required in complex application submissions for that opportunity. 
    • Summaries: As part of the application image creation process, ASSIST will automatically generate summaries of budgets and other information compiled from the data provided in the individual components (e.g., component and categorical roll-ups of budget data).  These summaries help reviewers and NIH staff work with the application. 

  2. How can I control the order in which components appear in the application image?

    Components of the same type are presented in the image in the order they were created in ASSIST.  Therefore, some planning should be done before initiating components. Once you know the general structure of your application (number of components and the title, project start/end dates of each) you can initiate all the components in the desired order providing only the minimal data requested to save each component. This will give you a basic application shell that everyone working on the application can fill out over time. 

    Note: Our original funding to build ASSIST only covered the functionality necessary for a 'basic' system. However, NIH maintains an ASSIST enhancement wish list. The ability to reorder components is a frequent applicant request and is on that list. We hope to be able to build this functionality in the future.

  3. How do I differentiate the PDs/PIs for the entire application from the lead of an individual component?

    The contact Project Director/Principal Investigator (PD/PI) and any multiple-PDs/PIs for the entire application must be listed on the R&R Senior/Key Person Profile form of the Overall component. Only the PDs/PIs for the entire application can use the role of PD/PI.

    Within components, ASSIST will default the role in the PD/PI section of the R&R Senior/Key Person Profile form to ‘Project Lead’.  The default value should be used unless there are explicit announcement instructions to change it. An error is generated if the role of PD/PI is designated on any component other than the Overall.

    The eRA Commons IDs for both the PDs/PIs for the entire application and the component Project Leads must be included in the Credential field of the R&R Senior/Key Person Profile form.

  4. Can a PD/PI be included on more than one component?

    Absolutely, we expect it to be fairly common for the PD/PIs to have roles on multiple components in addition to the Overall component.

    PD/PIs for the entire application are identified on the Overall component and the role of PD/PI should be used. In other components, their role should reflect the work they are doing in that component (e.g., Project Lead, Center Director). Also, since there is no budget form in the Overall component, their effort should be recorded on the budget form in the components in which the work takes place. 

  5. Can someone be listed as a Senior/Key person on multiple components?

    The same person can be listed as a senior/key person on multiple components. However, only a single 4-page biosketch is allowed for each senior/key person regardless of the number of components they participate on.  When the applicant organization attempts to change the status of a component to Final, ASSIST will automatically alert the user that multiple biosketches for a single person have been included and the user will have the option to select which biosketch to include with the submission.

  6. How do I add a cover letter to my application?

    The Cover Letter attachment can be found at the bottom of the Overall R&R Cover form.

    Although it is part of the SF424 R&R Cover form, it will not appear in your Application Preview or your assembled application image in eRA Commons. It is kept separate to ensure that only a limited number of agency staff have access to the cover letter information and that it is not part of the application documentation seen by reviewers.

  7. Where do I find guidance for application form fields not specifically mentioned in the Funding Opportunity Announcement?

    The Application Guide and the Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) to which you are applying are the two main sources of guidance when filling out your application. The Application Guide provides general guidance that applies to all multi-project applications. The FOA provides guidance specific to that opportunity. If the Application Guide and the FOA ever provide conflicting instructions, the FOA instructions should be followed.

    The 'Application Guide SF424 (R&R) - Forms Version C' must be used with multi-project applications. It includes a new 'Supplemental Instructions to the SF424 (R&R) for Preparing a Multi-Project Application' section (section #9). This new section outlines any special guidance for multi-project applications above the standard guiduance provided in earlier sections.

    You will also find helpful tips at the top of many screens within ASSIST.

    The ASSIST on-line help and ASSIST User Guide are great resources for understanding the mechanics of using ASSIST to prepare an applicaiton and link back to the Application Guide for assistance with application content.

  8. What do I include in the attachments in the Overall component versus the attachments in the other components?

    The general rule is that the Overall component should explain the application as a whole and how all the components fit together. Information provided for the other components should be specific to those components.

    Many Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOAs) provide very specific guidance on what to include in the attachments of various components. This guidance should always be followed.

