Project Reports: Updated FAQs

Some background:

Annual and final reports have changed over the years and the purpose of this post is to answer some common questions around NSF project reporting. Reports show how our investments in research are spent. We use them to help show that taxpayer money is being spent on valuable and important work. Program Officers (POs) review each report and request additional information, if needed. In short, reports are a necessary part of the good stewardship of federal funds.

What should I put in my project report?

Follow the template. The amount of text is not an indicator of the quality of the report, or of the research productivity. We want a concise description of what happened/was accomplished during the ANNUAL reporting period (i.e. not cumulative for the entire award duration). Remember that products can include many types of things, from books, to journals, conference presentations, websites, dissertations, techniques, software, and data that has been made publicly available. It’s important to include all types of products in the report.

What are the most common problems that cause POs to return a report for revision?

  • Not listing people in the Participants/Organizations table who are mentioned in the narrative sections.
  • Grammar: lots of typos, incomplete sentences, or paragraphs.
  • Not providing details under “Accomplishments” and “Products” (especially for projects that are beyond their first year).

Who should I list in the Participants section? The other collaborators section?

Between the three sections of “Participants/Organizations,” please list everyone who has been engaged in the project within the previous 12 months. This includes students, volunteers and those paid through other sources. If their activities were related to the objectives (Intellectual or Broader Impact) of your award, they “count”. A rule of thumb in deciding which section to report under is that individual “participants” carried out the work of the objectives, “organizational partners” are any organizations beyond your awardee institution that directly enabled the work done by the participants (e.g., the other institutions involved in a multi-institutional collaborative project), and “other collaborators or contacts” would include indirect supporters or beneficiaries of the work (e.g., schools at which your student conducted a demonstration). Please note that “other collaborators and contacts” are entered into a plain narrative text-box; which doesn’t have any specific structure or data requirements.

I have an RCN or workshop award (or any other type award that may involve dozens of participants). Do you really want them all listed as Participants?

Yes. The list of participants provides an increasingly valuable database that NSF can use to quantify the impact of its investments. We prefer Participants be entered one-by-one in the Participants/Organization table.

I have a collaborative award. How should my reports differ from those of my collaborators?

Some overlap in reports is expected. Your report should focus on the components of the project and the personnel unique to your institution. Be explicit about which participants are affiliated with your part of the project or institution and which ones will be credited to one of your collaborators.

Are Annual Reports cumulative? Is the Final Report cumulative?

No and no. Report only on the previous year of work. Except for “Major Goals” and “Impacts”, there should be little or no overlap from one report to the next. The Final Report should be written as an Annual Report – there’s nothing special about it other than it being the last report on a given project.

What is the Project Outcomes Report and why is it important?

The Project Outcomes Report is due at the same time as your final report. The Project Outcome Report summarizes the overall goal(s) and accomplishments of the project upon its completion. Your Outcome Report acts as a permanent record and justification for our investment of taxpayer dollars in your research. It can be viewed by the public and should be written for the public. NSF can’t edit your Outcome Report so please take extra care to be clear and grammatically correct. Please do not cut-and-paste text from your Annual or Final Reports because you wrote them for a very different audience.

What happens if I don’t submit my report on time?

You and any Co-PIs will not be allowed to receive any new funding (e.g., annual increments, supplements, or new grants) or process any other actions (e.g., no cost extensions, PI changes) until the report is submitted and approved. Your annual report is due starting 90 days before your award anniversary. Waiting until late in the 90-day window risks delaying timely release of annual funds and possibly going overdue before we’ve had a chance to review, receive any needed corrections, and approve the report.

Can I submit a proposal if I have an overdue report?


Why am I being asked to submit my report in May when it’s not overdue until August or September (or later)?

Because that’s how our budget cycle works. You need to submit your annual report when NSF requests it because we don’t want you to miss your annual funding increment and lose your money if you turn it in after the fiscal year it is due.

Additional Reporting Resources

A list of guides, tutorials, templates, and demonstrations related to Project Reports is available here. For any additional questions around project reports, please contact your managing Program Officer. Please be aware that if you would like to request a no-cost extension for this award, you must do so before the final report is over-due. NSF cannot grant a no-cost extension when a final report is over-due, or if a final report has been submitted. Once a no-cost extension has been approved, will be updated with a new final report due date and you can submit your current year’s report.


Meet DEB: Kaitlin McDonald


Kaitlin McDonald


Where are you attending school?

I’m finishing up my MS in environmental science and policy at Johns Hopkins.

What’s your role here at DEB?

I’m a Science Assistant and looking forward to learning more about this role and assisting in program and proposal management.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

In my free time I really enjoy hiking (my most recent, favorite hike), reading, and complementing strangers’ dogs. I recently started rock-climbing and have a new appreciation for the Earth’s surface.

Would you rather be a fish or a bird?

Owls are the greatest but I think it would be really interesting to live as a species of deep sea fish, like the lantern fish or the cookiecutter shark.

Shutdown. Here’s What That Means.

