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Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What forms are required for the initial application submission?

A. Each competitive program notice specifies what forms are required in the Required Elements of the Federal Funding Opportunity notice. These forms can be found on the CSCOR website at - http://coastalscience.noaa.gov/funding/applicants/forms and on the Grants.gov website at www.grants.gov.

Q. What detail is required in the budget narrative?

A. The budget narrative submitted with the application and with a budget reprogramming request must match the dollar amounts on all required forms. In other words, Block 15 on the SF-424 must equal total costs identified on the Budget Information SF-424A form which must match the budget narrative. Each calculation must be explained and a narrative must be provided to support each budget category. The following information outlines the detail needed for each cost category.

Personnel:

  1. Includes salary and wages (fringe benefits are listed separately)
  2. Provide breakdown of personnel by classification (i.e., job title)
  3. Identify key investigators (if applicable)
  4. State time commitments in hours or percent of time for each person/position
  5. List total charges for each person/position with calculations of costs as Federal and/or Non- Federal
  6. All personnel costs must be allowable
  7. Special considerations to be explained (if applicable)

Fringe Benefits:

  1. Identified separately from salaries/wages
  2. Provide description of benefits received by personnel when the fringe rate is more than 35% of the associated salary
  3. Ensure the fringe benefits are charged to Federal and Non-Federal (matching/cost-share) categories in the same proportion as salaries
  4. Do not charge separately any costs that are included within the fringe rate or indirect costs

Travel: (Always a big Audit item):

  1. Destination
  2. Estimated costs and type of transportation
  3. Number of travelers and related lodging and subsistence (per diem costs)
  4. Briefly describe the travel involved, its purpose, and explain how the proposed travel is necessary for successful completion of the project

(Other travel considerations:)

  1. If travel details are unknown, then the basis for proposed costs should be explained (i.e., historical information) - do not "pull numbers out of the air" or list a lump sum estimate.
  2. Travel costs can be charged on an actual basis, on a per diem or mileage basis in lieu of actual costs incurred, or a combination of the two if applied consistently and results in reasonable charges.
  3. Remember "Fly America Act"
    1. Limits the use of foreign flag carriers not foreign travel
    2. Waiver only allowed for specific instances and may require prior approval

Equipment:

  1. "Equipment” is non-expendable, tangible personal property with a unit cost of $5,000.00 or more and has a useful life of more than one year, unless determined otherwise by recipient internal policy.
  2. Items that do not meet the "Equipment" definition can be included under supplies
  3. List each piece of equipment to be purchased and provide description of how it will be used in the project
  4. Budget narrative should explain why the equipment is necessary for successful completion of the project
  5. General use equipment (i.e., computers, faxes, etc.) must be used 100% for the proposed project if charged directly to the grant

Supplies:

  1. Explanation necessary for supplies: costing more than five thousand dollars, or five percent of the award, whichever is the greater amount.
  2. Requirements for supplies which exceed thresholds are:
    • Explain the type of supplies to be purchased, or the nature of the expense in the budget narrative;
    • Provide a breakdown of supplies by quantity and cost per unit if known;
    • Indicate basis for estimate of supplies - i.e., historical use on similar projects.

Contractual:

  1. Treat each contract or subgrant as a separate item.
  2. Describe products/services to be obtained and indicate the applicability or necessity of each to the project.
  3. Provide separate budgets for each subgrant or contract, regardless of the dollar value and indicate the basis for the cost estimates in the narrative.
  4. List all grant or contract costs under the Contractual Line Item on the SF 424-A.
    • Example - do not incorporate the Indirect costs of a subgrantee under the indirect costs line item for the applicant/grantee.

Other:

  1. List items by type of material or nature of expense.
  2. Break down total costs by quantity and cost per unit if applicable.
  3. State necessity of other costs for successful completion of the project.
  4. Exclude unallowable costs such as.
    • Alcohol
    • Contingency
    • Entertainment
    • Fund Raising

Indirect Costs:

  1. Should be based on an approved Indirect Rate Agreement (IRA) from cognizant Federal Agency:
    • If indirect costs are proposed in the budget, then a current IRA is required.

Q. What documentation is necessary to allow a certain percent for fringe benefits?

A. Fringe is identified separately from salaries/wages. A listing of each percentage for each personnel title should be included. A description of the benefits included should be provided when the fringe rate is more than 35% of the associated salary. Do not charge separately any costs that are included within the fringe rate or indirect costs.

Q. What is a lease vs. cost analysis and when do I need to perform one?

A. . A cost analysis is needed when a piece of equipment $5,000.00 or above is being purchased.

This analysis will compare the cost of purchasing a piece of equipment against the cost of leasing the same piece of equipment. The benefits of leasing or purchasing should be addressed in this analysis also.

