Live Wires: No Cost Extension and PI Changes Go Electronic

As of last Thursday, No Cost Extensions requiring a prior approval and requests to change a PD/PI are available to your GCO through the Prior Approval section in eRA Commons.  The electronic option through eRACommons is just that: optional.  You and your GCO can still make your requests the old-fashioned way if computers make you nervous (heck, even NIH says you should contact your awarding institute/center [IC] to determine the best method for making these requests).  How simple is this?  Once you sign in, here’s what you see:

And takes you here:

 

Not sure if you are eligible for a no cost extension (NCE) through prior approval?  Do a quick double-check:

  • You ARE eligible for a NCE through Prior Approval:
    • When an NCE under expanded authority has already been used and the grant is within 90 days of the project end date.
    • When the grantee is not under expanded authority and the grant is within 90 days of the project end date.
    • When the project end date has expired and has not been closed or has not entered unilateral closeout, whichever comes first.

 

  • You are NOT eligible for a NCE through Prior Approval:
    • When an NCE under expanded authority has never been requested and the grant is within 90 days of the project end date. In this case, the NCE will be processed normally through the Extension link in Status.
    • When the grant is closed.
    • When the grant is a fellowship grant.

 

  • What information will you need to provide to your GCO?
    • The NCE request form includes:
      • Request Detail – Here you will be asked such things as the number of months you wish to extend the project end date; the amount of unobligated money still available, etc.
      • Three PDF upload fields: Progress Report, Budget Document, Justification Document

 

RAS is here to help with interpretation if you have any questions!

Permission to Buzz the Budget

The stone-written commandments of NIH proposals have long included, “thou shalt request prior approval when requesting more than $500,000 in direct costs (excluding consortium F&A costs) in any one year of an unsolicited proposal.” As an aside: did you know you’re supposed to request that approval no later than 6 weeks before submission

 

Since the inception of this rule in the dark ages of 2002, these requests were required in writing or by telephone.  You now have the option of making the request by webform in a new “Prior Approval Module” through eRA Commons (NOT-17-005).  Of important note: you must request the form to be “opened” by your Program Officer before it will be accessible.  Once it is available, you complete the form and submit. As another aside: the word “option” appears to be used loosely here; it’s along the lines of being volun-told).

 

The logic behind the Prior Approval Module appears to be subsequent management of such requests.  The module allows PIs and GCOs to amend, modify and withdraw previously submitted requests as proposals shape up differently in the days leading to deadlines.  The module will appear between the “ASSIST” and “RPPR” tabs on your login screen:

prior_approval

 

 

If you have not yet contacted your Program Officer for access to the module, you will receive an error message (“We are sorry, you are not authorized to access this function”).  Not sure whether to request the limit stretch, or just not sure what to do next?  Drop us a note and we’ll be happy to help you sort through!

 

 

Personal profiles: not just for online dating

Save yourself – and those with whom you collaborate – some valuable time: update your personal profile in eRA Commons.  When you’re submitting an application through ASSIST, your senior/key personnel fields can autopopulate from your profile, as your Commons ID is linked. Keeping your personal profile updated ensures that the contact and personal information sent with any application has already been sanctioned by you.  So where do you go to ensure you are up-to-date?  First, log in to eRA Commons, and find the “Personal Profile” link in the blue menu bar:

pp1

 

This will take you to a menu that allows you to update all of your personal information.  Some of this populates to ASSIST, some of it does not:

pp2

* note: “REVIEWER INFORMATION” is one place to find your Continuous Submission status 🙂 

 

Here are some key points to keep in mind as you consider your personal profile:

  • The “EMPLOYMENT” section populates your contact address, and NIH wants three years of history for PIs, and at least one entry for trainees and admins.  NIH states, “this information is vital to NIH and its SROs for determining any conflicts of interest with applications.”
  • Be sure your institutional affiliation is correct! Did you bring your Commons ID with you to Wayne State from a former institution?  You may have to change your affiliation. Go to the “Home” screen and check out your name and affiliation in the top right corner.  If the institution listed under your ID is static (no link), call SPA to have your affiliation switched. If your institution is incorrect and it is linked (blue underline), you may be able to change it yourself by clicking on it:

pp3

 

As an aside, when filling out your ASSIST applications: two fields that will NOT autopopulate from your profile are “Division” and “Department.”  To be sure that you get proper credit for each:

 

Confused by what you need to include?  Never fear, RAS is here to help walk you through the steps!

The Many Faces of ASSIST

Like Jack’s beanstalk, ASSIST continues to grow and change as it becomes more firmly rooted in our administrative lives and takes us to heights we never thought possible (OK, maybe not *that* high).  Here are a few changes we’ve confirmed in the ASSIST system since we began using it in January:

 

  1. Adding users to simultaneously work on the application.  Before, the initiator of the application could add users and control what rights they had to the application (view-only, edit, etc).  This is no longer the case.  Now, only users with signatory authority in eRAcommons can add and control user access.  This means that you are likely going to have to ask your GCO to change your settings to “Access Maintainer” if you are going to need to add users to your application at any time.  FWIW: you don’t need to add your GCO.  They automatically have access on the back end; just let him/her know the application is there.
  2. Changing the submission status.   Before, you had to change each individual component of the application to “Ready to Submit” before your GCO could push the button.  Now, you only have to change to “Ready for Submission” one time.  This saves a lot of time and frustration, especially since “Work in Progress” and “Ready for Submission” are now your only options, other than to abandon.
  3. Validation and submission functions. If you try to run validation on your application and nothing happens, or you try to submit to your GCO and you receive an “unable to complete action at this time” message, likely you have a PDF that is non-compliant.  Unfortunately, ASSIST will not tell you which one it is.  If either of these happen to you, go through your application and view each file you’ve uploaded.  When you come across one that ASSIST tells you it is unable to access, that is your problem child and the one you will likely need to replace.