    If an FOA does not provide specific guidance, then the instructions in the Application Guide should be followed. Be sure to check both the general application guide instructions and the additional instructions in Section 9 -  Supplemental Instructions to the SF424 (R&R) for Preparing a Multi-Project Application.

    A few notes:

    • The Project Summary/Abstract attachment on the R&R Other Project Information form is required for the Overall and all other components.
    • The Project Narrative attachment on the R&R Other Project Information form is required for the Overall component, but is optional for other components (see FOA instructions). Although ASSIST shows a '*' next to this field (part of the OMB-approved form), ASSIST and NIH systems only enforce the requirement for the Overall component. Applications submitted with other components that do not include the Project Narrative attachment will be accepted without any error.
    • The Specific Aims attachment on the PHS 398 Research Plan form is required for the Overall and all other components.

    The Multi-project Annotated Form Set - C Series includes handy tips on filling out applications.

  9. Why can't I provide all the requested Human Subjects information on the R&R Other Project Information form of my component?

    Although all the Human Subjects information can be provided on the R&R Other Project Information form of the Overall component, only the 'Are Human Subjects Involved?' and 'Is the Project Exempt from Federal regulations?' questions can be answered in other components.

    The R&R Other Project Information form is an Office of Management and Budget approved federal form and we must present the form exactly as it was approved. However, collecting the additional data at the component level is not allowed per an NIH policy decision. Without the ability to customize the form for NIH specific needs, ASSIST presents the fields but actually blocks the ability to fill out the additional information.

     

  10. Do I need to provide the Human Subjects and Vertebrate Animals attachments at both the Overall and component levels of my application?

    The short answer is Yes.

    If the 'Are Human Subjects Involved?' question is answered 'Yes' on the R&R Other Project Information form, then the Protection of Human Subjects attachment must be included on the PHS 398 Research Plan form. In addition, if exemption number 4 is not checked, then the other Human Subject attachments (Inclusion of Women and Minorities and Inclusion of Children) must also be included.

    Similarly, if the 'Are Vertebrate Animals Used?' question is answered 'Yes' on the R&R Other Project Information form, then the Vertebrate Animals attachment must be included on the PHS 398 Research Plan form.

    These rules are system enforced (i.e., failure to follow them will result in errors preventing submission) and apply to both the Overall and other components of your application.


  F. Multi-project Application Budgets

  1. What is the best way to structure my multi-project application from a budget perspective?

    A:  NIH has provided a basic framework for multi-project applications. However, there is some flexibility within that framework regarding how to put together an application. Some applicants decide to structure their applications with the applicant organization leading every component within the application.  Other applicants have collaborating organizations lead a subset of components within their applications.

    Many factors can influence how you decide to structure your application. An application’s budget is important, but it should not be the primary consideration in your decision. Funding Opportunity Announcement guidelines, NIH policy, your own organization’s policies, the role any collaborating organizations will play in the proposed research, where the research will be carried out, and other factors should also be considered. In the end, your multi-project application should be structured to reflect the scientific and administrative needs of the proposed research.

    Once you decide how you are going to structure your application, filling out the component forms (including budgets) is fairly straightforward. Treat each component like it is a standalone application. If the applicant organization is leading a component, then all the forms in that component should be completed from the perspective of the applicant organization. If a collaborating organization is leading a component, then all the forms in that component should be completed from the perspective of the collaborating organization.

  2. When a collaborating organization leads an entire component, is it still considered a subaward/consortium to the applicant organization?

    Yes. The R&R Cover form within each component is used to identify which organization is leading the component. Having a DUNS on the component R&R Cover that is different than the DUNS provided on the Overall R&R Cover form informs NIH systems that the budget information included in the component should be considered subaward/consortium costs to the applicant organization. Even when a collaborating organization leads a component, the applicant organization is still ultimately responsible for the entire application.

  3. When a collaborating organization leads an entire component, should the Budget Type on the R&R Budget form be set to ‘Project’ or ‘Subaward/Consortium’?

    ASSIST automatically marks the Budget Type field on the R&R budget form to ‘Project’.  The ‘Project’ designation simply indicates it is the main budget for the component.  NIH systems use the DUNS number and not the Budget Type field to determine if the budget form is completed from the perspective of the applicant organization or a collaborating organization.

