Grants.gov and the SF424

Four weeks to go, and I’m assembling an SBIR “Competing Continuation” grant, an odd-ball National Institutes of Health grant opportunity which requires an SBIR Phase II as a prerequisite, and basically allows you to continue research and development for “complex” medical devices, drugs, etc, that still have a way to go before commercialization.

NIH converted to an online submission procedure about two years ago. By most accounts it was fairly buggy, and they are continuing to refine it; it looks as if they are going to base the next version on Adobe Forms. As described a few days ago, if you have either a Mac with Leopard, OS-X, or a machine with Windows Vista, the only option that runs the forms is to use a Citrix terminal application which looks like Windows 95, crashes regularly, and logs you off after 20 minutes in any case. After struggling with this for a session last Friday, I’m punting and I’ve regressed to a Windows XP machine.

Even using the “native” PureEdge viewer, things are fairly kludgy. PureEdge installs as viwer, sort of like Adobe Acrobat, within Internet Explorer. You then navigate to the web page that contains the xfd for the web form. After inputting data, you can save the data. Unfortunatly the saved data from my Citrix session won’t seem to run…I have to reenter everything that I put on Friday.
After downloading the form again the form opens.

A couple of extracts from the SF424 instructions.

  1. There are odd rules related to the ability to have more than a single Primary Investigator, with NIH, you can.
  2. A budget must be created for each budget period.

    A budget peried is considered to be one year or portion of a year if the grant period is less than a year. If you have a multi-year budget, then you must fill out one for each year. The figures will be consolidated on a read-only summary sheet.

  3. If you are working within a consortium, and will be awarding some of the funding to the consortium, they (or you, or somebody) have to prepare a subaward budget that mirrors the award budget. This uses the same form (just with a checkbox for “subaward”). In my case, since this is a three-year grant, there will be six (6) separate “budgets”…one for each year for both myself, and the consortium partner. Woof.
  4. For the first budget I created a “simulation” in Numbers (the Mac spreadsheet) on the Mac which has the same format as the budget form. I’m going to try going native on the subsequent budgets, but if the data entry gets too hairy, I expect to create a simulation for the other five budgets too. (Later….didn’t end up doing this…now that I’ve sort of memorized what the form does and how works, I was confident enough to go commando as it were.)
  5. There is a budget justification (budget narrative) section which applies to the main budget, and a separate justification which applies to the subaward.
  6. Critical:When editing an attached form, you have to reimport or reattach it! In other words, specifying a file name doesn’t specify a pointer to the physical file; the file actually gets imported into to the form file.

If you are working within a consortium, it is helpful to have the consortium budgets entered first. These are done with the form shown in the lower left-hand corner, the R&R subaward budget form, which works similarly to the main budget form. You can even create the file for this and email it to your consortium partner to fill out and and return.

Totals from the consortium budget needs to be entered into the main budget. This is also the time where you can be sure to enforce rules such as the requirement that the maximum amount a subaward can be is 50% of the total amount for an SBIR grant. I sent the subaward budget back twice for revisions for this and similar restrictions.

All this goes considerably better when accompanied by music of your choice. Shawn Colvin was helpful.

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