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Tips for Submitting Electronic Applications to SPA
Lessons from the June 1 NIH/Grants.gov Deadline
Only send Grants.gov applications to proposal@umn.edu. Until our processes are working well in SPA, we cannot accept any electronic proposals or documents for other agencies at this e-mail address. We hope that by fall, we can expand the use of electronic proposal submission to SPA.

If you fax your PRF, please make sure you note on the cover sheet when the proposal e-mail is coming. We had several faxes that came in hours before we had the proposal e-mail. Matching the proposal to the PRF is difficult if they are not sent close to each other or at the same time.

Please notify your grant administrator (GA) about your impending submission and get your proposal done at least 2-3 days before our deadline. For the June 1 deadline, SPA had 155 proposals to process (both paper and Grants.gov). The electronic submissions are more complicated because if there are errors the whole package must be resubmitted through Grants.gov. The Grants.gov system was overloaded at times during the two days and it was impossible for us to get through to Grants.gov or the NIH eRA Commons helplines.

Therefore, SPA needs to receive electronic proposals as early as possible, because:

  • We're all getting used to the electronic system; the review process takes longer than with hard copy proposals.
  • Servers get busy and large files take time to upload. It's risky to wait until the last minute!
  • Each step in the submission process takes time. The Grants.gov proposal is submitted from the U of M to Grants.gov and then is retrieved from Grants.gov by the federal agency.
  • Errors in the application identified by Grants.gov or by the federal agency must be corrected, and require that we start from the beginning again, with a new submission date/time stamp in Grants.gov.

NIH eRA Commons Warnings and Errors

Definitions

Error: Something that will prevent validation in the Commons of an application submitted via Grants.gov.

Problem: Issues that do not directly impact Grants.gov submission or Commons validation, but nevertheless create difficulties.

Warning: Something that will not prevent validation in the Commons of an application submitted via Grants.gov, but which the Commons nevertheless flags.

The warnings and errors listed below were the most common ones that we experienced during the June 1 deadline.

Warnings

  1. The University's IACUC Assurance number cannot have a dash between the A and the numbers 3456, but should have a dash after the number 6 (i.e., A3456-01). Our institutional profile in the eRA Commons system does not have a dash. GAs are able to correct this.
  2. The Research Plan is limited to 15 pages. This may span 18 pages due to page breaks, but the total space occupied by text cannot exceed 15 pages. Faculty members were worried about this and most re-checked their plans. NIH has advised us to assure principal investigators (PIs) that this warning requires no action as long as they are mindful of the page limits as they prepare sections 2-5.
  3. The PI name in the application must exactly match the username in the Commons, including titles. In other words, if the Commons knows the PI as "Jane Doe" but the application identifies her as "Jane Q. Doe" or "Dr. Jane Doe," the Commons will flag that with a warning. Make sure your Commons PI profile is updated and has current information.

Errors

  1. PIs must have a valid and active account with a User ID and password in the Commons. On the Research and Related Senior/Key Person Profile page, there is a field called Credential, e.g., agency login. In the PureEdge file, this is not flagged as a required field (since the form is used by multiple agencies). As a result, Check Package for Errors will not care if it's blank, nor will Grants.gov. However, the Commons will look for the correct PI user name. You must include the correct Commons user name in that field. This was the most common error.
  2. The PI's eRA Commons account must designate a preferred employment address. If there is no preferred address in the PI's eRA Commons account, the application will be in error and unavailable for validation. To designate a preferred address, the PI must:
    • Login to the Commons
    • Select Personal Profile
    • Select Employments
    • Click the Edit link on his/her current employment address
    • Check the box at the bottom that designates this as the preferred address
    • Click the Submit button
  3. All files attached to your Grants.gov application must be a PDF. The Commons will not accept any other file type.
  4. File names for attached documents must not include spaces or special characters and the ".pdf" extension must appear. (Note: A lot of computers are set to not display the extensions, though the extensions are still there. The extension will appear in the file name for the document once it's uploaded into the Grants.gov application.)

Tracking and Validating Applications

  1. Tracking and the validation processes are the most difficult. We received over 240 tracking e-mails for 33 proposals. These must be monitored and distributed to the appropriate GA, PI and/or administrator as needed. Please indicate as the contact person on the PRF an administrator who will be able to find the PI if errors are received.
  2. The major coordinating problem relates to the following NIH validation process. Prior to May 1, 2006, the PI and the SO in SPA had two business days from the time the application image was available in the Commons to push a button to verify that everything was ready to go to the referral process. This process was the last step after all business rules errors had been fixed. The new process is what NIH calls passive verification and they use the term validate. The time period is the same , two business days from the time the image is available. NIH strongly encourages PIs to check the full proposal but does not mandate it. As stated above, only the PI and SO are notified that the image is ready and the clock starts counting the two days. If SPA does not hear from the PI by noon on the second day, the application will move forward. Tracking this time period and assuring that the PI has received notice of this step is very difficult. SPA continues to work on internal processes to better coordinate this effort for each proposal.
  3. The PI will receive an email from the Commons notifying him/her of errors in the application, but the application will not appear in the Commons for a minimum of 24 hours after the e-mail is sent. Thus, neither the PI nor SPA will be able to identify the errors and make corrections for at least a day following notification of the existence of those errors.
  4. You may not receive an email from the Commons letting you know that the application is there and available for validation. You need to be proactive and go looking for it. Currently, only the PI and the SO in SPA can search the Commons status reports.
  5. The Commons is going to pull the email address for the official contact from the application, not the Grants.gov user name associated with the submission. As a result, all of the notices from Commons regarding the applications have, so far, been sent to awards@umn.edu since currently Sue Marshall is the official contact. This makes it very difficult to make sure PI and GA are copied on numerous tracking e-mails received. (As a result, SPA is rethinking how to fill these out.)

 
 
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