Q&As about the Request for Supplemental Information
Additional Information on Response Format
Question: Is there a preferred or required file format for the submission of supplemental information (pdf, Word file .doc or .docx)? Must the submission be emailed from a specific address, such as a university research office, the PI, or someone else involved in the project? Must the cover sheet be submitted as a separate file or can it be placed at the beginning of the response document? Are there any file name conventions that must be observed?
Answer: There are no specific requirements regarding file types, senders, or naming conventions. Please try to include the cover sheet as the first page of the response document, though if that is not possible it may be submitted as a second document.
Request Sent to Center Director
Question: Did USDOT send the e-mail requesting supplemental information to the principal investigator or to the university’s sponsored research office?
Answer: For each application, we sent the request to the individual identified on the SF424 application form as being the official contact for matters involving the application as well as to the proposed Center Director if he/she was not the official SF424 contact. For the official SF424 contact, we used the e-mail address provided on the application form; for the proposed Center Director, we used the e-mail address on his/her resume that was part of the application if that address appeared on it, or if not we used the university’s website to obtain his/her e-mail address.
Question: Are footnotes and references allowed? If so, can the footnotes be in a font size smaller than 12 point?
Answer: Please do not use footnotes or include a list of references.
Use of Supplemental Information
Question: How will the supplemental information be weighted vs. the evaluation of original proposal?
Answer: The results of the original ratings by the peer review panels will not change. USDOT will consider the supplemental information together with the evaluation of the original proposals to make its final award decisions. Specifically, USDOT is asking for more information related to the issues raised in Beyond Traffic 2045: Trends and Choices to make sure that this critical research program is addressing future transportation challenges.
Another Question on New Activities
Question: Please clarify -- Is the information requested an elaboration on programs already in existing proposals, or is the intent to add additional content to proposals? To honor the integrity of the proposal process, we encourage USDOT to specify that the supplemental information not include additional programs not already in the original proposals.
Answer: The purpose of the request is not for applicants to propose new activities not in their original proposals, but to give applicants an opportunity to supplement their original applications to clarify that the next five years will be focused on researching solutions that will solve tomorrow’s transportation challenges identified in Beyond Traffic 2045: Trends and Choices. Please also see this question below: No New Activities (10/12/2016).
Review of Supplemental Information
Question: How will these submissions be reviewed? Will subject matter experts provide a technical review that is subject to transparency clauses of the FAST Act or is this information to be reviewed in-house by OST & OST-R?
Answer: Yes, the Department will use a team of technical experts, including external stakeholders to the maximum extent practicable, to review the supplemental information. Then a senior review team (SRT) made up of senior officials from USDOT’s Office of the Secretary of Transportation, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology, and Federal Highway Administration, will make recommendation selections. The FAST Act transparency requirements continue to apply.
Effect of Hurricane Matthew (10/17/2016)
Question: A major hurricane has impacted Florida and the Southeast coast of the United States creating several days’ worth of disruption. Will there be any accommodation made for the affected universities?
Answer: We will address any accommodation requests on a case-by-case basis and provide additional time for universities affected by Hurricane Matthew, if needed.
Research Activities Only for This Request
Question: Information seems to be sought for research activities only. There are many proposed activities in education, workforce development, and technology transfer that would address the issues of interest in the supplemental request. Should these education and outreach programs be included in our response as well?
Answer: As stated, the purpose of the Request for Supplemental Information is to have each applicant provide additional information on how its original application responded to the research priorities contained in Beyond Traffic 2045: Trends and Choices. This is not to deemphasize the education, workforce and technology transfer goals of the UTC Program, which will help to accomplish the needed activities to get to the transportation solutions we all seek. The Department values the UTC Program as a forward-looking research partnership between USDOT and the university community, and is seeking information on how the UTCs will help us all to “look around the corner” to address known and future challenges.
Not Prioritizing Social Equity Over Other Topics
Question: Some research topics will naturally address social inequity more than others. Can USDOT clarify that the intent of this request is not to suggest that proposals on topics that have little direct connection to social equity, or other issues mentioned in the memo, would be given less priority?
Answer: The Department will not ignore the peer review ratings for the six FAST Act focus areas – those ratings will not change. USDOT would note to applicants that all manner of transportation systems issues are identified in Beyond Traffic 2045: Trends and Choices – infrastructure capacity and operations, better designs, reduced congestion, etc. – and that addressing those problems are important pieces of building the transportation future and can have a positive impact on social equity issues.
Announcement Target Date
Question: Given the complexity of addressing 212 submissions/responses, does USDOT anticipate any challenge meeting the FAST Act’s December deadline for awards being made? When is the new target for announcement of results?
Answer: The Department intends to make the UTC grants announcement by December 4, 2016.
No Updates to Cover Sheet
Question: The request asks that the supplemental submission contain the cover sheet from the original application. There were changes in the status of a minority-serving institution on my application; should I just use the same cover sheet regardless or correct the status in the cover sheet?
Answer: Do not to change anything on the cover sheet, which we are using in this request solely for the purpose of identifying the original application.
Draft Version of Beyond Traffic 2045: Trends and Choices
Queston: I wonder if there is a newer version of Beyond Traffic 2045: Trends and Choices than the draft version published at https://www.transportation.gov/sites/dot.gov/files/docs/Draft_Beyond_Traffic_Framework.pdf(link is external)? On page v of this document, it mentioned: “Our hope is to release a final product later in 2015.” Was such a final product released? If yes, where can I find it?
