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Oct 11

No. 49: Can a PI submit same grant proposal to two agencies at the same time?

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Can a PI submit same grant proposal to two agencies at the same time?

Reader Question: I'm a new PI seeking my first grant and would like to increase my funding chances by submitting basically the same funding proposal to both the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF). Naturally, I would change a few words, but is this permissible? Ethical? Could it harm my career or reputation in any way?

Expert Comments: The answer is clear if you’re applying to the NSF’s Biological Sciences Directorate. It does not accept any proposals that were also submitted to another federal agency, with these two exceptions:

  1. The program officers at the directorate and the other agency have agreed to a joint review and are considering funding the proposal jointly.
  2. You are a beginning PI (or co-PI) who has never participated in a federally funded project as a PI before. If your participation involved work on a doctoral dissertation, research planning grant, or postdoctoral fellowship, you are still considered a beginning PI or co-PI and are eligible for simultaneous submissions.

NSF covers basic scientific research, but sometimes what qualifies as “basic science” begins to overlap with NIH. Many or most instances of overlap with NIH would fall under the biological sciences category and thus would be covered by this rule.

The answer is less clear if you think you’ve found an area of overlap with NIH and NSF in one of the other six directorates, such as mathematics, engineering, or cyberinfrastructure. In those cases, my best suggestion would be to contact the program officers at both NIH and NSF and ask upfront if they’ll accept simultaneous submissions.

Expert comments by Maria Zacharias, group leader for media & public information, education and human resources, Office of Legislative and Public Affairs, NSF.

More Expert Comments: Yes, your reputation could be affected. Do not try to be deceptive unless that's how you want to be known.

NIH and NSF applications ask where you're applying for or have applied for "additional" funding. It's a very upfront process. If you legitimately need more funds, then as a new PI it's appropriate to apply to both the NIH and the NSF, provided you let everyone know you’re seeking joint funding opportunities. For example, if you really needed $1 million and you could only get $500,000 from each one, then say that in the proposal.

Expert comments by Stacey Abate, Director of Grants, Georgian Court University, Lakewood, N.J.

More Expert Comments: As a new PI, you can submit to NIH and NSF at the same time in some cases, but you cannot accept funds for the same work from both agencies. Since NIH and NSF have different objectives or missions in the projects they fund, you'd have to change the focus of the two proposals anyway.

To your question: Is it ethical? When in doubt, contact the program officer at the NSF and NIH. They're paid to respond. They want to fund good proposals, so they'll be helpful.

Do these agencies secretly exchange data so they know if one person is applying to both at once?

Typically, when you submit to both, they ask for a list of current and pending applications anyway, so they’ll know. That's the reason they ask. NSF has its grant proposal guide, and NIH has the Office of Extramural Research. Both NIH and NSF may be interested in your proposal, but most likely, even as a new PI, you're going to have to choose one. They may agree in certain cases to provide joint funding.

To your question: Could my career or reputation be jeopardized in any way? I'm often asked that, and my advice is to have a conversation with the program officers before filing. That’ll help you avoid any backlash.

Expert comments by Michael Mueller, director of the Office of Proposal Development, Office of the Vice President for Research and Graduate and Professional Education at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.

This eAlert is brought to you as an informational training tool by the Principal Investigators Association, which is an independent organization. Neither the eAlert nor its contents have any connection with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) or the National Science Foundation (NSF), nor are they endorsed by these agencies. All views expressed are those personally held by the author and are not official government policies or opinions.

Comments (1)
associate professor
written by Dr mls at midwest u, October 12, 2010
I had no problem applying to both and had interest from both, finally got an NIH award. But I'd advise that you never try to mislead or fail to tell each of them what you're doing; answer the question about current or pending apps. I heard about a PI at my colleague's university who didn't and got a reprimand or something like that...not good for one's career. be upfront with them or beware.

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