 

ASSIST continues to be a helpful form of submission with value that lies in the ability to have NIH check for compliance BEFORE you submit.  As we continue run across these little nuances, we’ll share them with you, so please share the ones you find with us as well!  If you haven’t have a chance to look over ASSIST yet, take a look at some of our previous posts and/or familiarize yourself with the user guide.  We think you’ll like it once you get to know it 🙂

Well, That Was Unexpected: PD/PI Credential Error

Federal government systems are constantly evolving, and sometimes what was fine yesterday is an error today.  During the submission process for an SF424 on Monday, we received the following error, even though the PD/PI eRA Commons ID was very clearly and correctly present in the proper field:

 

NIH has received the electronic grant application Grants.gov Tracking # GRANT00000000 / PI XXXXXXX. NIH was unable to process your application because it was missing critical information required by NIH. NIH requires that the PD/PI’s correct eRA Commons User ID be entered in the ‘Credential’ field for the PD/PI on the R&R Senior/Key Person Profile (Expanded) component of the application.

Because the Credential field was not completed accurately, your application was considered incomplete; therefore the eRA Commons could not fully check the application against the instructions in the application guide and the funding opportunity announcement. You may receive new error and/or warning messages once you submit a changed/corrected application to Grants.gov.

 

After some trial and error, and intrepid GCO found that re-entering the eRA Commons ID in all capital letters (‘GSMITH’ instead of ‘gsmith’) allowed the application to go through.  As a precautionary measure, you may wish to use all caps on your PD/PI credentials going forward!

Status Updates: Not Just For Social Media Anymore

A couple of weeks ago, we talked about preserving your New Investigator or Early Stage Investigator (ESI) status.  But how can you be sure if you have those statuses at all?  NIH calculates your qualification for ESI based on your funding and terminal degree year, while New Investigator status is solely on past funding type.  You can be a New Investigator with qualifying to be ESI, but you can’t be ESI without qualifying to be a New Investigator.

 

To find out whether you are considered to be an ESI, you can check your status in eRA Commons.  To do it, log in and go to your “Personal Profile.”  Once you are there, either scroll down to or click on “Education:”

personal_profile

 

Once you are at your “Education” section, choose “Edit” (don’t choose “View”). This will reveal NIH’s record of your status as an Early Stage Investigator, or ESI:

ESI_status

 

To check your New Investigator status is a little more nuanced; to do so, choose “Status” from your top menu menu bar and find your most recent submission.  If that submission did not result in the funding of a “significant” award according to NIH standards and your “New Investigator Eligibility” reads “Y”, you are still considered a New Investigator.  This status is only monitored by NIH at submission:

new_investigator_status

 

Remember, to be considered a “New Investigator,” you cannot not yet have been awarded a substantial NIH research grant.  To be an “Early Stage Investigator,” you must have both “New Investigator” status and have completed your terminal research degrees or medical residencies (whichever date is later) within the past 10 years.  If you check you status and believe that NIH has misclassified your status, be sure to send an email to the Commons Help Desk for assistance.

Good Morning, How May We ASSIST You?

Last week, ASSIST became a submission option for R01s and U01s.  This means that ASSIST is now available for R01, U01, R03, all multi-project grant programs, and Individual Career Development Award (K, excluding KM1 and K12) applications.  Right now, you may choose to use ASSIST for its features (we like how you can validate for errors and warnings BEFORE submission), or you may continue to use the downloadable SF424 forms.  Keep in mind, however, that SF424 wasn’t always required either 😉  In order to use ASSIST, you must use or obtain an eRACommons ID.

 

We’ve used ASSIST a few times here at RAS and we thought we’d share a few things we’ve found:

  • Because ASSIST is cloud-based and directly populated to NIH, you can see errors and warnings before submission.
  • More than one person can be signed in and working on an ASSIST application, just not on the same component.
  • Only a person with recognized signing authority by NIH (according to their eRACommons credentials) can actually submit. You’ll need to add your GCO as a contributor.
  • All components of your application will need to be marked “Final” before you can mark your application as “Ready to Submit.” Conversely, if a component is not marked “Work in Progress,” you cannot edit.  As annoying as this will be when you are making last-minute changes, it does prevent accidental submission of unrefined applications.

 

Take a look around the system and see what you find.  ASSIST is nothing to fear: if you can do an SF424, you can use ASSIST.  In fact, we bet that you’ll like the administrative data carry-over population and pre-submission validation features.  We’ve stumbled through enough now that we’ve hit many of the hiccups; if you run into one, let us know and we’ll be happy to help you navigate.  Also check out the NIH ASSIST page,  where you can access FAQs, common errors and training resources on the left-side menu.