Answer: No other version of the document has been released.
Underserved/Underinvested in Beyond Traffic
Question: General Request 2 states, “Please provide supplemental information that describes how your proposed research activities will help address the challenges for underserved and underinvested communities set forth in DOT’s draft report Beyond Traffic 2045: Trends and Choices.” In the Beyond Traffic 2045: Trends and Choices document the term underserved is only used in one location related to Amtrak riders and the term underinvested does not occur anywhere in the document. What are the challenges for underserved and underinvested communities the response should address if they are not set forth in the DOT’s draft report Beyond Traffic 2045: Trends and Choices?
Answer: Throughout Beyond Traffic, there are examples of how transportation systems as currently configured, and transportation services as currently delivered, do not serve the needs of all citizens and communities, employers and potential employees, shippers and potential recipients of freight. The purpose of the Request for Supplemental Information is to give applicants an opportunity to supplement their original applications to clarify that the next five years will be focused on researching solutions that will solve tomorrow’s transportation challenges identified in Beyond Traffic 2045: Trends and Choices.
Identifying Future Challenges
Question: The Request for Supplemental Information asks applicants to describe “how your proposed research activities will prepare our transportation system for the future challenges set forth in DOT’s draft report Beyond Traffic 2045: Trends and Choices.” Are these the challenges identified throughout Beyond Traffic, or just in the context of the challenges outlined in the excerpt from p. 284? That draft report is over 300 pages long, and applicants have only four pages to respond to this and other questions. Can the “future challenges” to be addressed be narrowed down somewhat or specifically identified?
Answer: The statement from p. 284 of Beyond Traffic 2045 which was included in the Request for Supplemental Information was intended to provide background information and context as to why the Department was making the supplemental information request. Thus, in General Request #1, applicants should describe how their proposed research activities will be effective in preparing our transportation system for any of the future challenges set forth in DOT’s draft report Beyond Traffic 2045: Trends and Choices. In General Request #2, applicants should describe how their proposed research activities will help address the challenges for underserved and underinvested communities set forth in DOT’s draft report Beyond Traffic 2045: Trends and Choices. Given that the Request for Supplemental Information is limited to activities proposed in an applicant’s original proposal [see No New Activities (10/12/2016) below], applicants should describe, after considering the Department’s two General Requests, how their proposed research activities would address the future challenges set forth in DOT’s Beyond Traffic 2045: Trends and Choices. DOT is not able to advise individual applicants on which challenges are relevant to the themes and goals of their existing applications.
Background Information Not Necessary
Question: How much background information from the original proposal, if any, should be included in the supplemental response (mission, goals, consortium qualifications, past performance) before addressing the three specific requests? Should we assume that the reviewer of the supplemental response has, or has not, read the original proposal?
Answer: The Department will compare each original application with each supplemental response to determine if the applicant is proposing activities that are outside the scope of its original application. For that reason, you do not need to include any information from the original proposal in your written response other than what is requested in the Request for Supplemental Information, although please do include the cover sheet from your original application as noted on page 4 of the Request for Supplemental Information.
No New Activities
Question: The original solicitation made clear that applicants needed to respond to Beyond Traffic 2045 and the DOT priorities, including ladders of opportunity. Some applicants likely did so adequately. Does this Request for Supplemental Information allow applicants to propose new activities that were not in the original proposal? If yes, how is this consistent with the principles of a fair competition process? If not, how will the DOT ensure that new activities are not included in the supplemental information?
Answer: The intent of the Request for Supplemental Information is not to enable applicants to propose new activities. The purpose of the request is to have each applicant provide additional information on how its original application responded to the forward-looking research priorities contained in Beyond Traffic 2045: Trends and Choices. The Department will compare each original application with each supplemental response to determine if the applicant is proposing activities that are outside the scope of its original application.
Format of Response
Question: In my response, may I use:
- Call-out boxes to highlight text?
- My UTC’s logo?
Answer: You may use or not use these items as follows:
- Yes to call-out boxes, but text must be in the required font and size.
- Yes to a UTC’s logo, assuming it is included simply to identify the applicant or to distinguish between applicants.
- No to tables.
Address Only Your Proposed Priority Area in “Requests by Research Priority” Section
Question: Please clarify whether under the Requests by Research Priority heading I am only required to address my application’s proposed priority area; for example, if we selected the Preserving the Environment priority, then I only address item 5 on page 3 of the Request for Supplemental Information?
Cover Sheet Not Included in Four-Page Limit
Question: Does the four-page limit for the supplemental information exclude, or include, the cover sheet from the original application?
Answer: The cover sheet from the original application is excluded from the four-page limit.
Clarification about Research Priority 6 in the Request for Supplemental Information (10/6/2016)
Question: The write-up of Priority 6 appears to have three paragraphs under it, while all the other Priorities have only one. Do the second and third paragraphs relate specifically to Priority 6 or to all of the Priorities?
Answer: They relate specifically to Priority 6.
Q&As about the FY2016 Grant Solicitation
Signatures on Hard Copy of SF424 and SF424B
Question: Are original signatures required on the hard copy of the SF424 and SF424B forms due to US DOT by May 17?
