BIO-wide Virtual Office Hours Recap – How to Write a Great Budget

Repost from DEBrief, the blog of the Division of Environmental Biology (DEB).

The Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) held its latest virtual office hour on February 10, 2021. Program Officers were joined by representatives from the Division of Grants and Agreements (DGA) to provide insight on how to prepare NSF budgets.

If you were unable to attend, here are some of the questions asked during the Q & A section broken down by themes:

Participant support – This category is a ‘protected category’ that should facilitate the participation of people in the research. Frequently we see Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) or Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) in this category. Participant support does not have indirect costs applied to it.

Q: When might one use Participant Support?

A: This will be left up to the researcher and their university to decide, but as mentioned REUs or RETs are commonly placed in this category.  Whether you place undergraduate students in this category versus a paid salary line will depend on how the students factor in the research. It is not appropriate to put postdoctoral salaries or collaborator salaries in this category.

Q: Can I move funds out of Participant Support?

A: You must speak with your Program Officer before rebudgeting and receive official NSF permission to do so. Funds moved from Participant Support could be subject to indirect costs and proposed moves must be well justified.

Q: Should REUs or RETs be put in budgets at the time a proposal is submitted?

A: Yes, if you know that you will have an REU, etc. you should include that when you submit your proposal.  You can submit a supplement request if you belatedly realize you would like to have an REU student. Contact your managing Program Officer about this.

Modification and rebudgeting – Following the awarding of a grant, the investigator and their university have the authority to rebudget certain costs (e.g., move money across budget categories) to accomplish the goals of the research. There are some restricted categories (e.g., Participant Support) and a few rebudgeting modifications that require NSF approval (see this chart).

Q: Can I change my start date of my award?

A: While working with a Program Officer, you can modify the start date of your award. However, once the grant is awarded, the start date cannot be changed.

Q: Can I rebudget funds from travel and student involvement due to the pandemic?

A: Given that COVID-19 had reduced travel and student involvement, these funds may be rebudgeted to supplies.

Salaries – NSF allows up to 2 months of salary support for principal investigators across all NSF awards for a single investigator. In rare and well justified cases, more than 2 months of support can be requested.

Q: Could an investigator change their level of effort, and therefore support, post-award?

A: Will this change the scope of the project?  If the scope is changed, then the institution will need NSF prior approval. If this does not change the scope of the project, then the PI will need to communicate with their institution and follow institutional policies and procedures.  

Q: Does NSF fund protected research time?

A: The two months of salary support is typically considered protected research time. There are some funding opportunities where support for research pursuit over an extended period is allowable (see Mid-Career Advancement NSF 21-516).

Q: Does a researcher need to request salary?

A: Researchers should consult with their university and sponsored research officials to determine whether one can forego salary requests.

G6. Other. – This category contains costs that do not have a predetermined category already outlined in budget workbooks. 

Q: What types of costs can I put in G6. Other?

A: Common examples for BIO proposals are tuition remission and DNA sequencing costs. Costs such as graduate student tuition remission, fee-for-service expenses for running samples, or research station fees are also in this category.

Q: What do we do if we don’t have a Sponsored Research Office (SRO)? 

A: There must be an Authorized Organizational Representative (AOR) at the institution, who is not the PI, who has the authority to make decisions and take responsibility on federal grants. If you are unsure who it is, you can ask the Chief Financial Officer at your institution who that representative would be.

Please reach out to a program officer if you have any questions about the proposal submission and review process. View the presentation and future office hours dates on MCB’s Office Hours page.

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