Climate Adaptation Science Center Host Recompetition Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Information related to the Recompetition and CASC hosting awards process can be found at https://casc.usgs.gov/casc-recompetition
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Updated: August 23, 2018
Budget & Financial
Q: What are all the sources of funding for a CASC?
A: CASC activities are supported by three funding streams. One is associated with the hosting agreement (i.e. the ones now being competed). Host institutions receive funding for the activities described in their proposal, and may transfer funds to consortium partners. These funds generally support the involvement of key faculty, the training of graduate students, and post-doctoral researchers. A second funding stream is the annual research funding available to the USGS CASC Director. S/he uses a mix of request for proposals (RFP) and directed funding to support research and other science and communications activities. These funds may be provided to a host institution, which may thereafter transfer funds to a consortium partner or other research collaborator, or they may be transferred to a USGS entity. Finally, USGS (and in several cases the Bureau of Indian Affairs) provide salaries and related support for Federal employees at the CASC.
Q: Are in-kind contributions required?
A: No, but they are, of course, highly valued by the program.
Q: Is matching funding required?
A: No. In the past, universities have provided “matching funds” in various ways, including reduced indirect cost rates, return of indirect cost funds to the CASC, funding of associated faculty lines, and the like, but this is not a requirement. In-kind contributions can, however, affect the long-term capabilities of the center and will be considered as available resources during the review process.
Q: Who makes funding decisions?
A: There are two types of funding decisions. This Program Announcement and proposal process will determine the Host institutions for the CASC regions. These proposals will be evaluated by a Federal panel (see previous answer) and an award made by USGS to a single Host Institution. The selected Host Institution may provide funding to partner institutions from this award to support hosting activities in accordance with its proposal and the final award terms. Host Institutions are also eligible for research funding provided non-competitively. Decisions on these funds are made by the USGS CASC Director, in response to proposals or as part of co-development. Research awards are provided to the Host Institution, which may provide subawards to consortium partners and other parties
Q: Are budget tables and justification included in the 15 page limit?
Q: Are explanations of in-kind and related support included as part of the 15-page limit?
A: No, these explanations can be part of your budget justification and are not counted toward your 15-page limit.
Q: Should we provide an expected funding request for one year or five years?
A: 5 years, with each year’s funding subject to the availability of funds and adequate progress on implementing the terms of the award.
Q: Can funding go to federal agencies?
A: Yes, but as noted above, Federal entities may not be Host Institutions. In cases where a Federal entity is a partner and the proposal includes funding for that Federal entity, USGS would provide the funds directly to the relevant agency interagency agreements, rather than being included in funding provided under the cooperative agreement with the Host Institution.
Q: If USGS must approve all university proposals, why have I seen RFPs from host centers in the past?
A: Some host institutions use “mini-RFPs” to solicit ideas and proposals from within their consortium network, as part of development of responses to USGS-identified priorities and funding availability. All proposals for research funding are submitted by the Host Institution and funding for research is provided by award to the Host Institution, which may then subaward to others.
Q: What if the proposed budget is over $4.5 million for 5 years?
A: Would not be considered non-responsive if the budget is over $4.5 million, but it this will be part of the evaluation criteria related to value. Proposals will be reviewed for technical quality, responsiveness to the announcement, overall cost, justification for proposed costs and activities, and allocation of cost factors within the proposal. The USGS will negotiate the budget to the ceiling identified in program announcement before any award is made.
Q: Does the criteria for the budget evaluation include staying within the $4.5 million limit?
A: While responding to the budget criteria is not an explicit evaluation criteria, an evaluation of overall value is. Proposals will be reviewed for technical quality, responsiveness to the announcement, overall cost, justification for proposed costs and activities, and allocation of cost factors within the proposal.
Q: Is there an opportunity to re-adjust the budget allocations due to the changing needs of the Center?
A: Yes, for changes greater than 10%, the CASC would just need to submit a request for a change to their budget proposal to explain reasons for the changes for approval by the Office of Acquisition and Grants.
Q: If funds were to increase for the network, would modifications to the CASC budgets be possible?
A: In such a scenario, yes, modifications could be made.
Q: If a university receives a grant from an anonymous donor, is there a way they can describe it in the proposal as an asset without it being defined as a “cost-share”?
