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Writing a Winning Grant Proposal
Understanding the Federal Program Descriptions

Content provided by the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance
10.210 Higher Education �
Graduate Fellowships Grant Program

AUTHORIZATION:

Section 7106 of the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act (FCEA) of 2008 (Public Law 110-246) amends the legislative authority for this program contained in Section 1417 of the National Agricultural Research, Extension and Teaching Policy Act of 1977 (NARETPA) (99 Stat. 1548; 7 U.S.C. 3152) to include the University of the District of Columbia as an eligible applicant. , 7 U.S.C 3152.
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The purpose of the NNF Grants Program is to train students for Master’s and/or doctoral degrees and provide additional postdoctoral training for Fellows who have completed their doctoral degrees at colleges and universities that have demonstrable teaching and research competencies in the food and agricultural sciences. Fellowships and IRTA awards are specifically intended to support traineeship programs that encourage outstanding students to pursue and complete their degrees or obtain postdoctoral training in areas where there is a national need for the development of scientific and professional expertise in the food and agricultural sciences. Fellowships and IRTA awards invest in graduate training and relevant international experiential learning for a cadre of diverse individuals who demonstrate their potential to successfully complete graduate degree programs in disciplines relevant to the mission of the USDA.

TYPES OF ASSISTANCE:

Project Grants
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USES AND USE RESTRICTIONS:

Competitive annual grants providing for a limited number of graduate stipends are awarded to selected U.S. institutions of higher education so as to distribute support for graduate study to promising food and agricultural scientists and professionals. Individuals selected initially by the institution must enroll in a program leading to a graduate, master's or doctoral degree in one of the targeted national needs areas of the food and agricultural sciences. Such persons may not have been enrolled previously in the program at the same degree level. Current fellows are eligible to receive supplemental grants of $3,000 to cover travel and living expenses for special international study or thesis/dissertation research experiences. Funding for the supplemental grants will be awarded on a competitive basis using no-year funds drawn from expired fellowship grants with unspent funds remaining as set forth in the annual program guidelines. No indirect cost allowed. Institutional allowance in lieu of indirect cost. NNF stipend funds for fellowship must be used to: (1) support the same Fellow at the Master’s degree level who maintains satisfactory progress and is eligible to receive grant support for a maximum of twenty-four (24) months during a thirty-month period, and/or (2) support the same Fellow at the doctoral degree level who maintains satisfactory progress and is eligible to receive grant support for a maximum of thirty-six (36) months within a forty-two-month period. Institutions must use a minimum stipend of $18,500 per year for Master’s Fellows and $24,500 per year for Doctoral Fellows.

If funds remain as a result of USDA Fellows completing their studies early (less than twenty-four months for a Master’s degree or less than thirty-six months for a doctoral degree) or Fellowships being terminated prematurely, such funds may be used, within the time remaining on the award, to support: (1) pursuit of a doctoral degree in a TESA in the food and agricultural sciences by a Master’s degree level Fellow at the grantee institution, or (2) a Replacement Fellow. The tenure of such a Replacement Fellow is limited to whatever time is remaining on the grant before it expires; however, an institution may not appoint a Replacement Fellow unless there is time for the student to complete at least one semester/quarter of study before the expiration date of the grant.

Replacement Fellows must meet all of the eligibility criteria and other requirements established for Fellow selection and are subject to the same provisions as other Fellows during their tenure in the program. Replacement Fellows are entitled, during their tenure, to the same benefits that other Fellows receive from the grant award and National Needs Graduate and Postdoctoral Fellowship Grants Program. Institutions may, but are not required to, continue a Replacement Fellow's tuition and other benefits beyond the expiration date of the grant using institutional or other funds. A Fellow may not be simultaneously supported under multiple National Needs Graduate and Postdoctoral Fellowship Grants Program awards.

Remaining funds cannot be used to increase annual Fellowship stipends provided to existing Fellows. If less than one semester/quarter remains on the award, the grantee must refund unexpended monies to CSREES. Such funds cannot be used to increase the annual stipend amounts for current USDA Graduate Fellows.

Should a USDA Fellow require additional time beyond the grant period to complete his or her degree, it is expected that the grantee will consider alternatives to continue supporting the Fellow through other means.

Tuition and fees are the responsibility of the Fellow unless an institution elects to use its cost-of-education institutional allowance for this purpose or elects to pay such costs out of non-USDA monies. No dependency allowances are provided to any USDA Graduate Fellows. Stipend payments and special international study or thesis/dissertation research travel allowances may be made to Fellows by the institution, in accordance with standard institutional procedures for graduate fellowships and assistantships. When grants are for IRTAs that will be used by To-Be-Recruited Fellows: The IRTA funds for To-Be-Recruited fellows will be withheld until the Project Director has submitted, to the NNF Program Office, all of the required documentation for eligibility of the Graduate Fellow for the IRTA as well as the required specifics outlined in the RFA for the IRTA. The information must be submitted for approval, no less than 150 days prior to the use of the IRTA funds (see PART IV, B, 3, b, Section 1). This requirement will become a condition of the award. Fully discretionary.

