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2020 Tier 1 Competition Questions and Answers

More on Budget Details/Justification  (5/11/2020)

Question:  The 4/28/2020 Q&A on the competition web page addresses including budget details. In prior years for UTC grants the “budget at task level” requirement was not included, and a suggested format for the budget tables was provided as an appendix. No such guidance was included in this NOFO. Is it possible to suggest a “budget at task level” format or perhaps direct us to existing examples (NCHRP, NSF, etc.) that will be acceptable in this competition?
Answer:  These new topic-focused/shorter-term Tier 1 UTCs are in many ways unlike past broad-theme/multi-year UTCs. As a format for the budget beyond the SF424A was not required, you are free to provide the information in any way you feel responds to the language of the NOFO as you cite it. We are not familiar with the other agencies’ formats that you note, but if you think one of them provides the requested information, then feel free to use it.

Support Letters/Bibliographic Citations  (5/11/2020)

Question:  Can letters of support and bibliographic-citation references be an appendix? We do not want to devote a large number of the 30-page limit to these items.
Answer:  The NOTE in Section D.2.2.4 on page 12 of the NOFO directs applicants not to include any other appendices beyond the one required appendix of CVs and notes that reviewers will be instructed not to use any additional appendices. Similar to what the NOFO says on pages 5-6 about letters of commitment for matching funds, applicants should not include letters of support in the application but could note receipt of such letters in the Written Response, keeping the letters on file for audit purposes. You will need to balance your desire to cite bibliographic references with your need to respond to the bulleted items in the NOFO (“Describe…,” “Discuss…,” “State…”) that you are asked to address in narrative form throughout the Written Response. You should of course prepare the Written Response in the way you think best presents how you intend to fulfill the purpose of the grant and your qualifications to do it, but we will note a couple of thoughts for your consideration: 

  • If any of the citations appear in Section D.2.2.4 Required Appendix of Curriculum Vitae for Center Director and Key Personnel, you could note that in the Written Response.  
  • There may be ways, similar to handling letters of support, to summarize the number and types of citations rather than listing them individually.

Input from US DOT  (5/11/2020)

Question:  The NOFO mentions a US DOT representative needs to be on the advisory board for any funded center. What is the best way to identify this person without creating conflict to the submission/review process?
Answer:  You should feel free to reach out to anyone you have in mind to fulfill that role; any US DOT staff who are called upon to be reviewers would themselves be screened for conflicts of interest. If you do not identify a particular person during the application phase of the competition, then your Written Response should describe the mechanisms you plan to use to get such a person’s input once he/she is identified. Note that the NOFO does not require an advisory board as such – the way in which an applicant obtains stakeholder input and peer review of projects is up to the applicant to design in what you consider to be the most effective and efficient way.

More Information about US DOT Center of Excellence Noted in Topic 1 Research Statement Abstract  (5/8/2020)

Question:  Is more information available to the public about a new US DOT Center of Excellence for Highly Automated Transportation Systems that is referenced in the write-up on Topic Area 1?
Answer:  That center was authorized in the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020, Public Law 116-94. For applicants’ convenience, review the Highly Automated Systems Safety Center of Excellence excerpt at

Participation On Two Proposals  (5/8/2020)

Question:  Is it permissible for my university to be a subgrant on two proposals?
Answer:  The Notice of Funding Opportunity does not place any restrictions on the number of applications a university can be a part of. If both applications address the same one of the four topic areas under which grants are expected to be awarded, you may want to review your university’s own internal conflict-of-interest policies.

Budget Details/Justification     (4/28/2020)

Question:   Per pages 12-13 of the NOFO, we are to use the SF424A budget form to detail both our federal and matching funds budgets. However, we are also instructed: “The budget should be at the task level, identifying participation of key personnel, outlining participation of consortium members, and demonstrating student engagement.” Is a separate attachment detailing these costs and/or a separate justification allowable, and would these count toward the page limit?
Answer:  Budget details/justifications provided as attachments to supplement information in the SF424A are allowable, and they would not count toward the Written Response section’s page limit. 