  4. Why doesn’t the Overall component include a budget form?

    Electronic multi-project applications are made up of an Overall component that describes the entire application and some number of additional components where the work is actually carried out.  Although the SF424 R&R Cover form includes an estimated Project Funding section that must be completed, the Overall component doesn’t have a dedicated budget form that applicants can fill out. Instead, applicants fill out an R&R Budget form for each of the additional components and any related subaward budget forms. NIH systems present a summary of the budget information with the Overall component.

  5. How are the system-generated summaries that are displayed with the Overall component calculated?

    Assembled application images include three budget summaries: a Composite Application Budget Summary, a Component Budget Summary and a Categories Budget Summary. A resource that describes the different parts of a multi-project assembled application image (including the various system-generated summaries) can be found at: http://grants.nih.gov/grants/ElectronicReceipt/files/Electronic_Multi-project_Application_Image_Assembly.pdf.

  6. Why don't budgets marked Subaward/Consortium show in the Component Budget Summary?

    The summaries provide a roll-up of the activity across the components of the application. The Component Budget Summary is just that - a summary of the main budgets for each component. It is not meant to be a listing of the cumulative budget pages of every budget form included in the application. The detailed budget forms supporting the summaries are included in the application image within their components.

  7. How do you change the DUNS and Organization information displayed on a component budget form?

    In ASSIST, the DUNS and Organization Name fields from the R&R Cover automatically populate the DUNS and Organization Name fields on the R&R Budget form. Although the fields on the budget form are not editable, edits to the R&R Cover form are reflected on the R&R Budget form.

  8. Should I include cents in the dollar fields on the budget form?

    Per Application Guide instructions, all dollar fields should be presented in whole numbers even though the fields allow cents to be entered.

  9. Why is the R&R Budget form tab missing from my component?

    You may not have the authority to view or edit budget data for the component. Have a Signing Official (SO) or someone with the Access Maintainer role check your privileges using the Manage Access action in ASSIST. They can add the ability to View or Edit budget data for the component or the entire application as appropriate.

  10. How do you add subaward budget forms to a component in ASSIST?

    Many component types include the optional form necessary to add additional subaward budgets to a component. Since the form is optional, it will not automatically appear in the form tab navigation of the component. While on the Summary page of the component, click on the Add Optional Form button under Actions. You will be presented with the list of available optional forms. Select Subaward Budget and the form will be added to the form tab navigation.

    ASSIST automatically marks the Budget Type field of each subaward budget form to Subaward/Consortium. Carefully enter the DUNS number of the subaward organization. eRA systems use the DUNS information when doing summary roll-ups.

  11. Does ASSIST automatically add up the costs of subawards within a component to populate line F5 – Other direct Costs Subaward/Consortium/Contractual Costs on the main budget form?

    No. Remember, F5 - Other Direct Costs Subaward/Consortium/Contractual Costs can include contractual costs in addition to the Subaward/Consortium costs found on the subaward budget forms; auto calculating this field would limit the ability to add those additional costs. The total direct and indirect costs for all subaward/consortium budgets within a component (along with appropriate contractual costs) must be manually entered on line F5 of the component’s main budget (the one with Budget Type Project).

  12. How can I tell if my application falls within the direct cost limit designated in an FOA?

    NIH continues to support the policy established in 2004 regarding applications that involve consortium/contractual F&A costs (see NOT-OD-05-004). This policy allows applicants to exclude consortium/contractual F&A costs when determining if an application falls at or beneath any applicable direct cost limit.

    The budget summaries included in a multi-project application reflect the budget categories of the R&R Budget forms used federal-wide and do not reflect this NIH-specific policy. For example, the Direct Costs listed on the Composite Application Budget Summary include all subaward costs (including consortium/contractual F&A costs) since those costs are direct costs to the applicant organization. Consequently, the Direct Cost line in that summary cannot be used to determine if the application falls at or beneath any direct cost limit.