A: If they wish, this funding can described in the narrative, but should not be included in the budget to avoid the cost sharing implications . A few highlights from 2 CFR 200 -
2 CFR § 200.306 Cost sharing or matching.
(a) Under Federal research proposals, voluntary committed cost sharing is not expected. It cannot be used as a factor during the merit review of applications or proposals, but may be considered if it is both in accordance with Federal awarding agency regulations and specified in a notice of funding opportunity. Criteria for considering voluntary committed cost sharing and any other program policy factors that may be used to determine who may receive a Federal award must be explicitly described in the notice of funding opportunity.
(b) For all Federal awards, any shared costs or matching funds and all contributions, including cash and third party in-kind contributions, must be accepted as part of the non-Federal entity's cost sharing or matching when such contributions meet all of the following criteria:
(2) Are not included as contributions for any other Federal award
Q: If a university wishes to include Federal partners as part of their consortium, Federal entity funding would be sent through interagency agreements, and therefore cannot be included in the host university budget or receive university indirect cost rates. How should the indirect costs for Federal partners be presented in the budget?
A: Interagency agreements for Federal entity partners should be established directly between USGS and the Federal entity. The university is not able to charge indirect costs on the funds that are included as part of the interagency agreement, nor should they since the agreement is between USGS and the Federal entity.
Q: Are letters of support from the host institution a required element of the proposal?
A: Generally, commitments on behalf of the host institution are contained within the proposal itself, as this is written and submitted by the host institution.
Q: Should the proposal contain a detailed data management plan?
A: No. The proposal should indicate that the requirements for data management planning are understood and commit to implementing them as described.
Q: How should we provide an example of co-production?
A: An acceptable example of co-production would demonstrate that your team has experience with co- produced activities and has the knowledge necessary for facilitating this type of work.
Q: What do you mean by “support” in regard to the data steward section of the RFP?
A: Data stewards help with data management through the life cycle of projects. Support is referred to here as funding to support that position. Funding of a data steward by the host institution is not a requirement. Climate Adaptation Science Centers in the past have requested ownership of this function, but it is fully optional. If funding is not included in a proposal for data steward support, NCASC will provide those services directly.
Q: What are the scoring factors and weights?
A: See template here (updated as of July 2018). For the most recent review factors/weights for an open recompetition, please see the official grants.gov program announcement.
Q: Can you elaborate on the requirement to incorporate a review of CASC communication products with NCASC and USGS Communications staff (p.17)?
A: We are looking for you to indicate that you are aware of and will follow the CASC Communications Guidelines, which outline the process for the review of communications products by NCASC and USGS Communications Staff. See page 9 of the aforementioned guidelines for details on the review of communications products.
Q: What is the appropriate format for the required CV?
A: The Program Announcement (“RFP”) has been revised to address CV format and content. The revised language is included at the end of this FAQ.
Q: What is the format for Resume / Curriculum Vitae and Conflict of Interest Information?
A: See template here.
Q: How should we include conflicts of interest?
A: The Program Announcement (“RFP”) has been revised to address information needed to identify potential conflicts. The revised language is included at the end of this FAQ.
Q: Are evaluation criteria assigned weights?
A: The Program Announcement has been revised to address the weighting of scoring criteria.
Q: Is the fourth component of page 14 Letters of Support?
Q: Is it correct that the 15-page limit applies only to the Technical Proposal Narrative, and letters of support would be included as an appendix and not included as part of that 15-page limitation?
Application Process & Details
Q: Is there a requirement for an Intent to Submit letter?
Q: Who will be in the group of reviewers for the RFP?
A: A group of federal employees from DOI bureaus, NOAA and USDA. We will charge them with making a balanced decision that provides the best value to the government.
Q: Will the Technical Review Panel that reviewed the initial proposals for the SE and NW regions also review the proposals to be submitted in January 2017?
A: To the extent possible (scheduling etc.) the review teams will be the same.
Q: Can you advise on whether it is acceptable to include URLs to link to external resources as part of the proposal, or should additional materials be included in an Appendix?
A: Proposers should include as much as possible of the material they wish to be used in the review / selection process in the body of the proposal. Both URLs and appendices are appropriate, but it is logical to expect that not all reviewers will explore this material in depth.