Q. Can I submit an application through the grants online system?

A. No. All applications must be submitted through the Grants.gov system. The Grants Online system is set up to receive applications from the Grants.gov system. Only when an application has been awarded are recipients able to use the Grants Online system for post award tasks.

Q. Where can I find the correct forms to fill out when I am applying for a grant?

A. Grants.gov website at www.grants.gov or CSCOR website at - http://coastalscience.noaa.gov/funding/applicants/forms

Q. Does a multi year award mean that we are guaranteed to receive a certain amount of funding during the award period of the grant?

A. No, Multi-year awards are awards which have an award/project period of more than 12 months of activity. Multi-year awards are partially funded when the awards are approved, and are subsequently funded in increments. Funding for each year’s activity is contingent upon the availability of funds from Congress, satisfactory performance, and is at the sole discretion of the agency.

Q. If my institution has expanded authority; can I carry over funds from one year to the other without prior approval from NOAA?

A. Yes, those institutions with expanded authority can carry over funds to the next year without prior approval from NOAA.

Q. What is expanded authority and what recipients have it?

A. Expanded authority applies to recipients covered under 15 CFR Part 14, Institutions of Higher Education (Colleges and Universities), and Other Non-Profit and Commercial Organizations. Waiver of prior approvals under 15 CFR Part 14.25 applies automatically to awards that support research unless otherwise restricted in the award terms and conditions.

Q. What is the NOAA GMD rule for reprogramming requests?

A. Reprogramming requests include changes in budget categories that do not affect the scope of the project. Prior approval for reprogramming in budget categories is required if the cumulative transfer amount exceeds 10% of the last approved total budget, the transfer will create a new budget category not previously approved by the Grants Officer or the award amount is more than $100,000.

Written request should include:

  1. Clear reason for request
  2. Line item budget showing the requested change(s)
  3. SF424A and Budget Narrative
  4. Any other supporting information to assist in the review.

Q. How long after submission will I hear if my proposal has been recommended for funding?

A. NOAA is following the recommendations of the internal Business Reengineering Process and has implemented a 240 calendar day application processing time. The time begins with the application due date and ends with the award obligation date.

Q. How do I get a user name and password for the Grants Online system?

A. NOAA employees are to contact their GMAC representative if you do not currently have a Grants Online userid. Contact the Grants Online help desk at 301-444-2112 or 800-662-2478 if your account is locked or if you are a recipient.

Q. How do I log into the Grants Online system?

A. Using Internet Explorer, enter the following URL in your address bar: https://grantsonline.rdc.noaa.gov. You must have a valid userid and password in order to access the system.

Q. How do I file progress reports?

A. Progress reports need to be filed through the Grants Online system. You will need to contact your authorized representative or the Grants Online help desk at 877-662-2478 or 301-444-2112 to get a user name and password. The Grants Online Helpdesk can walk you through submitting your progress report.

Q. How do I file financial reports?

A. Financial reports need to be filed through the Grants Online system. You will need to contact your authorized representative or the Grants Online help desk at 877-662-2478 or 301-444-2112 to get a user name and password. The Grants Online Helpdesk can walk you through submitting your financial report.

Q. What can I do if I need more time to complete my research?

A. If a recipient finds additional time, beyond the award end date, is needed to finish the work of a project, a request for a no-cost extension is possible. However, the below guidance must be followed in order for additional time to be granted.

No-Cost Extension - Invocation of Expanded Authority

If a recipient has expanded authority, this option must be used before asking for a no-cost extension without invocation of expanded authority.

1. Extensions to the Period of Performance/Award Period - Expanded Authority

  1. All recipients covered under 15 CFR Part 14 (e.g., educational institutions/non-profits), with non-construction awards are herein granted authority to initiate a one-time no-cost extension to the award period of up to one year without prior approval as long as the Grants Officer is notified in writing at least 10 days prior to expiration of the award with an explanation of the reason for the extension and none of the following conditions apply:
    1. There are other special award conditions that prohibit the extension.
    2. The extension requires additional federal funds.
    3. The extension involves any change in program objectives or scope of the project.
    4. An extension to the project period has already been approved not using the Invocation of Expanded Authority.
  2. This authority to extend the award period without prior approval may not be exercised merely for the purpose of using unobligated funds. Recipients must maintain compliance with all terms and conditions of the award, including submission of required reports, or this expanded authority may be revoked. (This authority should not be utilized to extend continuing awards that are pending determination by the Grants Officer - see Administrative Extensions below.)
  3. For recipients covered under 15 CFR Part 14 (e.g., educational institutions/non-profits), the written notification to the Grants Officer must clearly state that the award is being extended under the expanded authorities of 15 CFR 14.25(e), provide the new expiration date of the award, and explain the reason for the extension.