    To determine if an application falls at or beneath a direct cost limit the following manual calculation must be done for each budget period:

    Take the Direct Cost amount from the Composite Application Budget Summary and subtract the Indirect Costs from the main budget of any component not led by the applicant organization. The 'R&R Budget Section H. Indirect Costs' category within the Categories Budget Summary lists the F&A of all components in one place and is a handy reference while doing this part of the calculation. Then subtract the Indirect Costs from all subaward budget forms associated with components led by the applicant organization.

    Notes:

    • NIH staff will determine if an application falls at or beneath a direct cost limit after submission. eRA systems will not stop the submission of an application based on direct cost limits. You are welcome to include in your application cover letter your calculation for meeting the cost limit.
    • This is a rather cumbersome calculation. NIH is looking at ways to systematically calculate the adjusted direct cost values and present them in the application image (and image preview). However, there is currently no timeline for such an enhancement.

  13. How do I complete the R&R Budget form for a component or subaward that is not active for all periods of the entire application?

    Simply fill out the minimal required information for the inactive budget periods and complete all information for the active periods.

    For example, let’s say Project-004 of your multi-project application does not start until budget period 2. In the Project-004 R&R Budget form for period 1 you would:

    • Select the appropriate Budget Type (the selection of Project or Subaward/Consortium is already made for you in ASSIST)
    • Provide the Budget Period 1 Start and End Dates (the Start Date is already pre-populated for you in ASSIST)
    • In Section A - Senior/Key Person, include the project lead specifying their role, .01 effort under Calendar months, $0 for Requested Salary and $0 for Fringe Benefits
    • Attach your Budget Justification including an explanation for the delayed start

    Complete the remaining budget periods following standard instructions.

  14. Our organization’s F&A rate uses a modified total direct cost base which excludes sub-recipient charges after the first $25,000. How do I account for the first $25,000 in my multi-project budget?

    Many negotiated F&A rate agreements use a modified total direct cost (MTDC) base rate and include the following language:

    “Modified total direct costs, consisting of all salaries and wages, fringe benefits, materials, supplies, services, travel and subgrants and subcontracts up to the first $25,000 of each subgrant or subcontract (regardless of the period covered by the subgrant or subcontract). Modified total direct costs shall exclude equipment, capital expenditures, charges for patient care, student tuition remission, rental costs of off-site facilities, scholarships, and fellowships as well as the portion of each subgrant and subcontract in excess of $25,000.”

    Section H - Indirect Costs on the R&R Budget forms allow you to specify an Indirect Cost Type, Rate and Base and multiple entries in this section are allowed. The first $25,000 of the Total Direct and Indirect Costs of each Subaward/Consortium organization for which you have an agreement can be included in the Indirect Cost Base. This is pretty straight forward and works well for single project applications. However, it is a bit more complicated with multi-project applications. Let’s look at a few scenarios.

    Scenario 1: Organization A is the applicant organization on a P01 and has structured their application such that they lead all the components of the application. Organization B is a subaward on Project-001 with a total cost of $50,000 and a subaward on Project-002 with a total cost of$25,000.

    Although A has listed B under two projects, generally A can only apply the first $25,000 of organization B’s total costs to the Indirect Cost Base.

    Scenario 2: Organization A is the applicant organization on a P01 and has structured their application such that they lead all but two components of the application. Organization B leads the remaining two components with total costs of $50,000 and $25,000. None of the components have subawards.

    In this scenario, Organization B is actually a subaward to organization A and the Overall budget (calculated by eRA systems and presented as the Composite Budget Summary) should allow for the first $25,000 of organization B’s costs to be applied to the Indirect Cost Base. However, an issue has been identified with the system-generated Composite Budget Summary. When an application includes components that are for organizations that have different DUNS than the Applicant Organization DUNS, the Indirect Cost calculation may appear less than expected since the first $25,000 of those organization costs are not applied to the applicant budget. No action is required from the applicant, although applicants always have the option to document any concerns over system-calculated information in the budget justification of any component. The application review is not affected by this issue and NIH will correct the budget calculations administratively.

  15. Based on internal organization rules, we do not allow collaborating organizations to lead components within our multi-project applications. ASSIST does not allow the R&R Cover of a component and the main R&R Budget form to have different DUNS. How do I fill out the budget form for components where the project lead and all incurred costs are actually at a collaborating organization?

