After much thought and discussion, the Office of Research (ODUOR) and Research Foundation (ODURF) have concluded that we need an internal submission deadline for research and sponsored programs applications to external organizations. This conclusion is based on the need to support an increasing number of proposal submissions, provide the campus research community with proposal development assistance, allow both college and department officials sufficient review time, and accommodate funding agencies’ processes and application submission complexities. Each of these merits additional discussion.
1) Increasing volume and proposal development
ODU has a centralized approach to proposal development, review and application submission processing, in that all sponsored program application activities are channeled through the Office of Research and Research Foundation for processing. Starting work on developing a proposal only a week or two before a sponsoring agency deadline impacts both the substance of the proposal as well as the workload of the department and college officials, and ODURF and ODUOR staff members involved. Investigators are not well served when work on their timely submitted proposal materials is delayed in favor of another proposal that was submitted late and needs to be processed first in order to meet the sponsor’s deadline.
To avoid this increasingly common situation, investigators should notify the Research Foundation as soon as they know they intend to submit a proposal and provide a copy of or web link to the sponsor’s guidelines, if any. When the funding announcement allows, investigators should start working on their proposal at least one month before the sponsoring agency’s submission deadline. The period needed for proposal preparation would increase as the complexity of the project increases. This pro-active approach allows time for proper document and budget development, department and college reviews and application submission processing.
2) Insufficient time for meaningful department chair and dean review
Department chairs and deans are often requested to obligate resources in connection with proposed sponsored programs. Evaluating these requests requires time to review how the proposed research fits the University’s mission and strategic plan and consider the impact of obligations asked of the college or department, such as covering instructional time, meeting new space requirements and committing cash or in-kind resources as cost share. To make informed decisions, these administrations need information. Thus all proposal submission forms should be completed or in finalized form before handing off to department chairs and deans. PIs will need to notify department chairs and deans early enough to ensure that finalized and signed proposal packets make it to ODURF five (5) working days before the agency deadline to guarantee submission.
3) More complex application submission processes
It is becoming apparent that simple one document, hard copy submissions are a thing of the past. Over the last several years, the researchers and the ODURF have been working with Grants.gov, the federal government’s mandatory electronic proposal submission system. Some types of proposals have long required use of Grants.gov and now Grants.gov has become a requirement for submission of nearly all applications for federal grants.
Grants.gov electronic submissions are quite different from the paper processes they replaced. Particularly significant is the unforgiving nature of deadline enforcement. Initial processing upon receipt of applications by Grants.gov includes error-checking routines that prevent acceptance of an application by the system and forwarding it to the funding agency until all errors are corrected. Our experience, and that of other institutions, indicates submissions can be significantly delayed due to the error checking followed by sometimes several iterations of correction and re-transmittal. To ensure proposals clear the Grants.gov system in time to meet agency deadlines, most universities have established internal submission timetables.
4) Availability of Principal Investigator
It is important that availability of principal investigators working on proposals be required throughout the document development, department/college review and application submission stages.
To accomplish these objectives, starting October 1, 2008 a complete proposal package consisting of final versions of all documents and materials required by the funding agency must be received by ODURF at least five (5) full working days before the agency’s deadline. In addition, the Proposal Transmittal Form must be complete, including signatures of investigators and their departments’ and colleges’ chairs, deans, or other authorized representatives. Five days of processing time will allow ODURF time to process the proposal internally and through the agency’s electronic or hard copy submission systems and give the needed flexibility during high volume time periods.
Based on the five (5) full day lead time, ODURF will prioritize applications as follows:
–Guaranteed submission – proposals with deadlines five or more working days from ODURF receipt of the complete proposal package (ODURF will work with the principal investigators concerning proposal text changes up to 3 full working days prior to the sponsor’s deadline, on a case by case basis, as long as those changes will not impact the budget).
–Proposals with deadlines fewer than five working days from ODURF receipt of the complete proposal package will be handled as resources permit.
–Proposals without firm deadlines will be submitted as soon as practical and prioritized in order of receipt. “As soon as possible”, without additional guidance or no due date, will be prioritized within this category.
ODURF seeks to submit proposals both on time and in compliance with funding agencies’ submission requirements. Additional information on the proposal submission process is available at http://www.researchfoundation.odu.edu/grantscon/grantprep.htm.
This change calls for planning by principal investigators and grant and contract administrators. On the other hand, continuing business as usual could jeopardize submission of a significant number of proposals. Over the last few months, we have had several near misses and this will need to be avoided at all costs. It seems likely that electronic processing will improve as problems with funding agencies’ individual systems are identified and corrected and as funding agencies and applicant organizations adjust. The objective is to enhance the probability that all proposals will be received and accepted prior to their stated deadlines.
Thank you for your cooperation and patience.