ELIGIBILITY REQUIREMENTS:

Applicant Eligibility:   Proposals may be submitted by all U.S. colleges and universities that confer a master's or doctoral degree in at least one area of the food and agricultural sciences targeted for national needs fellowships. As defined in Section 1404 of the National Agricultural Research, Extension, and Teaching Policy Act of 1977, as amended (7 U.S.C. 3103), the terms "college" and "university" mean "an educational institution in any State which: (a) Admits as regular students only persons having a certificate of graduation from a school providing secondary education, or the recognized equivalent of such a certificate; (b) is legally authorized within such State to provide a program of education beyond secondary education; (c) provides an educational program for which a bachelor's degree or any other higher degree is awarded; (d) is a public or other nonprofit institution; and (e) is accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency or association." Eligibility also applies to research foundations maintained by eligible colleges or universities.

Beneficiary Eligibility:   Funds awarded in this program are used to support the training of graduate students to obtain either a master's or doctoral degree in one of the targeted specializations of the food and agricultural sciences.

Credentials/Documentation:   A Data Universal Number System (DUNS) number must be obtained - A DUNS number is a unique number that identifies an organization. It has been adopted by the Federal government to help track how Federal grant money is distributed. If your organization does not have a DUNS number, call the special Dun & Bradstreet hotline at (1-866) 705-5711 to receive one free of charge. You will receive a DUNS number within several days of your request. Please note, individual proprietorships (i.e. farmers, ranchers) can request and receive a DUNS number, but must register with Grants.gov as an organization, not as an individual.

Registration with Central Contractor Registry (CCR) is required - The CCR is the central government repository for organizations working with the Federal government. If your organization is not already registered, identify the primary contact who should register your organization. When your organization registers with CCR, it will be required to designate an e-Business Point of Contact (e-Business POC). The e-Business POC authorizes individuals to submit grant applications on behalf of the organization and creates a special password called a Marketing Partner ID Number (M-PIN) to verify individuals authorized to submit grant applications for the organization. Visit the CCR Web site at http://www.ccr.gov to begin this process. It may take several days to collect the information needed for your organization’s registration. The CCR Assistance Center can be reached at (888) 227-2423. This information collection is approved under OMB Control No. 0524-0039, “NIFA Application Kit for Research and Extension Programs.” Applicants must furnish the information required in the request for applications (RFAs). Successful applicants recommended for funding must furnish the information and assurances requested during the award documentation process. These include, but are not limited to the following:

Organizational Management Information - Specific management information relating to an applicant shall be submitted on a one time basis, with updates on an as needed basis, as part of the responsibility determination prior to the award of a grant identified under this RFA, if such information has not been provided previously under this or another NIFA program. NIFA will provide copies of forms recommended for use in fulfilling these requirements as part of the preaward process. Although an applicant may be eligible based on its status as one of these entities, there are factors which may exclude an applicant from receiving Federal financial and nonfinancial assistance and benefits under this program (e.g., debarment or suspension of an individual involved or a determination that an applicant is not responsible based on submitted organizational management information). This information collection is approved under OMB Circular Control No. 0524-0026, “Assurance of Compliance with the Department of Agriculture Regulations Assuring Civil Rights, Compliance and Organization Information.”. OMB Circular No. A-87 applies to this program.

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APPLICATION AND AWARD PROCESS:
Pre-application Coordination:   All RFAs are published on the Agency’s website and Grants.gov. Applicants must complete the Grants.gov registration process. Please see the following Grants.gov link for more information: http://www.grants.gov/applicants/get_registered.jsp. An environmental impact statement is required for this program. This program is excluded from coverage under E.O. 12372.

Application Procedure:   OMB Circular No. A-102 applies to this program. OMB Circular No. A-110 applies to this program. Applications should be submitted as outlined in the RFA. Applications must follow the instructions provided per Grants.Gov and in the Agency guide to submitting applications via Grants.gov.

Award Procedure:   Applications are subjected to a system of peer and merit review in accordance with section 103 of the Agricultural Research, Extension and Education Reform Act of 1998 (7 U.S.C. 1613) by a panel of qualified scientists and other appropriate persons who are specialists in the field covered by the proposal. Within the limit of funds available for such purpose, the NIFA Authorized Departmental Officer (ADO) shall make grants to those responsible, eligible applicants whose applications are judged most meritorious under the procedures set forth in the RFA.