    If you feel strongly about retaining leadership of a component, but only have subaward/consortium costs associated with that component, then you will need to fill out the main Project budget for the component using the information from the applicant organization with the minimum required information and fully complete the subaward budget for the collaborating organization.

    For the Project Budget you will need to:

    • Provide the Budget Period 1 Start and End Dates (the Start Date is already pre-populated for you in ASSIST)
    • In Section A - Senior/Key Person, include the project lead specifying their role, .01 effort under Calendar months, $0 for Requested Salary and $0 for Fringe Benefits
    • Attach your Budget Justification including an explanation that costs are actually reported in the Subaward/Consortium budget forms for the component

  16. Who should I contact when I have a budget question?

    Although the eRA Commons Help Desk is well versed in handling questions related to  eRA systems, including ASSIST, they may not be able to address all your budget questions. The Financial/Grants Management Contact listed in Section VII – Agency Contacts of each FOA  is your best bet for budget questions beyond the mechanics of entering budget data in the electronic forms.


  G. Managing Application Access

  1. What privileges are automatically available in ASSIST based on the role associated with my eRA Commons account?

    Some privileges are automatically available based on the organization and roles associated with the eRA Commons ID used to access ASSIST. Since these privileges cannot be individually granted or revoked in ASSIST, the Manage Access interface does not display all users that hold these automatic privileges.

    Signing Official (SO) at the lead application organization:

    • Initiate application
    • Assign, modify, or revoke application access for other users
    • Delegate ability to assign, modify, or revoke application access for other users
    • Edit entire application
    • Submit application (must be SO at lead applicant organization AND have valid Grants.gov Authorized Organization Representative credentials)

    Administrative Official (AO) at the lead applicant organization:

    • Initiate application
    • Edit entire application


    Principal Investigator (PI) identified on an application:

    • Initiate application
    • Edit entire application

    Application Initiator

    • Edit entire application

    Once the DUNS number is entered on the SF424 R&R for a component, then similar automatic privileges apply for that specific component. 

    You cannot revoke the automatic access given to the SOs or AOs of the component through Manage Access. However, when the component is in any status other than Work In Progress, the component can only be edited by individuals that are granted edit access to the entire application (the automatic access provided at the component level alone is insufficient). This provides the applicant organization with the ability to limit editing as they are pulling together the application.

    Access for the PD/PI(s) of the entire application can be restricted from Edit to View only through Manage Access.

    Access for the component lead can be restricted/removed through Manage Access at any time and when the component is in any status.

  2. How do I allow a user without automatic access to work on an application?

    ASSIST allows application access to be controlled across three variables:

    • Edit vs. View
    • Entire application vs. specific component within an application
    • Budget data vs. Non-Budget data

     Signing Officials (SOs) at the applicant organization automatically have the Access Maintainer role which allows them to manage access for other users using the Manage Access Action.

  3. How do I change the automatic access given to the Project Lead of a Component?

    The Project Lead of a component is designated in the Project Lead section of the Sr/Key Person Profile form. Once the Commons ID for the Project Lead is entered he/she automatically gets Edit privileges for that component.

    An SO or someone with Access Maintainer authority can restrict access to the Project Lead using the Manage Access action.

    1. Select Manage Access action.
    2. Find the Project Leads User name in the User Acess Summary. There may be multiple rows for a given user to identify their access on multiple components. Selecting the hyperlink of any of the user rows brings you to the same User Information screen, so just pick one.
    3. From the User Information screen you can select the appropriate component and adjust the access by using the drop down to pick from None, View or Edit. Automatic access is typically shown as 'Edit' under the All column. Changing the access to 'None' in the All column removes their access. Any access given at the Entire Application level takes precedence. So, to remove the user's access to all components at once, set the Entire Application row to None in each of the columns.

  4. A collaborating organization is leading a component on my application. When I filled out the SF424 Cover for that component the SOs and AOs at that institution were automatically given access to the application. How do I block that access?

    You cannot revoke the automatic access given to the SOs or AOs of the component through Manage Access. However, when the component is in any status other than Work In Progress, the component can only be edited by individuals that are granted edit access to the entire application (the automatic access provided at the component level alone is insufficient). This provides the applicant organization with the ability to limit editing as they are pulling together the application.