Answer: Your Grants.gov submission is the official application that will be submitted with a virtual signature, so the hard copies submitted later do not need original signatures.
Numbering Proposal Sections
Question: Do we need to number the proposal document sections as they are listed in the RFP, or are section headers sufficient?
Answer: You do not have to use the Solicitation’s numbering system, but you should prepare your proposal in the order that the sections are discussed in the Solicitation.
Question: Are the budget and CVs the only appendices that are allowed? Are other things such as a list of equipment or list of projects allowed?
Answer: The CVs and budget plans are the only two items allowed in the appendices. The other items you mentioned should be included in the relevant section of the Response to Evaluation Criteria portion of the proposal. Doing this will assist the reviewers in finding the information they need to see concerning each criterion.
Number of Performance Metrics in D.126.96.36.199.C (and D.188.8.131.52.D)
Question: When the Solicitation calls for two or three metrics under “Education and Workforce Development,” is it meant that only two or three metrics are needed for all of section D.184.108.40.206.C, or does it mean two or three metrics are needed for each of the items mentioned in the last bullet on page 19 (effectiveness of degree granting programs, other educational efforts, outreach, workforce development, and other educational and workforce activities)?
Answer: You only need to propose a total of two or three metrics for section D.220.127.116.11.C. This is also the case for Section D.18.104.22.168.D. which is another section where the instructions for performance metrics list more than one point.
Adding an Introduction to the Written Response Section
Question: Are we allowed to include an introduction to the "Written Response" section of the proposal? With the introduction and a table of contents (which the Solicitation says on page 14 is not required but may be included if counted toward the page limit), that section will not exceed the 35-page limit.
Answer: You may include an introduction and table of contents, if you wish, as long as they and all of the required parts of the Written Response fit within the 35 page limit.
Boxes 17 and 18 on the SF424
Question: In box 17 of the SF424, should the end date reflect only Year 1 or all 5 Years? Similarly for box 18, should the funding amounts be for only Year 1 or for all 5 Years?
Answer: In box 17, please use as the end date 9/30/2022, which is stated in the Solicitation as the last date on which the Year 1 and all other funds may be expended. In box 18, please enter the Year 1 amounts for both the Federal funds and proposed match-source funds.
Box 19 on SF424
Question: Is the UTC Program subject to E.O. 12372?
Answer: No, the program is excluded from coverage under E.O. 12372.
Logo on Cover Sheet
Question: If we want to use our UTC’s logo on the cover page and in the header/footer of the proposal, does the text in the logo need to adhere to the font requirements stated in the RFP?
Answer: We will accept non-standard fonts in your use of a logo in the ways you describe.
References to Other Works
Question: Should references to other works be put in footnotes, as a bibliography section, or as a separate piece altogether?
Answer: You may use any of the options you state for this purpose, but all must be included within the Response to Evaluation Criteria section of your proposal and are subject to that section’s 35-page limit.
Qualifications of Faculty vs. Key Personnel
Question: Section D.22.214.171.124.A.ii Capability and Experience of the Solicitation (page 18, within Research Activities and Capability) says to describe “qualifications of faculty expected to be involved in your proposed research activities.” How is this different from the discussion of key personnel in Section D.126.96.36.199 Center Director and Key Personnel?
Answer: The discussion of key personnel in section D.188.8.131.52 Center Director and Key Personnel reflects those individuals who, like the Center Director, will be involved in the overall work and direction of the UTC. Responses to the evaluation criteria (such as the one you referenced) will reflect the qualifications of those persons who will be involved in the specific activities discussed for that criterion. There may be some overlap between the two if the same individual will fill both roles.
Deliverables Integrated in Proposal, or Done After Award
Question: Section F.3 Reporting on page 28 of the Solicitation says that applicants should integrate the grant’s proposed “deliverables and reports into their management plans and schedules.” Does this mean applicants should integrate these deliverables and reports into management plans and schedules within their proposal? Or does it mean that awardees will integrate them into management plans after the grant is awarded?
Answer: The Solicitation instructs applicants to speak to certain aspects of the Deliverables in the proposal, in places such as the response to certain evaluation criteria where applicants are asked to develop their own performance metrics and state how they will obtain and maintain that information. Some applicants may also choose to refer to the Deliverables in other places in the proposal (for example, in Section D.184.108.40.206 Center Director and Key Personnel, where the duties and responsibilities of key personnel are discussed). Other than in such places where the Solicitation states it or applicantschoose to refer to the Deliverables, applicants need not integrate the deliverables and reports within their proposal. For those applications selected to receive a UTC grant, awardees will be required during the life of the grant to complete the Deliverables. A management plan is not a deliverable requirement of the grant; that phrase is intended to refer to an applicant’s/awardee’s internal processes for managing the grant.
Question: Can some of the pages in the proposal be landscape orientation or should they all be portrait?
Answer: Select pages may be displayed in landscape format. However, should you choose this orientation for certain pages, they still must conform with all other formatting requirements, including the use of 8.5 x 11 pages.
Margins on Budget Pages/CVs
Question: Can the budget pages in the appendices have margins that are smaller than 1 inch?