Reviewers will be selected based upon training and experience in relevant scientific, extension, or education fields, taking into account the following factors: (a) The level of relevant formal scientific, technical education, or extension experience of the individual, as well as the extent to which an individual is engaged in relevant research, education, or extension activities; (b) the need to include as reviewers experts from various areas of specialization within relevant scientific, education, or extension fields; (c) the need to include as reviewers other experts (e.g., producers, range or forest managers/operators, and consumers) who can assess relevance of the applications to targeted audiences and to program needs; (d) the need to include as reviewers experts from a variety of organizational types (e.g., colleges, universities, industry, state and Federal agencies, private profit and non-profit organizations) and geographic locations; (e) the need to maintain a balanced composition of reviewers with regard to minority and female representation and an equitable age distribution; and (f) the need to include reviewers who can judge the effective usefulness to producers and the general public of each application.

Evaluation Criteria will be delineated in the RFA.

Deadlines:   Contact the headquarters or regional office, as appropriate, for application deadlines.

Range of Approval/Disapproval Time:   

Section :094 - Deadlines:
Dates for specific deadlines are announced in the RFA each fiscal year. Information is also available via our website and may be obtained via the Grants.gov website. Respective links are provided below:

http://nifa.usda.gov/grants
http://www.grants.gov

Appeals:   

Not Applicable.

Renewals:   

Specific details are provided in the Request for Applications (RFA) each fiscal year.

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ASSISTANCE CONSIDERATIONS:

Formula and Matching Requirements:   

This program has no statutory formula. This program has no matching requirements. Funds are awarded competitively. No formula grants are awarded under Subtitle K of the National Agricultural Research, Extension, and Teaching Policy Act of 1977 [7 U.S.C. 3319e].

NIFA does not require matching or cost sharing support for this program. MOE requirements are not applicable to this program.

Length and Time Phasing of Assistance:   

Grants cover a five (5) year period, however, fellows are supported for three (3) years for a doctoral degree or two (2) years for a masters during that five (5) year period. Method of awarding/releasing assistance: by letter of credit.

POST ASSISTANCE REQUIREMENTS:

Reports:   Grantees also are required to submit annual and summary progress reports via NIFA's Current Research Information System (CRIS). This reporting requirement was approved under OMB Control No. 0524-0042, “NIFA Current Research Information System (CRIS).” CRIS is an electronic, web-based inventory system that facilitates both grantee submission of project outcomes and public access to information on Federally-funded projects. Cash reports are not applicable. Grantees also are required to submit annual and summary progress reports via NIFA's Current Research Information System (CRIS). This reporting requirement was approved under OMB Control No. 0524-0042, “NIFA Current Research Information System (CRIS).” CRIS is an electronic, web-based inventory system that facilitates both grantee submission of project outcomes and public access to information on Federally-funded projects. A final “Financial Status Report” (SF-269) or “Federal Financial Report” (SF-425) is due within 90 days of the expiration date of the grant and should be submitted to the Awards Management Branch, Office of Extramural Programs at the address listed below, in accordance with instructions contained in 2 CFR 3430.55 (also refer to Section 3015.82 of the Uniform Federal Assistance Regulations).

Awards Management Branch
Office of Extramural Programs
National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA)
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
STOP 2271
1400 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20250-2271
Telephone: (202) 401-4986.

Grantees also are required to submit annual and summary progress reports via NIFA's Current Research Information System (CRIS). This reporting requirement was approved under OMB Control No. 0524-0042, “NIFA Current Research Information System (CRIS).” CRIS is an electronic, web-based inventory system that facilitates both grantee submission of project outcomes and public access to information on Federally-funded projects.

Audits:   In accordance with the provisions of OMB Circular No. A-133 (Revised, June 27, 2003), "Audits of States, Local Governments, and Non-Profit Organizations," nonfederal entities that expend financial assistance of $500,000 or more in Federal awards will have a single or a program-specific audit conducted for that year. Nonfederal entities that expend less than $500,000 a year in Federal awards are exempt from Federal audit requirements for that year, except as noted in Circular No. A-133. Audits will be conducted in accordance with guidelines established in the revised OMB Circular No. A-133, “Audits of States, Local Governments, and Nonprofit Organizations,” and implemented in 7 CFR 3052. This program is also subject to audit by the cognizant Federal audit agency and the USDA Office of Inspector General.

Records:   In accordance with the Uniform Administrative Requirements for Grants and Agreements with Institutions of Higher Education, Hospitals, and other Non-profit Organizations [2 CFR 215, Subpart C, Section 215.53, (OMB Circular A-110)] grantees shall maintain separate records for each grant to ensure that funds are used for authorized purposes. Grant-related records are subject to inspection during the life of the grant and must be retained at least three (3) years. Records must be retained beyond the three-year period if litigation is pending or audit findings have not been resolved.

