Prepare Now! Don’t Panic Later. [Updated x2]

Questions and Reminders about DEB’s Prepropsoal Deadline

We’re starting to get calls in noticeable volume relating to the upcoming preproposal deadline, and a few common questions are sticking out. So, to make sure everyone has access to these answers, we’re posting them for all to see, below. If your question isn’t addressed here, please leave a comment or send us an email and we’ll respond to you and post the response here if it’s sufficiently generalizable.

Q: How does the DEB deadline, January 25, 2016 relate to the FastLane Notices about policy changes, also on January 25, 2016?

A: There are two major points of this policy change to keep in mind for your DEB preliminary proposals:

  • FastLane is going to be absolutely strict about the deadline. It is supposed to reject anything that comes in to the system from 5:00PM onward (after 4:59:59) according to the institution’s official time zone. Your Authorized Organizational Representative (the person in your institutional research office who signs off on grant paperwork) will have to provide final sign off on your submission before 5:00PM on January 25, 2016. Otherwise the submission will not be complete and will not be received by FastLane. FastLane used to give the organizational representative five days to complete signatures; this is no longer the case.
  • Starting Jan 22, 2016, FastLane should be checking for and blocking submission of full proposals with extra pages, missing documents, etc. If you are following the DEB Core Programs Solicitation and properly submitting a preliminary proposal, you should not encounter any problems with submission errors due to these automated compliance checks because they are not supposed to apply to preliminary proposals. However, you need to be aware of this change and the potential ramifications in the event something goes awry:
    1. The content and formatting directions, limits, and requirements for preliminary proposals are described in our solicitation. However, FastLane is not set up to provide any sort of check or warning for the specific requirements of preliminary proposals. The lack of an automated error does not mean a preliminary proposal submission is correct. (Some submitting officials may think the system is applying checks when, in our case, it isn’t.)
    2. A mistake on your cover page or, conceivably, a problem with the website roll-out could lead to the opposite problem where your submission is incorrectly held to policies that are not supposed to apply to a preliminary proposal. It is important to leave yourself enough time to check and respond if you do encounter a submission error[i].

Background: As of this writing, the NSF FastLane proposal submission website is scheduled to begin stricter automatic enforcement of both new and continuing proposal submission policies on Friday, January 22, 2015. The good news is there will be less work compliance checking- the system should do a better job of checking and not allowing proposals to go through that Program Officers would typically reject for formatting and similar problems. The bad news is a computer will now be making these initial determinations; the machine has no compassion for your circumstances.


Q: Which Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG) is relevant for my DEB preliminary proposal submission?

This question usually comes to us via your institutional grant support/sponsored research officer. Since you may be reporting back to someone else, we’ll provide a couple of different versions of answers that will all get you to the same result. Hopefully one of them clicks with you:

A1 (the simple pragmatic answer): This question is irrelevant. DEB preliminary proposals are submitted to the DEB Core Programs solicitation (NSF 15-609). Follow the solicitation and you will be fine.

A2 (the more technical answer): The new PAPPG, NSF 16-1, comes into effect in FastLane on Monday, January 25, 2016 and will apply to any DEB preliminary proposals received that day. If you complete and submit a DEB preliminary proposal prior to that date, then the previous (current as of this writing) version of the PAPPG, NSF 15-1, will still be in force reflected by the prompts in FastLane, even though the newer PAPPG (NSF 16-1) is in effect for these proposals. In either case, the directions in the DEB Core Programs solicitation (NSF 15-609) are already in force, right now, and apply to the preliminary proposals. These instructions are compatible with both versions of the PAPPG: follow the solicitation and you will be fine.

A3 (the “I still need more assurance” answer): You can read about the changes to the PAPPG in the new PAPPG publication, NSF 16-1. We also went through and identified the major relevant points of these coming changes on this blog, here and here. You can compare them to the current DEB Core Programs solicitation, here. The big thing you should notice is that all of the changes to the format and content of proposals described in the new PAPPG match language already in force in the DEB solicitation. This was intentional. We recognized the potential for confusion stemming from the PAPPG revision and wrote our solicitation to ensure that the same set of instructions would apply to all of the preliminary proposals regardless of when the new PAPPG came into force. Further, many of the “changes” in the new PAPPG (uploading a collaborator list, revised biosketch format, template for letters of collaboration [relevant to full proposals only]) were already part of the DEB solicitation going back two or three years. Follow the solicitation and you will be fine.

Background for those of you totally confused by the above: The major document spelling out NSF grant policy for applicants is called the Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG). An update is released every year or so and typically brings with it several tweaks, revisions, new submission rules, etc. Each new edition is published several months in advance of when it comes into effect so everyone can see the changes before they have to put them into practice. So, each year, there’s a period of overlap when the current PAPPG is still in place, but the “next” PAPPG has been published. We are in the period right now and the next PAPPG is set to replace the current PAPPG on the same day as our DEB preliminary proposal deadline.


Q: Do you have any advice for when to submit?

A: The worst thing you can do is wait until late on Monday Jan. 25, 2016 to begin pressing the submit buttons. If something goes wrong then, you’ll have little recourse.

If you follow the DEB Core Programs solicitation carefully, then we encourage you to submit early and beat the rush. That maximizes your chances of being able to address any problems and get a response to any questions you may have.

