Tips to help Fermilab researchers successfully pursue new funding

Editor’s note: This is a first installment of a three-part article series on funding opportunities.

It’s springtime, and with the recent passage of the FY2022 omnibus appropriations bill, the Office of Partnerships and Technology Transfer asks Fermilab researchers to keep an eye out for new funding opportunities. These may come not only as direct funding opportunities from the Department of Energy and other federal agencies, but also from university or industry partners who approach you to provide support for their proposals.

To help you be better prepared, the OPTT would like to share its five tips for responding to funding opportunity announcements, broad agency announcements and any possible invitations to partner with other institutions.

Tip #1: Read the FOA/BAA carefully.

Before you pursue new funding, be sure you understand what exactly will be required for a successful proposal. While it is tempting to skim the technical topics and ignore the fine print, it is important to read the documentation requirements for the full proposal from the beginning and ask yourself these questions:

  • Does the FOA/BAA ask for detailed budget information? Are there limitations on what the funding agency will pay for?
  • Are there special documentation requirements, such as presenting a commercialization plan, an intellectual property management plan, or an equity, diversity and inclusion plan?
  • Does the FOA/BAA require cost-sharing by an industry partner?

Each of these additional requirements can add complexity and require participation from other parts of Fermilab. The earlier you identify what is required in a specific proposal, the sooner you can enlist support from other areas of the laboratory.

Tip #2: Verify that Fermilab is eligible to be a lead institution or a subcontractor.

As you review the FOA/BAA, pay close attention to the eligibility section and note if it explicitly includes or excludes DOE national laboratories. Besides the term “national laboratory,” one key acronym to look for is “FFRDC,” which is a federally funded research and development center. All DOE national laboratories are FFRDCs, and they typically are not eligible to be the lead institution on FOAs from the National Science Foundation and may not be eligible under other agencies’ rules. But we can sometimes participate under a subaward from a university. If you need assistance with this determination, contact the OPTT at optt@fnal.gov.

Tip #3:  Make sure you have the appropriate approvals from lab leadership in advance.

For funding announcements from the DOE, the approval of your division head is typically sufficient for most research opportunities. A notable exception are FOAs that would establish a new research center or hub, such as the one that resulted in the formation of SQMS. For these FOAs, approval of the laboratory director is required. For funding opportunities from other agencies in the U.S., or for funding from DOE/NNSA other than the Office of Science, you should secure the approval of both your division head and the chief research officer. All international requests must be approved by the director’s office.

Tip #4:  Make sure you have authorization from the DOE contracting officer when required.

The FOA/BAA may also require written authorization by the contracting officer who oversees Fermilab’s contract with DOE. They are nearly always required by FOAs/BAAs from other agencies and increasingly are required by DOE FOAs and lab calls. “CO Authorizations” are issued by DOE’s Fermilab Site Office and will be requested on your behalf by OPTT. The requirement is sometimes buried in the FOA/BAA and difficult to find, so if you need help, don’t hesitate to contact OPTT at optt@fnal.gov.

Tip #5: Request any CO Authorizations or Fermilab Letters of Support as early as possible.

“Letters of Support” or “Letters of Commitment” on Fermilab letterhead are typically requested by a partner institution. These include universities responding to an NSF announcement or small businesses responding to an SBIR/STTR opportunity, when they are requesting support from the laboratory in the form of effort, access to facilities, use of lab equipment or materials, etc. These letters can only be signed by certain, authorized individuals at Fermilab and are also coordinated through the OPTT.

Finally, to avoid last minute fire drills, you should request any Letters of Support or CO Authorizations:

  • After you or your partners start working on the full proposal,
  • No later than five working days before you plan to assemble the final proposal package.

To make it easier to request these letters, OPTT has established a new online portal for submitting — and tracking — your requests. Visit this webpage to access the portal and learn more about Letters of Support and CO Authorizations.