As you probably know from the news, Congress failed to pass a budget to fund government operations. That means federal agencies must now begin the process of shutting down all operations until further notice. We have 4 hours today to conduct an “orderly shutdown” which allows us to set our email ‘away’ messages and post this information to our blog before we are required to cease all government activities.

Program Officers and administrators will be prohibited from performing any government work including reading and/or responding to any phone calls or emails. Additionally, you will not have access to government systems like Fastlane or The building will be closed to all visitors and we won’t be able to communicate with you again until the shutdown has ended.

Cyberinfrastructure Follow-Up

In January, NSF issued a Dear Colleague Letter requesting information on emerging cyberinfrastructure needs. The Office of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure (OAC) is leading the effort to refresh NSF’s strategy and vision for future cyberinfrastructure investments as NSF’s five-year initiative, “Cyberinfrastructure Framework for 21st Century Science and Engineering (CIF21)” comes to a close.

Hundreds of scientists and engineers answered the call. Thank you to everyone who took the time to send in their thoughts. Of those who responded, half wrote as individuals and half represented a group.  All the responses are publically available here.  Most came from those affiliated with academic institutions and the rest were from non-profits, NSF-operated facilities, and industry professionals.

DEB-related responses from fields such as biodiversity, biogeography, ecology, and evolution focused on challenges dealing with the exponential growth of data from remote sensors, images, and other digital collections. Additionally, getting those collections to “talk to you each other” and share data sets represents a huge challenge. Another component centered on enabling the integration and analysis of data across disciplines, species, and metadata. In addition to requests for consistent, reusable, open access data sets, many responses focused on the need for workforce training and development to help process, curate, and archive new datasets.

What’s next for NSF’s cyberinfrastructure planning? OAC is working with NSF’s Directorates and Divisions and NSF’s Advisory Committee on Cyberinfrastructure, to assess the responses to the Request for Information (RFI). These RFI responses are being considered together with other relevant community input such as the 2016 National Academies report on NSF Advanced Computational Infrastructure, the 2017 Data Building Blocks (DIBBs) PI Workshop, 2017 NSF Cybersecurity Summit, and upcoming 2017 NSF Large Facilities Cyberinfrastructure Workshop (September 6-7). Guided by these community contributions, NSF will develop a refreshed cyberinfrastructure plan that takes us from 2017 into 2030 with all relevant information being posted on the NSF CI 2030 website.


Now Hiring: New Division Director

Dr. Paula Mabee’s rotation as DEB Division Director is coming to a close and the search for a new Division Director has publically begun. This is a 1-3 year Limited Term Appointment and is open to visiting scientists from universities, colleges or other institutions. The position is within the Senior Executive Service of the Federal government.

A brief position description is as follows: The Division Director provides vision and leadership, and works jointly with the Deputy Division Director in oversight of all activities of the Division of Environmental Biology. The Division Director also serves as a member of the senior leadership team of the Directorate for Biological Sciences, working cooperatively with other Division and Deputy Division Directors, in advising and aiding the Assistant Director, the Deputy Assistant Director and senior staff in the Directorate for Biological Sciences.

The Division Director’s responsibilities include providing guidance to program officers, administrative and support personnel, recruitment of scientific staff, assessing needs and trends, developing breakthrough opportunities, implementing overall strategic planning, and policy setting. The Division Director ensures the effective use of division staff and resources in meeting organizational goals and objectives. The Division Director supervises professional staff within the Division. The Division Director determines funding requirements, prepares and justifies budget estimates, balances program needs, allocates resources, and oversees the evaluation of proposals and recommendations for awards and declinations. The Division Director represents NSF to relevant external groups and fosters partnerships with other Divisions, Directorates, Federal agencies, scientific organizations, and the academic community.

For details on how to apply, please visit the job announcement and email Deputy Division Director Alan Tessier ( with any additional questions.

Spring 2017: DEB Preliminary Proposal Results

This past week, DEB completed processing all preliminary proposals submitted to the January 23rd 2017 deadline. Below is a summary of the outcomes for this year.

Panel Recommendations

The “Invite” column in the chart above reflects the panels’ recommendations while the “Total Invited” column reflects the programs’ recommendations. Each program’s final invite decision was based not only on the panel recommendation but also the availability of funds and portfolio balance.

The four DEB clusters convened 10 preliminary-proposal panels. Panelists reviewed 1,384 preliminary proposals and recommended 346 be invited for full proposal submission. We are very thankful to panelists who traveled from all over the country to participate in our merit review process. DEB program officers subsequently made adjustments for portfolio balance and invited 373 (27%) for full proposal submission.

By this time, all PIs who submitted a 2017 preliminary proposal should have heard back from DEB about the program’s recommendation (“Invite” or “Do Not Invite”). If you have not, please visit and select the “proposal functions” option then click on “proposal status.” If you were a Co-PI, please follow-up with your lead PI.

The chart below shows long-term trends in the numbers of preliminary proposals DEB has received since 2012, as well as the total invite numbers and percentages. As you can see, the numbers submitted have been decreasing and the overall invite rate has been increasing.