Q: What should institutions do if they are primarily interested in a consortium role?
Q: How can non-profit organizations respond to this proposal?
A: Interested parties should network with other institutions to see who is planning to propose as a host institution. All consortium partners should have a clearly identified role and function in a consortium.
Q: Is this a research proposal?
A: No, this is funding for hosting of the Climate Adaptation Science Center. Specific research activities will be funded by separate agreements.
Q: Can I talk to federal employees about the proposal?
Q: Can we coordinate/partner with US Federal agencies or centers for the center award? This was not clear based on the wording on the front page of the solicitation vs. what was stated on the phone call.
A: Yes. The Program Announcement has been revised regarding federal and USGS participation. USGS employees are prohibited from serving in any capacity (paid or unpaid) on any application submitted under this Announcement, and may not participate in the development of proposals. Federal employees from agencies that are included as consortium partners may assist in the development of proposals, but funding for federal agencies playing such a role will provided via separate Interagency Agreement, not under the cooperative agreements resulting from this Program Announcement. This does not prohibit cooperation or collaboration between USGS and non-USGS scientists once a grant or cooperative agreement is in place.
Host & Consortium Structure
Q: What is the relationship between the host institution and the National Climate Adaptation Science Center (NCASC)?
A: The majority of the engagement of a host institution with USGS will be through the CASC with whom it is affiliated. NCASC coordinates network-wide activities, and so will have some engagement with the host. These activities include coordinated research programs that span multiple CASCs as well as annual reviews of the cooperative agreement.
Q: Can a federal lab apply to be a host institution?
A: No, but they can be consortium members/partners. USGS centers cannot be formal members of consortia, either as host or partner.
Q: Is USGS prepared to move staff if a new host institution is selected?
A: USGS will do what is necessary to effect a transition to a new host institution, if one is selected. If a new university host is identified, USGS will follow all appropriate human resources guidelines with regards to existing staff. This includes the potential for “directed reassignments” (i.e. moving an employee) but the specifics are unique to each employee and include a range of possible solutions.
Q: Can individuals from non-consortium institutions serve as Principal Investigators?
A: All research awards (other than to USGS entities) are routed to the host institution and the University Director is the “principal investigator” for purposes of cooperative agreement tracking and accountability. However, funds may be transferred from the host to consortium partners or others, and individuals at these institutions may serve as the “functional” PI for the project. This is the case with the majority of research awards.
Q: What are the expectations for the role of consortium partners?
A: We would like to see a specific role for each consortium partner in proposals. Specific expertise or experience should be considered when explaining the proposed role of the consortium partner. The reason why each proposed partner was chosen should be clear to us.
Q: Is it appropriate for a consortium to include (1) USGS centers or units, (2) other Interior Department bureaus (e.g. NPS, BLM), or (3) other federal agencies
A: USGS centers or units may not be formal participants in a consortium and USGS staff should not participate in the development of proposals. Other Interior Department bureaus and other federal agencies may participate as either funded or non-funded consortium partners. In such instances, any funding for these agencies’ participation would be transferred directly from USGS to that entity, rather than through the host institution (as would be the case, for example, with a university consortium partner).
Q: How much weight should applicants put on each consortium members contribution (university host, members, other partners, etc)?
A: Different models are used across the network. It is up to the applicant to decide the appropriate contribution for the members of their consortium.
Q: Are universities or organizations that are not named in the consortium eligible for funding?
A: Yes. Funding from the host agreement / award can be transferred to support host functions at other institutions.
Q: What are the expectations for staff? How do they interact with the university?
A: Most CASCs have a director, and deputy director or research coordinator; some have research scientists or a communications expert, and some will have a BIA Climate Science Tribal Liaison. USGS believes close interaction between university-funded faculty, students and other staff is very beneficial to the overall functioning of a CASC. Co-located space for researchers, post-docs, and other CASC staff members is preferred.
Q: Are there federal facilities restrictions that could affect staff? Do CASCs have to have security similar to many federal buildings?
A: No special physical or electronic security is required for CASCs. Most of our facilities are located on university campuses and staff use the USGS electronic network for security purposes.
Q: Will all staff employees need to be US citizens?