Answer: The margins for the budget plans may be smaller than one-inch. As stated on page 23 of the Solicitation, you may provide the budget plan in any format you choose so long as you use only the budget categories specified in Appendix B of the Solicitation. Please note that the instructions on page 13 about formatting the cover sheet and research abstract, as well as the box on page 14 that contains formatting instruction for the Written Response section of the proposal, do not apply to the appendices. This answer also applies to the appendix containing CVs.
Submitting Proposal as Multiple Documents or a Single Document
Question: Based on the numbered list on page 12 of the Solicitation of what a proposal includes, we plan to upload the documents as individual PDF documents rather than combining them into one single PDF document. Please let me know if this is correct.
Answer: It would be a convenience if you could bundle the cover sheet, abstract, written response, and CVs into a single document, but that is not required. We will accept the items as either individual documents or combined document(s).
Font Type/Size in Captions
Question: What is the required font size for the caption of a table or figure? Is it Arial 12 or Arial 9?
Answer: We would consider a caption for a table or figure to be similar to a footnote, in which case (per the box on page 14 of the Solicitation and the Q&A titled Font Size for Footnotes (4/18/2016) below) the type size for a caption may either be Arial 12 or no smaller than Arial 9.
Font Type/Size in Figures/Letters of Support
Question: We are planning to include some figures taken from other documents as well as a letter of support from an outside party in our proposal. Must these items that are not created by us comply with the Solicitation’s font and size requirements?
Answer: If you decide to incorporate external figures, tables, or graphics from other sources, please ensure to the best of your ability that they reflect the format requirements of the Solicitation. Letters of support that are included in the Written Response of the proposal may be provided in the format in which they were received, and they will count toward the page limit that must be met for the application to be deemed compliant. You may also wish to review the related Q&As below: Use of Different Font and Spacing Than Required (4/20/2016), Font Size for Footnotes (4/18/2016), Font Size in Curriculum Vitae (4/13/2016), and Letters of Support/Commitment in Proposal (3/7/2016).
SAM.gov Registration for Consortium Members
Question: Does the requirement for registration in the System for Award Management (section D.3 of the Solicitation) apply only to the lead institution, or does it apply to all members of a proposing consortium?
Answer: The D.3 requirement does apply only to the lead institution for purposes of this competition, though some of the consortium members may be required to be registered in SAM because of other Federal support they receive. Please also note two related points: 1) section 331 of the Uniform Administrative Requirements, Cost Principles, and Audit Requirements for Federal Awards (http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=a8d7739801d83f780303978d42ebc280&mc=true&node=se2.1.200_1331&rgn=div8(link is external)) requires a recipient of a Federal grant to evaluate the risk of its subrecipients and 2) US DOT will likely apply some elements of the risk assessment portion of the application review described in section E.2.3 of the Solicitation to the other members of any proposing consortium that is being considered for selection.
Composition of Advisory Committee
Question: Do we need to name names for the composition of our advisory committee?
Answer: The composition of any existing or planned advisory committee for your proposed UTC should be described as instructed in section D.220.127.116.11.E (Collaboration) of the solicitation. If panel members have not been finalized, then you should describe who or what types of organizations you plan to approach if your application is selected by US DOT.
Use of Different Font and Spacing Than Required
Question: Can we use larger fonts than Arial 12 for section headings, for example, and use slightly larger than single spacing to improve readability? We view the format specifications on page 14 of the Solicitation as required minimums, correct?
Answer: No, the font and spacing requirements are not minimums, and you must use the fonts and spacing as those are stated on page 13 (for the Cover Sheet and Research Abstract) and page 14 (for the Written Response) of the Solicitation.
Whether to Re-state Program-Wide Performance Indicators
Question: In the sections of the Written Response where we propose performance metrics for ourselves, should we also list the program-wide performance indicators found in the Grant Deliverables and Requirements… document (http://www.rita.dot.gov/utc/fast/Grant_Deliverables_2016)?
Answer: If you have additional information that you would like to provide regarding how the measures you propose align or build on the ones we require, you are welcome to include that information. Otherwise there is no need to restate the mandated performance measures.
Whom to Include in Key Personnel
Question: Our team has identified an individual with needed expertise. He works for the private sector but has an adjunct professor appointment for a university in our proposed consortium. Is that person eligible to be listed as key personnel?
Answer: It is up to the applicant to determine whom they consider to be key personnel – the Solicitation (page 22) describes key personnel as those that “are considered to be critical for Center activities” and doesn’t state eligibility criteria for being considered key. The fact that the person is an adjunct professor gives him a connection to a consortium university, so if you do choose to consider him as one of your key personnel then you should describe his role in the proposed UTC and whether it will be as the adjunct professor or as a private-sector contractor (if the latter, see also Funding to Non-Consortium Organizations competition Q&A below, dated 3/15/2016).
Change of University for Participating Faculty
Question: If a consortium partner university’s faculty member who is the only faculty partner from that university decides to join another university, can the latter university join the consortium and replace the former?
Answer: It is not possible for us to respond definitively to your question without knowing the particulars of your application or the structure of your consortium. Therefore, we will respond with two general comments.
First, it is not unusual that during the life of a multi-year grant one of the participating individuals’ positions may change, and your university and US DOT would deal with such changes on a case-by-case basis so as to continue the activities proposed in the application, keeping in mind that the composition of a UTC’s consortium is one of many factors on which US DOT will base its selection of a UTC through the current competition. If your application is for a Regional UTC, then any different university entering the consortium would need to be within your region.