    Note: Automatic access is given when the DUNS is entered on the SF424 R&R form of a component. Leaving the DUNS off of the component until you are are close to moving the component out of WIP status is one way to limit edits by others.


  H. Checking Your Application Against Grants.gov and NIH Business Rules

  1. Does ASSIST check applications against both federal-wide and NIH business rules?

     Yes, ASSIST performs multiple levels of business rule checking.

    1. ASSIST checks application data as it is entered against the rules defined by Grants.gov for each form.
    2. ASSIST provides the option to ‘Validate’ the application against NIH’s agency-specific business rules prior to submission.
    3. ASSIST checks for the most frequent Grants.gov rejection errors prior to submission.

    Note: The Annotated Forms found on the public Applying Electronically website (http://grants.nih.gov/grants/ElectronicReceipt/communication.htm#forms) are a good reference for the data collection included with each form and the validation rules enforced by ASSIST.


  I. Previewing Your Application

  1. Will I be able to see my application the way NIH would present it to reviewers before I submit?

    ASSIST has a Preview feature that allows users to view a draft of the application image. With the exception of Grants.gov tracking number and submission timestamp in footer, the image will be exactly the same as will be seen by reviewers and NIH staff. The Preview feature is available to any user with sufficient application privileges to view the entire application (i.e., any SO/AO at the applicant organization, and PD/PI in the Overall component, and other users that have been granted View or Edit access to the entire application.)

  2. How is the application image assembled? Is the data compiled in a specific order?

    The table of contents, summaries, bookmarks, headers, footers, and page numbers are automatically generated.

    The application image will display the Overall component first, followed by summaries, and then the additional component types in alphabetical order. Components of the same type will be grouped together and will be displayed in the order in which they were created in ASSIST.

    Example 1: Opportunity has an Overall component and some combination of Admin Core, Core and Project components.

    • Overall
    • Summaries
    • Admin Core
    • All components of type Core (in the order created in ASSIST)
    • All components of type Project (in the order created in ASSIST)

    Example 2: Opportunity has an Overall component and some combination of Admin Core, Clinical Core, Research Core, Service Core and Project components.

    • Overall
    • Summaries
    • Admin Core
    • All components of type Clinical Core (in the order created in ASSIST)
    • All components of type Project (in the order created in ASSIST)
    • All components of type Research Core (in the order created in ASSIST)
    • All components of type Service Core (in the order created in ASSIST) 

  3. What types of data summaries are automatically included in the application image?

    Summaries compiled from component data will be included for:

    • Project Performance Sites
    • Human Subjects, Clinical Trial, HESC, and Vertebrate Animal information
    • Budget Information
    • Sr/Key personnel
      • PD/PIs for the entire application are listed first followed by all other Senior/Key personnel in alphabetical order. Biosketches follow the list of personnel in the same order and are not repeated within the individual components.

  4. Are all forms and attachments included in the assembled application image?

    The Cover Letter and any Appendix attachments are not part of the assembled application image. After submission, you will see these documents listed separately in the other Relevant Document section of the Commons detailed status screen. Prior to submission, with appropriate access you can view these documents individually by navigating to the form and field and clicking view.

    The Cover Letter is only seen by a small number of NIH staff and is never shared with reviewers. The Appendices can be very large and, although they are made available to everyone with access to the application image, keeping them separate makes managing the application easier and more efficient.


  J. Submitting and Tracking Your Application

  1. Who can submit an application in ASSIST?

    In order to submit an application, your Commons ID used to login to ASSIST must have the Signing Official (SO) role with the applicant organization. In addition, you will need to provide active Grants.gov Authorized Organization Representative (AOR) credentials.

  2. How do I prepare my application for submission?

    Once all application components have a status of ‘Final’, you will need to set the Application Status to ‘All Components Final.’ Go to the Application Information screen (you may need to use the bread crumbs at the top of the page) and use the Update Submission Status button under Actions to change the status.  

    Before an application can be submitted, it must pass validations. To perform validations against the application use the Validate Application button from the Actions section while on the Application Information screen. When an application passes validations (i.e., no Errors identified), its status is updated to ‘All Components Validated’.