A: All USGS employees need to be US citizens. This requirement does not extend to university-hired staff.
Q: Can we have collaborators outside of the United States (e.g. Canada)?
Q: Would reviewers see a disadvantage in naming a private institution (or a PI from one) as a consortium partner?
A: Not at all. While state universities and land grants have been the core of the university participation, that is not by (our) design. Private institutions are A-OK.
Science Planning & Priorities
Q: Can you describe the focus of the research programs expected under this solicitation?
A: The proposal provides significant text on the desired outcomes. However, the core resources for which National and Regional CASCs were established is the identification of climate change impacts to and adaptation for fish, wildlife, ecosystems and cultural resources, within a context of multiple ongoing stressors/changes.
Q: How should the language in the RFP concerning guiding the CASC research portfolio be interpreted? What relationship is envisioned between consortium leaders, Stakeholder Advisory Committees (SAC), and USGS CASC leaders?
A: We envision a close and collaborative partnership between the university director, USGS director, and SAC on the strategic needs and directions for the CASC science program. The university director should
1. Be familiar with the full suite of activities underway within the Host Institution, consortium partners, and other CASC-funded investigators (e.g., USGS).
2. Play a leadership role in the strategic planning and implementation of this portfolio, in conjunction with the CASC Director and the Stakeholder Advisory Committee.
3. Encourage and facilitate the engagement of faculty and staff from across the institution (and CASC consortium, where appropriate) to increase awareness of, and where possible, increase contribution to, the goals of the CASC.
4. Facilitate the development of the CASC as a known and desired research and training partner across the involved institution(s).
5. Serve as an advocate for CASC needs with Host Institution management, including:
a. Timely and efficient award, subaward, and contract management
b. Timely and efficient implementation of agreement commitments (e.g., for space, personnel, reporting, etc.)
c. Management of university-paid staff (e.g., office assignments, computer availability and support, with the understanding that some research staff might be more directly involved in USGS-directed projects)
Q: All CASCs recognize a similar challenge in creating science agendas with continually evolving departmental science priorities, please elaborate expectations given these circumstances.
A: The department continues to recognize the need to meet the science needs of our region’s stakeholders, but it is expected that the science agenda will tie to the departmental priorities. Focusing the proposal on the process regarding how science needs will be determined, rather than specific topics would suffice.
Q: Climate change impacts on agriculture and public health would generally be covered by other federal entities. When in relation to tribes, would we be open to funding these topics?
A: The topics proposed should correlate with the departmental priorities and be consistent with DOI’s mission.
Q: Is NCASC defining cultural resources or leaving that up to the proposers?
A: It’s up to the proposers.
Q: When referring to the departmental priority related to ethics - is American energy any energy produced in the US?
A: The department is interested in promoting energy development in the US, with the goal of streamlining the regulatory assessments.
Q: RFP mentions the possibility of mini RFPs for host agreements. How does that interact with the 5 year budget?
A: There are two main avenues: 1) There is an annual amount given for the hosting agreement and 2) Research funds may be distributed through an RFP or directed funding.
Q: Clarify the process for distributing the additional follow-on research funds - the funding for science projects that are solicited after the center is in place. Does the center run the reviews for the science? Do they use a defined review process? Does the center then serve as the administrator of ALL sub awards for both the center consortium members and any (non-federal) institutions that are given follow-on awards, or is the follow-on award funding provided to the recipient from a DOI- administered award?
A: CASCs provide research funding to either the university partners or to USGS centers. (Across the network, the breakdown is roughly 50/50, but this is not determined a priori, but rather by competition or co-development). All university funds are routed through the Host Institution, and technically, the University Director is the "PI". In many cases this is a nominal, on-paper role, although as the RFP notes we want the University Director to be cognizant at a strategic level of what all the research funding at the CASC is accomplishing. The Host may make sub awards to other partner institutions, and to other parties. In other words, there is no limitation on who may be funded under a research award, once it hits the Host Institution. The USGS CASC Director makes the decision as to which projects / institutions are funded. The mechanism varies from CASC to CASC and year to year, but is either a "limited RFP" (more below) or what we call "directed funding" -- projects developed by the USGS Director and a university PI. "Limited RFPs" are run by the CASC (via NCASC's proposal management system) and are open only to proposals submitted through the Host Institution. As noted above, once the Host puts their name on it, funding can go to anyone else. In practice, this usually means that university partner institutions or the Host are the PIs, and if there are outside parties, they are usually second to either the Host PI or a university partner PI.