Second, your question suggests that you have concerns about this situation occurring; if you are aware at the time of submitting your application that such a change will in fact take place during the early stages of the grant, and if the affected individual is the center director or one of the key personnel identified in your application (per Section D.18.104.22.168 of the Solicitation), then you should address the situation in your application, describing how you will ensure that the work being proposed will be satisfactorily accomplished. This is necessary so that US DOT has valid information on which to assess the merit of your submitted application.
Competition Within Research Priority, or Overall
Question: There are six FAST Act research priorities noted on page 3 of the UTC Solicitation. Do applicants only compete with other applicants in the same research priority area, or do they compete with every applicant for a Tier One application?
Answer: In the initial phase of review by subject matter experts, applications will compete with those that are in the same research priority area. During the subsequent selection of the final group of grants to be awarded, however, applications will be considered collectively in order for US DOT to achieve the desired balanced portfolio that it seeks across all selected UTCs (see page 26 of the Solicitation).
US DOT Interest in Specific Topic Area
Question: Will the Department of Transportation consider a proposal that addresses aspects of [topic area redacted for purposes of public posting of this question] as qualified for a UTC FY 2016 Grant?
Answer: We cannot advise an applicant on specific areas of planned work during the competition. Please note, however, that as stated in the 3/31/2016 competition Q&A (http://www.rita.dot.gov/utc/faqs) about the meaning of “nonexclusive candidate topic areas” in the Solicitation, your consortium is not required to select from the Solicitation’s stated nonexclusive research topic areas.
Font Size for Footnotes
Question: Are footnotes allowed within the proposal, and if yes, are they required to be Arial 12 pt, or is the footnote considered to be part of the footer?
Answer: Anything responding to the instructions for the written response (pages 14-22 of the Solicitation, section D.2.2.3 and its subparts) must fit within the 35-page limit, including footnotes. The footnotes would be considered as a type of footer, so the text of footnotes may go down to size 9 font.
Affiliations of Reviewers
Question: What type of organizations will reviewers represent (Federal, state, local)? And what specific agencies will be represented (FHWA, NHTSA, AASHTO, AAAFTS, state DOT, LTAP, etc.)?
Answer: The reviewers for UTC grant applications need to remain anonymous. Review panels are made up of relevant subject matter experts in each of the FAST Act research priority areas, but we are unable to divulge their professional background or affiliations either individually or as a group.
Explanatory Notes in Budget
Question: How much detail do you expect to see on the Center Budget Plan column labeled “Explanatory Notes”? Can you please provide an example?
Answer: Explanatory Notes should be used to inform reviewers as to what types of expenses are being included for that line item. It is not necessary to include detailed calculations for how the associated amount was reached. We are unable to provide an example or sample budget.
Tables of Affiliated Faculty
Question: We would like to put tables in the appendices to contain names of the faculty who will be affiliated with our proposed center and their research expertise. Would that be ok?
Answer: For those individuals who are associated with your proposed UTC and identified as key staff (per section D.22.214.171.124 of the Solicitation), a CV should be provided in the appendix, per Section D.2.2.4 of the Solicitation. However, individuals serving a tangential role or participating in limited grant activities should be mentioned in the section of the written response where those activities are discussed, and not listed in a table as an additional appendix.
Future UTC Program Competition
Question: Is the current competition the only one that will be held for all fiscal years of the FAST Act? Or will US DOT go back out and compete for new UTCs each fiscal year?
Answer: The current competition is to select 35 UTCs for the length of the FAST Act authorization. There is no legislative language enabling a recompetition.
Font Size in Curriculum Vitae
Question: Can I use a different font such as Times New Roman 11 for the CV?
Answer: The CVs are part of the appendices, and as noted in the box on page 14 of the Solicitation, any size/type of font may be used in the appendices. Please also recall that CVs are limited to two pages per individual (see p. 23 of the Solicitation, section D.126.96.36.199).
Existing Projects as Match
Question: My university has several existing bridge-engineering projects with our state DOT. Can those projects be counted as match on the UTC grant?
Answer: By definition, matching funds on a Federal grant must support activities done under that grant, so any funds counted as match against a UTC grant would need to be for activities that support the conduct of the UTC grant as that is described in the applicant’s proposal. It is difficult to imagine that projects already existing now would meet this requirement as the UTC grant is not expected to begin until September 30, 2016, though perhaps if there is a later phase of the project that is a) directly relevant to the FAST Act research priority area and associated research topics that you proposed in your application, b) can be demonstrated to use peer review and other research best practices as the UTC grant requires (see p. 17 of the Solicitation, second to last bullet), and c) occurs during the lifespan of the grant, then the costs of that phase of the project could be counted as match if the amount of the costs can be precisely calculated and properly documented.
Match Funding for Years 2-5 of Grant
Question: The Solicitation notes that budgets for Years 2-5 will not be done until US DOT is ready to award each year’s additional funding. Does that mean we do not need to have matching funds in hand for the subsequent years?