    You can then update the status to Ready for Submission and submit the application.

  3. How do I track my ASSIST submission?

    In December 2012, NIH will release new ASSIST features that will allow users to track Grants.gov and eRA Commons submission status within ASSIST. Until then, standard Grants.gov and eRA Commons tracking features can be used.

  4. If I’m the Project Lead of a Component, can I track the application submission status?

    Submission status can only be tracked in Grants.gov by an Authorized Organization Representative (AOR).

    Submission status can only be tracked by applicant organization Signing Officials (SOs), applicant organization Administrative officials (AOs), the Project Directors/Principal Investigators (PIs) for the application and Assistants (ASSTs) with delegated Status authority.


  K. Working with Multi-project Application Images - Review Staff

  1. How are electronic multi-project applications structured?

    NIH has worked with applicants and staff to define a common application format for multi-project applications that allows for some customization to accommodate the needs of our various programs.  All electronic multi-project applications will include: 

    1. A single Overall Component: The Overall component will have data collection comparable to a single-project application that describes the entire application and how each of the components fit together.
    2. Additional Components: Some number of additional component types (e.g., Admin Core, Project, Core, FOA-specific, etc.) Funding opportunity announcements will clearly specify the types of components that will be required in complex application submissions for that opportunity. 
    3. Summaries: As part of the application image creation process, eRA systems will automatically generate summaries of budgets and other information compiled from the data provided in the individual components (e.g., component and categorical roll-ups of budget data).  These summaries help reviewers and NIH staff work with the application. 

    Applicants currently have little control over the order of their components once their application data is entered. For example, the first component of type ‘Project’ entered becomes ‘Project-001’, the second ‘Project-002’, etc. An enhancement to allow applicants to reorder the components within a component type is planned for 2014.

    Similarly, NIH staff currently cannot control the order they would like the component types to appear for a specific FOA. The Overall component always appears first, followed by the additional component types listed in alphabetical order (e.g., ‘Cores’ before ‘Projects’).

    Note: Reviews may not be conducted in the order that components appear in the application image. The Scientific Review Officer should provide guidance on review order.

    Detailed information on Electronic Application Images can be found at: http://grants.nih.gov/grants/ElectronicReceipt/files/Electronic_Multi-project_Application_Image_Assembly.pdf.

  2. Where are the Project Summary/Abstract and Project Narrative for the Overall component of a multi-project application?

    The Overall Project Summary/Abstract and Project Narrative appear near the end of the Overall Component section. The provided bookmarks can be used to navigate to these sections. In a future release, these documents will appear in the same order as they are displayed in other components.

  3. Why aren’t the biosketches included in the components?

    NIH only allows a single biosketch for each Sr/Key person participating on a multi-project application regardless of the number of components they are involved in. Consequently, a summary of all Sr/Key Personnel including their organization, component and role for that component is included near the top of the application. The PD/PI and any multi-PD/PIs for the entire application are listed first followed by additional Sr/Key personnel in alphabetical order. The biosketches follow the summary in the same order.

    Consequently, if you print out a particular component to prepare for review you may want to also print the individual biosketches included from the summary.

  4. Where do I find Appendix information for a multi-project application?

    Appendix information is not included in the assembled application image. All appendix attachments are found as separate documents in the grant folder organized by component. Keeping appendix material separate from the application image for multi-project applications is consistent with NIH processing of applications to all other grant programs.


  L. Getting Help

  1. Where can I find additional resources to help with using ASSIST?

    On-line help is available at: http://era.nih.gov/erahelp/ASSIST/.

  2. Who do I ask for help with the ASSIST system?

    Please contact:

    eRA Commons Help Desk
    Web: http://era.nih.gov/help/
    Toll-free: 1-866-504-9552
    Phone: 301-402-7469
    TTY: 301-451-5939
    Hours: Mon-Fri, 7a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern Time

  3. What do I do if problems with ASSIST threaten my ability to submit an application on time?

    Please follow our standard Guidelines for Applicants Experiencing System Issues.


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XIII. FAQs Foreign Organizations
  1. I am an international registrant and cannot access the SAM website. Why and what do I do?