Capacity Building & Tribes
Q: “USGS/CASC staff must have substantial involvement in the selection of students and postdocs and their activities…” How does NCASC envision this working with Native and Non-Native students?
A: This provision was created with the intention to ensure that the work students at the CASCs are doing align with the CASC’s and DOI’s science priorities.
Q: What are differences between tribal self governance and sovereignty?
A: These terms were likely intended to be used interchangeably.
Q: Do you have an expectation that the consortium would be involved in tribal consultation?
A: Universities work with tribes through their institution’s Tribal IRB program. Federal agency partners must conduct the formal tribal consultation process.
Q: The RFP asks for the CASC science agenda to be tied with DOI science priorities, please elaborate on these expectations as they are related to tribes.
A: Addressing how you plan on assisting and working with tribes as a part of capacity building in your proposal will meet these expectations. All CASC science agendas will need to be tied to the network-wide strategic plan. All science agendas will require approval from NCASC prior to their release. It is always a good idea to be aware of the departmental and secretarial priorities when developing strategic plans.
Q: Can you expand on the tribal engagement section of the proposal (specifically, the BIA Climate Science Tribal Liaison)?
A: The BIA requested proposals from tribal organizations for Climate Science Tribal Liaisons (5 total for all CASCs) based on a model for the position that was created at the South Central Climate Adaptation Science Center. The role of the Climate Science Tribal Liaison is to facilitate communications between the CASC and tribes in order to increase successful co-development of science with the tribes. While employed by tribal organizations, functionally, the Tribal Liaisons will operate as staff members of the CASC (are located in CASC office, attend staff meetings, etc.). Approximately 10% of their work will be to try to bring tribes together in their region by joining and facilitating working groups, information sessions, etc. to bring together comprehensive plans and partnerships.
Q: Can we propose an alternative to the BIA Climate Science Tribal Liaison position to accomplish this?
Q: Please explain the addition of the word adaptation to the Climate Science Centers (CSCs) that are now known as the Climate Adaptation Science Centers (CASCs).
A: "Adaptation science" is a better descriptor of our Centers’ work. "Climate Science Centers" meant something different to climate scientists focused more on atmospheric science. Our Centers focus more on the environmental impacts to fish and wildlife habitat, and the addition of "adaptation" to our name better conveys this mission.
Q: What will happen with partners who are now in the Northeast region and will not be going forward?
A: Until the Midwest center is funded and established, the Northeast CASC will continue unchanged. NCASC has encouraged the NE CASC team to continue its research planning and to implement good projects that make sense for the region. If those projects extend past the transition to a Midwest center, they will be completed as planned, even if collaborators are no longer in the Northeast region. No research relationships or projects will be terminated. Current Northeast CASC partners with interest in the MW region should feel free to apply as host or partners, without any effect on their existing NE activities, unless those activities would duplicate activities funded under a new MW CASC award.
Q: Why was the Northeast CASC region originally chosen and why was it split to create a proposed Midwest region?
A: The northeast (as defined by the original CASC region) is a large and ecologically diverse region that encompasses a significant portion of the U.S. population. Stakeholders in this region asked for the addition of the Midwest center to assist in the management of this expansive area. However, this decision was unrelated to the performance of the Northeast CASC which has done a great job managing priorities. The addition of the Midwest center will only go forward if additional funds are awarded to manage the needs in the new region.
Q: What was the reason for changing the name of the proposed "Great Lakes" center to the "Midwest" center?
A: USGS already has a Great Lakes Science Center, so naming a center the Great Lakes Climate Science Center could cause conflict. Also, the new center would not be focused solely on the Great Lakes. Other parts of the Midwest region would be equally prioritized.
Q: Where can we find more information about the communications guidelines referenced in the Program Announcement?
A: The communications guidelines can be found here.
Q: Do all PIs need to be in one place for the annual reviews?
A: We realize travel and timelines can be a challenge, so remote engagement through Zoom or other platforms is fine.
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