No Cost Extension - Without Invocation of Expanded Authority

  1. If the recipient believes it is necessary to obtain a no-cost extension to complete the approved program description and objectives beyond the expanded authority granted above or is without expanded authority privileges, then the recipient shall submit a written request to the Federal Program Officer who will in turn forward the request, along with a Program Officer recommendation, to the Grants Officer who will then make the final determination in writing. The written request must clearly justify why the extension is needed and explain what activities are remaining to be accomplished under the award and what funds are still available to support the activity. The written request must contain the following information:
  • What work in the approved proposal remains to be completed?
  • What is the requested new expiration date?
  • Explain why the work was not completed during the original award period.
  • How much unobligated funds remain?
  1. A budget must be provided which explains the work to be completed during the extended period, including Federal and nonfederal share. In addition, the award must be in compliance with all terms and conditions of the award, including submission of all required reports.
  2. The request to extend the award period shall be submitted to the Federal Program Officer at least 30 days prior to the expiration of the award to provide the minimum time needed to review the request. The recipient proceeds at their own risk of incurring costs beyond the award expiration if the request is not submitted to NOAA at least 30 days prior to the expiration.
  3. Any extension request submitted to NOAA after the expiration of the award shall be denied. Requests for reconsideration of extreme circumstances that resulted in failure to request an extension before the end of the award period must be submitted in writing and will only be considered by the Grants Officer on a case-by-case basis. Awards which are not in compliance with all terms and conditions of the award, including submission of all required reports, will not be reconsidered.

Q. Does CSCOR require cost sharing?

A. No.

Q. What is the difference between a grant and a cooperative agreement?

A. The difference between a grant and a cooperative agreement is the amount of substantial involvement by the Federal government. A grant has no substantial involvement by the Federal government. The recipient is expected to perform the project without substantial collaboration or intervention by NOAA.

A cooperative agreement anticipates substantial involvement by the Federal government. The recipient can expect substantial collaboration, participation, or intervention in the management of the project by NOAA.

Examples of substantial involvement by NOAA:

  • Able to halt an activity immediately if detailed performance specifications are not met;
  • Required the recipient to meet or adhere to specific procedural requirements before subsequent stages of a grant project may continue;
  • Specific direction or redirection of scope of work due to the inter-relationships with other projects;
  • Collaborates with the recipient by working jointly with a recipient scientist or technician in carrying out the scope of work, by training recipient personnel, or detailing Federal personnel to work on the project effort; and/or
  • Limits recipient discretion with respect to scope of work, organizational structure, staffing, mode of operations and other management processes, coupled with close monitoring or operational involvement during performance.

Q. Does my nonprofit/university needs an indirect cost rate agreement?

A. An applicant needs to either have an approved cost allocation plan or an indirect cost rate agreement if they are going to use grant funds to pay indirect costs for their project.

Q. When are financial reports due?

A. NOAA Grants Management Division (GMD) sets the requirements for the financial reports. All financial reports are due on a semi-annual basis and use the project periods of 4/1 to 9/30 and 10/1 to 3/31. If the award start date begins other than April 1st, or October 1st, then the first report would only be a portion of the reporting period in which the award starts. As an example: take an award period of 9/1/2007 to 8/31/2010, the first semi-annual financial report will cover 9/1/2007 to 9/30/2007 , the second financial report covers 10/1/2007 to 3/31/2008, the third financial report covers 4/1/2008 to 9/30/2008, the fourth financial reports covers 10/1/2008 to 3/31/2009, the fifth financial report covers 4/1/2009 to 9/30/2009, the sixth financial report covers 10/1/2009 to 3/31/2010 and the last financial report covers 4/1/2010 to 9/30/2010. Semi-annual financial reports are due to GMD 30 days after the end of each reporting period. Final financial reports are due to GMD 90 days after the award expires.

Q. How do I fill out a financial form if I haven’t spent any money yet?

A. Since the financial forms are on a set bi-annual schedule, they need to be submitted even if you have not used any grant funds yet. To do so, place zeros in all of the applicable places and submit the form through the Grants Online system, using the username and password obtained from your authorized representative or the Grants Online help desk at 877-662-2478 or 301-444-2112.

Q. Why does the first progress report only cover 9 months?

A. The grants management division (GMD) requires that the first progress report cover the first nine months of a project so that there is time for the program office to review the project’s progress before the funds for the next year are released. This allows for each report thereafter to cover a year long period, while still leaving time for the report to be reviewed before funds are released for the next year.

