Contracts, Grants, and Cooperative Agreements

A proposal may be funded by three different means: a contract, a grant, or a cooperative agreement. Which of these funding instruments is appropriate is determined by the source of the idea for the project, the level of involvement between the sponsor and the recipient, and the degree of flexibility in carrying out the project. Both grants and cooperative agreements tend to fund investigator-initiated projects, but the latter anticipates substantial involvement of the sponsor while the former does not. Unlike contracts, grants and cooperative agreements typically have short, standardized award documents.

Contracts can be thought of as a negotiated procurement. They generally originate from specific goals of a sponsoring agency as identified in a formal announcement. In the case of federal government agencies, the issuance of a formal contract may be preceded by the advertisement of a Request for Proposal (RFP), Request for Application (RFA), or Request for Quotation (RFQ). In the case of individual sponsored research contracts funded by for-profit companies or industrial collaborators, the company usually identifies specific UF subject matter expertise and wishes to structure a research agreement that allows the company to access that expertise for competitive advantage. The Division of Research Program Development screens various publications on a continuing basis and makes funding announcements available to all interested faculty on the Funding Opportunities page and via a weekly email newsletter.

The major components of an RFP are application instructions and forms, statement of required work, desired performance schedule, available government property, applicable contract provisions (clauses), and evaluation criteria. Agencies will require various representations, certifications, and acknowledgments, generally to be submitted at the application stage. These assurances apply to the institution, not the principal investigator.DSP’s Proposal Processing Office (392-9267, 207 Grinter) will assist faculty with the preparation of these materials.

Federal contracts use detailed award instruments that are subject to Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR). Faculty are advised to pay attention to contract specifications including contract type (fixed price versus cost reimbursable) throughout the planning and writing stages. Some industry contracts may have FAR clauses as the industry partner may be flowing federal funds down through a contracting document. Also, industry contracts may incorporate complex intellectual property language which needs to be reviewed and negotiated to protect faculty and University interests.

When responding to a request for proposal, faculty usually submit their proposal documentation in two distinct parts: the technical proposal and the business proposal. The technical proposal generally contains a standard title page or cover sheet, the major work description (scope of work), curricula vitae and other relevant appendices. The business proposal may contain the Contract Pricing Proposal Cover Sheet or similar forms which are typically provided in the RFP kit. The business proposal also includes the itemized budget, sometimes a budget narrative, representations and certifications, and may require the Small Business/Small Disadvantaged Business subcontracting plan (which is prepared by DSP).

Contract clauses usually do not become an issue at the application stage in standard contract procedures. After review and acceptance of a proposal by an agency, the contracting officer develops the legally binding contract which includes the approved budget, work statement and period of performance. At that point, DSP will review the contract proposed by the agency and verify its acceptability with the PI. Information which concerns the University as an institution is provided by DSP’s Proposal Processing staff, who typically complete the required representations, certifications, and assurances at the application stage. Other data must be provided by the applicant, such as the percentage of foreign content in the project or whether proprietary data are involved. A federal contract can be negotiated only after the agency has received all of the required information and assurances.