Answer: US DOT does not expect applicants to have match for all five years of Federal funding in hand at the time of application. Please see the discussion of match of page 6 of the grant’s proposed General Provisions… document posted here http://www.rita.dot.gov/utc/sites/rita.dot.gov.utc/files/FAST%20Act%20GeneralProvisions.pdf.
Lead Institution Fills Out SF424 and SF424B
Question: Does every participating university in a consortium need to fill out an SF424 application form and an SF424B assurances form, or only the lead?
Answer: Only the lead institution should fill out and submit those two forms.
Use of UTC Funds for Opinion Surveys (answer also applicable to other costs)
Question: Are there limitations on the use of UTC funds for opinion surveys? Can we use as match some funding from a non-Federal source that would pay for part of the survey?
Answer: It is not possible for us to respond definitively without knowing what sort of work you are proposing to do in your application and how opinion surveys would fit into that, so we will respond with two general comments. First, in order for costs related to conducting an opinion survey to be allowable costs against the grant, as with any other costs, they would need to be necessary in order to conduct the activities you proposed to do in an application that has been selected for funding through this competition. Second, opinion surveys could be considered to be a type of human-subject research, and universities typically have carefully structured policies regarding such research, so you would want to look into what your own university’s policies are regarding surveys. These two comments apply whether Federal funds are used or funds claimed as matching funds against the grant are used.
Calculating Amount of Match from LTAP/TTAP Funds (answer also applicable to other sources)
Question: The Solicitation notes that LTAP funds are eligible as match on a UTC grant. Each LTAP center receives approximately $150,000 from the Federal Highway Administration. Can this entire amount be counted toward the UTC match? If only a portion can be counted, then how is that portion determined? Can funds provided by a state DOT in support of an LTAP center be counted as match for a UTC?
Answer: By definition, matching funds on a Federal grant must support activities done under that grant, so any LTAP/TTAP funds counted as match against a UTC grant would need to fund activities that support the conduct of the UTC grant as that is described in the applicant’s proposal. The full $150,000 annual amount you mention could not be counted as a lump sum of match without this kind of activity-by-activity analysis which should be done as part of the development of the application so that the mutual participation of the UTC with the LTAP/TTAP is meaningful and productive for both parties. The answer is the same whether funds originate from FHWA or from a state DOT.
All Required Items Must be Submitted Through Grants.gov
Question: I have a question about the SF424 form that is submitted through Grants.gov. There is no place to upload any documents, and as hard copies are required by a later date, I assume then that the SF424 done through Grants.gov is only used to indicate that the other documents will be submitted in hard copy.
Answer: Your assumption is incorrect. Looking at the SF424 form as accessed through Opportunity No. UTCOPENCOMP2016, there is a place at the bottom of the second page of the SF424 form where you attach the other required documents. Please look now and make sure you can find that. It is crucial that all required items stated in the Solicitation are submitted through Grants.gov by the 11:59PM EDT May 13, 2016 deadline as that is the official application portal that is used to document whether an application is submitted on-time and in compliance; if you submit any items only in the hard-copy submission and not through Grants.gov, then your application may be rejected as incomplete. As noted on page 25 of the Solicitation, the hard copies we request are in addition to the Grants.gov submission and must contain identical information to what was submitted through Grants.gov. The hard copies do not substitute for the Grants.gov submission.
Meaning of “Nonexclusive Candidate Topic Areas”
Question: The term “nonexclusive candidate topic areas” is not clear. Would each center in national, regional, and Tier 1 have to be single-themed, or would multi-theme centers be allowed?
Answer: The term “nonexclusive candidate topic areas” comes from the FAST Act and is not defined there. On page 17 of the Solicitation, an applicant is first asked to describe the center’s proposed research topic(s) and the corresponding relationship to one of the FAST Act research priority areas, and then is “…encouraged to select from the list of nonexclusive research topic area(s)…” established by the Secretary of Transportation. Use of the word “encouraged” indicates that US DOT values the stated topic areas but that an applicant is not required to select from the stated nonexclusive research topic areas.
Selecting One FAST Act Research Priority Area
Question: There are several research topics/activities that are outlined in the legislation as well as the solicitation. However, many of these topics/activities could easily fit under multiple priorities. For example, ridesharing and alternative forms of transportation could fit within “reducing congestion,” “improving mobility…,” and “preserving the environment.” Must proposers pick just one of the relevant topic areas?
Answer: As noted in paragraph 3 on page 14 of the Solicitation, an applicant must identify one of the FAST Act research priority areas as its primary or key focus, but an applicant’s planned activities may, to a limited extent, span more than one priority area. In deciding how to respond to the Solicitation, it is important for an applicant to keep in mind the way US DOT has described the selection process, in particular that applications will be reviewed by subject-matter experts in the FAST Act research priority area that the application identifies as being the primary or key area.
Principal Investigator on Letter of Intent
Question: Does the letter of intent have to be submitted by the Principal Investigator (PI)? If yes, are we allowed to change the PI after the letter of intent is submitted?
Answer: There is no specific requirement for who can submit the letter of intent. You should follow your university’s internal policies about submitting letters of intent, but if there is no such policy, then the letter may come from the principal investigator. The only change that is not allowed after the submission of the letter of intent is the selected FAST Act research priority area.