 

Year 1

Year 2

Year 3

Year 4

Award Period

01-01-99 to 12-31-02

01-01-99 to 12-31-02

01-01-99 to 12-31-02

01-01-99 to 12-31-02

Annual Progress Report Period

01-01-99 to 09-30-99

10-01-99 to 09-30-00

10-01-00 to 09-30-01

10-01-01 to 09-30-02

9 months

12 months

12 months

12 months

Final Progress Report Period

01-01-99 to 12-31-02

Q. How long do I get to submit an annual report?

A. You have 30 days after the project period end date to submit the annual progress report.

 

Year 1

Year 2

Year 3

Year 4

Award Period

01-01-99 to 12-31-02

01-01-99 to 12-31-02

01-01-99 to 12-31-02

01-01-99 to 12-31-02

Annual Progress Report Period

01-01-99 to 09-30-99

10-01-99 to 09-30-00

10-01-00 to 09-30-01

10-01-01 to 09-30-02

9 months

12 months

12 months

12 months

Final Progress Report Period

01-01-99 to 12-31-02

Q. How long do I get to submit a final report?

A. You have 90 days after the award end date to submit the final progress report.

Q. Why do I have to submit an annual report and then 3 months later submit a final report?

A. Annual reports cover one year’s worth of work, while a final report covers the work of the whole project. Therefore, the last annual report will cover just the last year of the project, while the final report will speak about the whole project, which took place over a course of years. We allow the last three months of the project to be included in the final report instead of requiring an additional report covering just those three months.

Q. What can happen if my reports are delinquent?

A. If financial or progress reports are delinquent:

  • The ability to draw down funds might be suspended;
  • Funded actions (i.e., new applications and requests for additional/continued funding) might be jeopardized; and
  • Unfunded requests requiring prior approval from the Grants Officer (GMD) might not be approved; and Debt may be established for the recipient.

Q. What is the difference between a SF-424 and a SF-424A?

A. The SF-424 is the Application for Federal Assistance and is required for every application. The SF-424A is the form for Budget Information for Non-construction Programs. On this form an applicant would break down into categories how they plan to spend the grant money.

Q. How long do I have to request a NCE with expanded Authority?

A. Electronic Recipients with expanded authorities are requested to notify the Grants Management Division through the Grants Online system, when they choose to use their authority to give themselves a one-time unfunded extension of up to one year at the end of the project period. Unfunded extension requests must be received at least 10 days before the end of the original project period.

Those recipients without electronic access are requested to notify the Grants Management Division and the CSCOR Grants Administrator, when they choose to use their authority to give themselves a one-time unfunded extension of up to one year at the end of the project period. Unfunded extension requests must be received at least 10 days before the end of the original project period. Submit the request by email to Arlene.Simpson-Porter@noaa.gov and Laurie.Golden@noaa.gov or in a letter and include the award number, new expiration date and the reason for the extension.

Grants may not be extended merely to allow recipients to spend unobligated funds.

Following is a sample letter which provides the NOAA Grants Management Division and the CSCOR/COP Grants Specialist with the grant number, new expiration date, and reason for extension. Submit a similar email to (click for automatic e-mail address).

Sample email:

"Dear Ms. Simpson-Porter and Ms. Golden:

This letter is to inform you that we are electing a one-year unfunded extension for NOAA Grant NA06NOS4780000, which is covered by the Expanded Authorities of OMB Circular A-110, Subpart C, Section 25. The new expiration date is August 31, 2008.

Listed below are reasons for the extension:

Additional time is required beyond the original expiration date of August 31, 2007, to assure completion of the original approved project scope and objectives. Project R/C-E-39 needs to conduct additional sampling to validate unexpected research findings related to the effect of propeller scars on seagrass habitat. Estimated time for completion of the work if August 31, 2008.

We will provide final financial and progress reports at that time.

Sincerely

Authorized Signer"

Q. How long do I have to request a NCE without expanded Authority?

A. Recipients of NOAA Financial Assistance (Grants or Cooperative Agreement Awards) may receive an unfunded ("no-cost") extension of their award beyond the original expiration date if they need more time to finish the sponsored project. Electronic recipients without Expanded Authorities need to request prior approval in accordance with the following Unfunded Extension Checklist and submit their request through the Grants Online system 30 days in advance of the original award end date.

The Program Officer must assure that performance progress reports are up to date and include a memo to the Grants Officer recommending approval of the extension.

Those recipients without electronic access are requested to follow the above format in letter form or an email sent to the Program Manager for approval 30 days in advance of the original award end date.

Q. How long do I have to request a Closeout extension?

A. The Closeout period is 90 days following the expiration of the award in which the recipient prepares final reports and must make final funding draw downs and payments.

All final reports (financial and performance) should be submitted during the 90 day closeout period unless a request for an extension is submitted to the Grants Office.

Request to extend the closeout period must be sent directly to the Grants Office through the Grants Online system. A closeout extension is usually requested to complete a Final Progress Report and make final payments. These requests are also routed through the program officer.

A Closeout extension should only be requested to complete closeout activities –completion of program activities requires a no-cost time extension to the award.