    A technical or security issue may be preventing you from accessing the SAM website. Please visit this Federal Service Desk FAQ for guidance on how to proceed: https://www.fsd.gov/app/answers/list.

  2. I am an international registrant and cannot access the NATO CAGE Code website. Why and what do I do?

    In certain circumstances, specific locations may be blocked for technical or security reasons. If you cannot access the website, please visit this Federal Service Desk FAQ for guidance on how to proceed: https://www.fsd.gov/app/answers/detail/a_id/564/kw/international.

  3. I am an applicant who lives outside the U.S. and am unable to access the System for Award Management (SAM) site. What should I do?

    A few countries may have trouble accessing the SAM website. The applicant should send an email to security@bpn.gov and copy the NIH Electronic Submission mailbox at NIHElectronicSubmiss@mail.nih.gov.

  4. Are International Organizations required to hold a DUNS and register in Grants.gov?

    Yes.

  5. Can I register my organization in Commons in my native language?

    We can accept any foreign names that use the english alphabet. Unfortunately our systems cannot accept special characters.

  6. Are there any tips to assist foreign organizations while registering in eRA Commons?

    Keep these handy pointers in mind while registering in eRA Commons. Applicant organizations:

    • Must have a DUNS number before registering in the eRA Commons. This DUNS number must match the DUNS number provided at the SAM registration with Grants.gov.
    • Must have a valid e-mail and should ensure that any filters on their email do not interfere with NIH email. Must also keep in mind that the sooner they reply to emails, the faster NIH can complete their registration.

  7. Some of the data fields in the 424 (R&R) do not really apply to foreign organizations. How will this be handled?

    For some of the data, special instructions are included in the Application Guide for foreign organizations.

  8. Are International organizations required to obtain an EIN number as part of the grant submission process?

    NIH does not require international organizations to obtain an EIN number for application submission. International organizations may use 44-4444444 for the Employer Identification field in the SF424 (R&R) Cover Component of the application package. [See NIH eSubmission Tips for International Applicants (PDF - 343 KB)].

  9. How do I know if a foreign organization is eligible to apply?

    Each funding opportunity has a section for Eligibility. In that section there will be a clear statement about whether foreign institutions are eligible to apply

  10. Which budget form should I use if I am a foreign organization?

    Foreign institutions must use the Research and Related Budget form.

  11. On the SF424 (RR) application the field for "state" appears to be required. What do I do?

    Make sure you select your country first.  If you select a country other than the US or Canada, the state field will become optional. Inclusion of Providence is required for Canada.

  12. How does the system handle phone numbers in different formats?

    The phone number field on the SF424 (RR) application has a 25 character limit, but no specific format requirements.

  13. What should I include in the Congressional District filed?

    Foreign institutions should use 00-000 for the Congressional District.


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XIV. FAQs for Small Businesses
  1. Please see OER Website for Small Business Frequently Asked Questions.

    Please refer to the Small Business FAQs on the OER website for information about preparing and submitting a Small Business application


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XIV. Using a Service Provider
  1. What is a Service Provider?

    A Service Provider is a commercial company that assists applicants, for a fee, in submitting grant applications electronically to NIH.  For more information visit the Service Providers page.

  2. As I understand it, there is more than one way for applicants to apply electronically --software that can be downloaded from Grants.gov or Service Provider software that is specific to each provider. True?

    Yes. Additional information can be found on the Service Providers page.

  3. Could NIH recommend a particular Service Provider?

    No. NIH works closely with the Service Providers but cannot endorse any one Service Provider.

  4. If an applicant organization uses a Service Provider, who is responsible for completing the application, the PI, the organization, or the Service Provider?

    The Authorized Organizational Representative is the person responsible, but how this process works within an organization and a service provider system varies.

  5. Where can I obtain information on service providers?

    Please visit the Service Providers page. NIH cannot endorse any service provider or commercial business.

  6. If an applicant is using a service provider, can they print out their application or portions of their application (i.e. - the budget pages) before submission and acceptance by Grants.gov and NIH?

    It depends on the capabilities of the Service Provider. Some Service Providers do provide this capability.

This page last updated on September 27, 2012
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