Partial Participation of a University on an Application
Question: Please clarify how we should handle the partial participation of a university on an application. In many cases, a subset of a university’s transportation faculty are partnering on an application. Yet the Solicitation tells us to include statistics on transportation students and faculty for the university: page 19 “Describe the research resources already available to conduct research…” and page 20 “Describe any accredited degree-granting programs with transportation components and/or specializations that will be part of this grant...”. If only one faculty member in a particular degree program is participating on the application, then what should be reported – information about the program, or about that one faculty member?
Answer: In both the places you cite, the Solicitation is seeking information on the current situation at the institutions that will make up your consortium and how the grant might affect that (if it will), so it is information about programs rather than a single faculty member that is needed. In both places, the language you cite is followed by additional language that asks about the effect of the grant, and this context is important throughout the application.
TTAP Funds as Match
Question: On page 10, the solicitation says that “matching funds may include Federal funds provided to a recipient under 23 U.S.C. § 504(b) or 505 (local technical assistance and state planning and research programs managed by the Federal Highway Administration).” Are funds awarded for Tribal Technical Assistance Programs (TTAPs) eligible as matching funds for all levels of UTC proposals?
Required Curriculum Vitae
Question: The solicitation says in Section D.188.8.131.52 that a CV is required for the center director and that "CVs for key personnel may be included in the application materials." But Section D.2.2.4 lists "Curriculum Vitae for Center Director and Key Personnel" among the required appendices. Which CVs are required?
Answer: A CV for the proposed center director is required, and if any other key personnel are identified (per Section D.184.108.40.206) in your application, then CVs are required for those persons as well. Please note that CVs are limited to two pages per individual, and make sure you do not include Personally Identifiable Information (PII) such as Social Security numbers, birth dates, or home addresses.
Clarification on Definition of Minority Institution for Purposes of This Competition
Question: Section B.2.3 of the Solicitation states a definition for “minority institution” and then includes a link to a "complete listing of all colleges and universities that fall within a particular category of [minority] institution." It is unclear which of the lists should be used to determine whether a university is a minority-serving institution. Please clarify exactly what lists are the correct ones to use.
Answer: As the result of questions received, we have worked with US DOT’s Office of General Counsel and the US Department of Education to do research into the definition of a Minority Institution solely for the purpose of the UTC competition. Counsel’s determination is that it is the requirements of Section 365 of the Higher Education Act (20 U.S.C. 1067k), and only those requirements, that must be met in order to be designated as a Minority Institution for this purpose. The Department of Education has indicated that no complete and up-to-date list of such institutions exists and that enrollment changes over time, so institutions should evaluate their own enrollment data against 20 U.S.C. 1067k, using enrollment numbers for the most recent semester/quarter for which data is available but no older than Fall 2015. We welcome applicants providing the enrollment data for Minority Institutions in their applications, though doing so is not required; US DOT will verify Minority Institution status as needed during the application review process.
Unrecovered Indirect Costs as Match
Question: May unrecovered indirect costs be used toward the matching-fund requirement for UTC grants? The new Uniform Requirements for grants (2 CFR 200) requires prior approval of this by the Federal awarding agency.
Answer: The UTC Program does accept unrecovered indirect costs as match. We hope to be able to add a statement of this to the proposed General Provisions of Grants for 2016 University Transportation Centers (see http://utc.dot.gov) next time we update that, but if we are unable to do that by the time grants are awarded then any selected UTC wishing to use unrecovered indirect costs as match should contact its assigned US DOT grant manager for approval. You would need to fully document these unrecovered indirect costs in your university’s financial records for audit purposes.
How to Treat, in Letter of Intent, Applying for Regional UTC Focused on Comprehensive Transportation Safety, Congestion, Connected Vehicles, Connected Infrastructure, and Autonomous Vehicles
Question: If a consortium is planning to apply for a Regional UTC in the specific area listed of “comprehensive transportation safety, congestion, connected vehicles, connected infrastructure, and autonomous vehicles” (pages 7 and 8 of the Solicitation), should the Letter of Intent submitted state this as such, or should it still specify which of the FAST Act’s six research priority areas the Regional UTC would focus on?
Answer: As noted on page 12 of the Solicitation, one of the items that the Letter of Intent must state is which of the FAST Act priority areas (Improving mobility of people and goods; Reducing congestion; Promoting safety; Improving the durability and extending the life of transportation infrastructure; Preserving the environment; and Preserving the existing transportation system) you designate as your primary focus. If you wish, you may also state in the Letter that you are applying for the Regional UTC that is to focus on the safety/congestion/connected/etc. list.
Margins on Cover Sheet
Question: Does the requirement for one-inch margins for the cover sheet (section D.2.2.1 of the Solicitation) apply to background imagery or just to the text? For example, if the background of the cover sheet is a color other than white, can that color extend to the edges of the page?
Answer: The margins apply to text; a background color may extend to the edges of the page.
Single-Mode Tier 1 Application
Question: The Solicitation references the importance of multimodality, but it also states on page 17 that “one or more individual Centers with an especially strong single-mode focus may be included” among the selected centers. Will a Tier 1 proposal be at a disadvantage in the review process if it is not multimodal?