At the very least, you should plan to submit early in the day on Jan. 25, 2016 so that you and your institutional officials can get through any problems that you run in to with FastLane.

Remember, you are responsible for ensuring your submission comes through complete and on time. The best practice of submitting early enough such that you can look at your submitted proposal and double-check that everything came through as intended is especially important because of the hard-wired, strict 5:00PM deadline.


Q: What has changed in the preliminary proposal since last year?

A: Very little has changed. Most of the changes implemented in the new solicitation, affect only full proposal submission. However, there are three minor changes worth close attention:

  • We’ve clarified the terminology related to project roles by replacing “lead senior investigator of a sub-award” with “PI of a subaward”. The new text is consistent with labels you see when creating a subaward budget in FastLane. This doesn’t affect submission limits at all, just the labels.
  • We’ve specified a 2-section format for the Personnel page at the start of the project description to better distinguish those individuals whose involvement falls under the submission limit from those who do not.
  • The Collaborators & Other Affiliations list (aka, your reported individual and institutional Conflicts of Interest) is now a Single Copy Document. This is to ensure consistency between our preliminary proposals and the way this requirement was incorporated for all proposals into the new PAPPG.



[NEW] Q: How should I format the Collaborations & Other Affiliations Information for the “Single Copy Documents” section?

A: The 2016 PAPPG doesn’t define a specific format and neither does the DEB solicitation.  Generally, you should put them into an organized list. This document may be organized in text or table forms as long as it is clear to which person on the project team each of the collaborators and other affiliations are linked. Also, as long as they are uploaded under single copy documents, it doesn’t matter whether you bundle together or upload separate documents for each member of your project team.


[NEW] Q: Who goes on my cover page?

A: For the FastLane “cover page” specifically, it’s up to your institution, see our prior post on this specific topic:

For the “Personnel” page of the Project Description, follow the solicitation:

I. Personnel (This section is limited to one page. Any remaining space should be left blank.) Provide a list of project personnel; any individual for whom a biographical sketch is included in the preliminary proposal must be included. Indicate the institutional affiliation for each individual, and provide a minimal description of that person’s role(s) in the project. The description of role(s) may not exceed two lines per person and cannot include external links. You should not list students or technicians. Divide the list into two sections:

The first section of the list should be labeled “Key personnel” and must contain all PIs, co-PIs, and PIs of intended subawards for what is envisioned to be the full proposal, including those from all parts of a collaborative proposal. This constitutes the list of key personnel subject to the submission cap of no more than two preliminary proposals.

The second section of the list should be labeled “All other personnel” and must contain any other personnel whose biosketches are included in the preliminary proposal (i.e., other senior personnel or postdoctoral scholars). This section of the list should not include any individual that will be listed on the cover page of the full proposal submission or cover pages of any associated non-lead collaborative full proposal submissions (i.e., no PIs or co-PIs should be listed). This section should also not include any individual who will be receiving a subaward through the planned budget of the full proposal (i.e., PI on a subaward).

The individuals listed on the personnel page should match the listing of personnel submitted by email using the debpersonnellist.xlsx template (see below). If there is any discrepancy between the listing of personnel on the submitted template and the proposal personnel page, the template listing will be considered definitive for purposes of enforcing the individual cap on preliminary proposal submissions and for the allowed role of individuals on the full proposal submission. Please keep in mind that preliminary proposals in excess of the submission cap for any person will be returned without review in the reverse order received. It is the responsibility of the submitters to confirm that the entire team is within the eligibility guidelines. Changes to the team post-submission to meet the eligibility limits will not be allowed.


[NEW] Q: How do I add biosketches for people who aren’t a PI/Co-PI on the cover page?

A: If they are listed on the personnel page, but are not Co-PIs on the cover page, add them under “Add/Delete Non Co-PI Senior Personnel”, see our previous discussion (with screen grabs) here:


[UPDATED] Q: When will I hear about my Fall 2015 full proposal so that I can decide if I want to submit a revision or a new idea for January?

A: Decision letters are currently being processed, so you should hear as soon as possible. You can check on your proposal status in FastLane. However, we cannot release your review materials until the recommendation is complete; time spent on phone calls providing you with the stock answer just delays getting the actual paperwork done. We aren’t making any awards yet since we don’t have an appropriation for the year, but we are working to process all declines and contact intended awardees as quickly as possible. As with last year, we’re also trying to get each program’s decisions out close together so everyone in a particular area of competition has roughly equal time to respond.   Results of the Fall 2015 proposals have been communicated to PIs. Double-check your FastLane account if you’re still looking for the news. Awards are starting to be processed.




[i] These checks are supposed to ignore preliminary proposals, but you may see some sort of “warning” message that encourages you to double-check your work against the solicitation before proceeding. If you do get an unexpected hard-stop error that prevents submission although you are sure you have done things correctly, call FastLane immediately. Also, immediately send an email to your favorite Program Officer or to document the situation.

One thought on “Prepare Now! Don’t Panic Later. [Updated x2]

  1. Pingback: CRITICAL INFO: DEB Deadline and Winter Storm Jonas/#Snowzilla – DEBrief

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