Performance Metrics/Website   (4/28/2020)

Question:  Past UTC Program grants have required centers to submit annually a set of program-wide performance metrics and also to have a center website. We don’t see those requirements in the NOFO – do they apply?
Answer:   Because the new Tier 1 UTC grants will provide smaller amounts of funding for a performance period lasting for a shorter time than has been customary for UTCs, OST-R will not require some of the tasks that in the past have been assigned to UTCs.  Specifically regarding your question: 

  • The NOFO asks each applicant to develop its own performance metrics in the Research and Leadership sections of the Written Response, and those are the performance metrics the new Tier 1 UTCs will be asked to report on during the life of the grant (the program-wide performance metrics typical of past UTC grants will not apply to these new Tier 1 UTCs). 
  • A website is not required, though the last bullet in Section F.3 Reporting of the NOFO does allow for other deliverables that a UTC may propose in its application, so if you think a website or other type of deliverable would be beneficial to your proposed activities fulfilling the purpose of the grant, then you are welcome to propose one.

Consortium Member versus Partner   (4/27/2020)

Question:  Page 5 of the NOFO makes it clear which type of entity can be a “member” of the UTC Consortium (U.S. non-profit institutions of higher education). Other NOFO language encourages collaborating with other entities including the private sector, stipulating these partners would not be considered a “member.” Is the term “member” indicating that only Consortium members can receive federal funding? Or can the UTC use federal monies through the Consortium to fund industry partners to work with the UTC to fulfill the purpose of the grant? 
Answer:  It is permissible for a UTC to use federal monies to fund an industry partner (not a “member” of the Consortium) to work with the university to fulfill the UTC’s aims so long as the university is leading the effort and the industry partner is supporting it, and so long as the costs otherwise comply with the funding restrictions set forth in Section D.5 of the Notice of Funding Opportunity.

Unrecovered Indirect Costs as Match    (4/22/2020)

Question:   Do you have guidance on indirect costs being used as cost share? 
Answer:   If you are speaking of unrecovered indirect costs (2 CFR § 306(c)), the UTC Programs General Provisions for previously awarded grants speaks to this in the third bullet on page 7 of this document Similar guidance is expected to be included in the award documents for the new Tier 1 grants now being competed. “Prior approval” during this competition would mean that you would state your intention to use such costs in your application, and if US DOT selects your application in the competition, you would then contact the designated US DOT grant manager noted in the award documents to ensure accurate documentation of the necessary prior approval.

More on Expectation/Guidance    (4/10/2020)

Question:   For Topic Area 1, is it expected that the new UTC would deal with all transportation modes, or can it focus on one, e.g. surface transportation? Should the research focus be on resilient technology itself, or on building an automated transportation system resilient to failures? 
Answer:   As with the previous question below about Topic Area 4, DOT does not plan to issue additional information about expectation/guidance beyond what is stated in the NOFO. DOT wants each applicant to address the Research Statement Abstract as that is informed by your own understanding of the problem and by your best judgement as to how your capabilities through this grant could bring new information and knowledge to bear on the problem as it is described in the Research Statement Abstract.

Involvement of Minority Institution    (4/10/2020)

Question:   Is a minority institution required in any of the Tier I centers? 
Answer:   There is no such requirement. The NOFO asks applicants to state on the application’s cover sheet whether any of the consortium members are minority institutions and to describe under the Program Efficacy criterion section the reasoning behind the formation of the consortium. Reviewers will see whether there are any such institutions on an application, and such information will be part of reviewers’ assessment of the overall attributes of the proposed UTC and how the consortium members would assist in achieving the purpose of the grant.

Clarification of Intent    (4/8/2020)   

Question:  Is the intent of Topic Area 4 more about generating and analyzing data OR does it include development of new tools/techniques and testing of empirically-driven hypotheses?
Answer:   DOT’s guidance regarding intent, for all four Topic Areas, is in the Notice of Funding Opportunity.  In general, you should propose a research plan that addresses the Research Statement Abstract as that is informed by your own understanding of the problem and by your best judgement as to how your capabilities through this grant could bring new information and knowledge to bear on the problem.

Approval of Equipment Purchase     (4/8/2020)

Question:   The NOFO indicates that capital equipment over $5,000 would need prior approval. As part of this proposal, we hope to augment existing resources with certain new tools to support the research. What approvals are needed? 
Answer:   As stated in Section D. on page 10 of the NOFO, in the Written Response portion of your application you should “Describe any research resources you anticipate obtaining in order to perform your proposed research activities.” If DOT selects your application in this competition, your university would then need to request approval, prior to making the purchase with either the grant’s Federal or non-Federal matching funds, of any purchase of equipment items with a unit cost of $5,000 or more, as required in Federal grant regulations (2 CFR 200.439).