Answer: A single-mode Tier 1 application would not be at a disadvantage. The selecting officials will be seeking a “balanced portfolio” across all of the selected centers to achieve the goals stated at the top of page 26 of the Solicitation, meaning that each individual center is not itself expected to achieve all of the goals, including multimodality, through its own application. The UTC Program’s 2013 competition used similar selection criteria to those in place for the current competition, and the list of selected Tier 1 centers (http://www.rita.dot.gov/utc/about/grant_recipients/html/2013_grant_recipients.html#tier1) shows a number of single-mode centers.
Funding to Non-Consortium Organizations
Question: I would like to collaborate with someone in the private sector who has expertise in the technical area our proposal will address. Is there some provision in the grant to allow us to pay him?
Answer: Federal grant regulations allow grantees to use federal funds for certain purposes such as procurement of goods and services that are necessary to the conduct of the grant. An applicant should work closely with the university’s sponsored research office to develop a clear understanding of what types of costs and arrangements federal grant regulations and university policies allow.
Award of Two Tier 1 Grants to One University
Question: I understand that one university may submit multiple applications, but can one university be awarded two Tier 1 UTC grants if they are in separate research priority areas?
Answer: As stated in Section C.3 of the UTC Competition solicitation (p. 10), the FAST Act restricts the type of grants that an institution might receive as a lead institution of a consortium to one in each type of UTC category (National, Regional, or Tier 1). However, there are no restrictions on the numbers or types of UTCs of which an institution may be a member (not the lead). Therefore, one university may not be awarded two Tier 1 UTC grants if it is the lead in both cases, irrespective of the research priority areas.
Overlap Between Grant Awarded in 2013 and Possible New Grant in 2016
Question: This concerns my existing UTC from the 2013 competition and how it would relate to my proposed new UTC in a similar area. Per the Solicitation, a new 2016 Tier 1 UTC would start on September 30, 2016 and run until September 30, 2022, while my existing UTC runs through September 30, 2018, which would result in a two-year overlap. Can you share any comments on the overlap or on the continued funding of an existing UTC?
Answer: This question raises three important issues:
- As noted on page 6 of the Solicitation, if a current UTC grantee is selected for a new grant, the new grant will be managed as a separate entity from the previous grant. This is for audit, performance-reporting, and financial-tracking reasons. Your 2013 grant has already received all funding that will be awarded toward it, and by September 30, 2018, you will need to have completed that grant.
- Any new 2016 grant you might be selected to receive would be for what the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology (OST-R) would consider to be a different effort even if the UTC you propose is similar to your 2013 grant, and you should prepare your proposal to stand on its own merits without reviewers being familiar with your 2013 UTC. In some places in the Written Response to Evaluation Criteria (section D.2.2.3 of the Solicitation), for example in the third bullet on p. 18 regarding Research Activities and Capability, you are asked to discuss whether/how your proposed activities may relate to existing projects and programs. In your Written Response you will want to explain whether, and if so how, work you may be doing under a previous grant relates to the grant for which you are applying.
- If you are selected to receive a new 2016 grant, OST-R's expectation is that you will begin substantive work on that new grant in a timely manner and submit all required deliverables and progress/financial reporting for that grant on schedule. This means that, if you are selected to receive a 2016 grant, you would be actively managing -- and separately reporting on -- both the 2013 and 2016 grants between September 30, 2016, and September 30, 2018.
Institution on Multiple Grants as Consortium Member
Question: To summarize section C.3 on page 10 of the Solicitation, an institution may be awarded [for example] only one Tier 1 grant as a lead, and it could also be a member of multiple Tier 1 grants awarded to teams led by other institutions. True or false?
Consortium Institutions in Letters of Intent
Question: Is it required, in the Letter of Intent, to mention the names of the other institutions who are in our consortium?
Answer: It is not required -- page 11 of the Solicitation states what is required. We will accept a letter that includes the names of the other institutions if you wish to provide that information.
Letters of Support/Commitment in Proposal
Question: In which part of the proposal may we include “Supporting Letters”? Would it be fine to include them in the Appendix section?
Answer: Do not include letters of support or commitment in the appendices. Applicants may include a statement, or letters, noting such support/commitment in the proposal’s 35-page Written Response to the Evaluation Criteria (Section D.2.2.3 of the Solicitation document). Please note that such statements or letters of support included in the 35-page Written Response would count toward the page limit that must be met for the application to be deemed compliant.
Handling Research Projects Not Yet Selected in Budget
Question: Given that consortium members' budgets must roll up into overall amounts for overall Center budget, how do we address competitive projects that will be awarded to consortium members later (with their different indirect cost and fringe rates)? Would competitive awards be in the lead institution's budget with best guess for line items and melded rates or as an amount in “other direct costs”?
Answer: Soon after funds are awarded to recipients, US DOT is required to report, to data collection efforts such as the National Science Foundation’s survey of Federal science and engineering support to colleges and universities, on the types and amounts of expenses recipients expect to incur against their funding. US DOT uses the information in the Center Budget Plan (Appendix B) for this reporting, so having large amounts in the “Other Direct Costs” category is problematic. We understand that projects for which consortium members would compete after a UTC grant may be awarded are currently undefined, but you should make your best estimate for each budget category based on the activities you describe in your proposal, including these project costs in the lead institution’s Budget Plan if an individual institution cannot be identified at this time and noting in the “Explanatory Notes” column of the budget that you have done this. Please reserve “Other Direct Costs” for any costs that could not be considered to be part of any of the other categories.