FINANCIAL INFORMATION:

Account Identification:  

12-1500-0-1-352.

Obligations:   (Project Grants) FY 15 $3,104,325; FY 16 est $3,103,400; and FY 17 est $0 - The difference between the appropriation and obligation numbers reflects legislative authorized set-asides deducted as appropriate, and in some cases the availability of obligational authority from prior years.

Range and Average of Financial Assistance:  

If minimum or maximum amounts of funding per competitive project grant or cooperative agreement are established, these will be announced in the annual program announcement or Request for Application (RFA).

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PROGRAM ACCOMPLISHMENTS:
Fiscal Year 2015: In FY 2015, 27 applications were received for consideration. The success rate was ~48.1%. Thirteen proposals were funded, yielding a total of 18 masters-level fellowships, and 28 doctoral-level fellowships.

REGULATIONS, GUIDELINES, AND LITERATURE:

7 CFR Part 3430, Competitive and Noncompetitive Non-formula Grant Programs – General Grant Administrative Provisions and Program-Specific Administrative Provisions; 7 CFR Part 3015, USDA Uniform Federal Assistance Regulations; 7 CFR Part 3017, Government wide Debarment and Suspension (Nonprocurement) ; 7 CFR Part 3018, New Restrictions on Lobbying; 7 CFR Part 3019, Uniform Administrative Requirements for Grants and Agreements with Institutions of Higher Education, Hospitals, and Other Non-profit Organizations; and 7 CFR Part 3021— USDA implementation of Governmentwide Requirements for Drug-free Workplace (Financial Assistance).

INFORMATION CONTACTS:

Regional or Local Office:   None.

Headquarters Office:   USDA, NIFA, National Program Leader, Institute of Youth, Family, and Community, Division of Community and Education, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW., STOP 2250, , Washington , District of Columbia 20250-2250 Email: Policy@nifa.usda.gov Phone: (202) 720-2324 Fax: (202) 720-2030

Web Site Address:  
http://nifa.usda.gov/program/national-needs-graduate-and-postgraduate-fellowship-grants-program-funding-opportunity-nnf

EXAMPLES OF FUNDED PROJECTS:

Fiscal Year 2015: Supported projects contribute to the development of a strong STEM workforce, which is needed to keep this Nation�s competitiveness, through the research and academic training of graduate students. In addition, the awarded projects support the training of students at the Master�s and doctoral levels, in order to fill the nationally identified expertise shortage areas in the food and agricultural sciences; encourage and recruit outstanding students, including those from traditionally underrepresented groups, to enter and complete graduate training in the food and agricultural sciences; and increase the quality and diversity of students completing graduate degrees in the food and agricultural sciences. Further information is available at https://nifa.usda.gov/program/national-needs-graduate-and-postgraduate-fellowship-grants-program-funding-opportunity-nnf. Fiscal Year 2016: Supported projects contribute to the development of a strong STEM workforce, which is needed to keep this Nation�s competitiveness, through the research and academic training of graduate students. In addition, the awarded projects support the training of students at the Master�s and doctoral levels, in order to fill the nationally identified expertise shortage areas in the food and agricultural sciences; encourage and recruit outstanding students, including those from traditionally underrepresented groups, to enter and complete graduate training in the food and agricultural sciences; and increase the quality and diversity of students completing graduate degrees in the food and agricultural sciences. Further information is available at https://nifa.usda.gov/program/national-needs-graduate-and-postgraduate-fellowship-grants-program-funding-opportunity-nnf. Fiscal Year 2017: For FY 2017: Information is not yet available. Pertinent details to be provided by Program at a future date.

CRITERIA FOR SELECTING PROPOSALS:

(1) The degree to which the proposal clearly establishes that the proposed program of graduate training will result in the development of outstanding scientific/professional expertise related to the national need area and in a reasonable period of time; (2) the degree to which the proposed program of study reflects special features such as a combination-disciplinary, approach (inter-disciplinary, multi-disciplinary or cross-disciplinary), a unique collateral specialization in a related discipline, experimental learning opportunities, a unique mentoring program, seminars, or a multi-university collaborative approach; (3) the degree to which the proposal establishes that the institution's faculty, facilities and equipment, instructional support resources, and other attributes are excellent for providing outstanding graduate study and research at the forefront of science and technology related to the chosen area of national need; (4) the degree to which the institution's plans and procedures for recruitment and selection of academically outstanding fellows and for monitoring and facilitating fellow's progress through a program of study reflect excellence as documented in the proposal; (5) the degree to which supporting summary data substantiate program quality in the targeted national need area; and (6) the quality of the proposal as reflected by its substantive content, organization, clarity, and accuracy; (7) any additional evaluation criteria as cited in the annual program announcement published in the Federal Register.

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