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NPR 1080.1B
Effective Date: February 21, 2017
Expiration Date: February 21, 2022
Printable Format (PDF)

Subject: Requirements for the Conduct of NASA Research and Technology (R&T)

Responsible Office: Science Mission Directorate

| TOC | Preface | Chapter1 | Chapter2 | Chapter3 | Chapter4 | Chapter5 | Chapter6 | AppendixA | AppendixB | AppendixC | ALL |

Chapter 3. R&T Solicitation and Selection

3.1 R&T Solicitation Process

3.1.1 Open competition and peer review (the scientific or technical review of proposals by qualified unbiased experts in the appropriate fields) is the standard method of ensuring that the most qualified R&T proposals are selected.

3.1.2 Solicitation Mechanisms NASA solicits proposals for R&T investigations using Broad Agency Announcements (BAAs) such as an Announcement of Opportunity (AO) or NASA Research Announcement (NRA). A NASA Cooperative Agreement Notice (CAN) is also used for activities in which a substantial collaboration is expected between NASA and the recipient during the performance of the proposed activity. BAAs, NRAs, AOs, and CANs are also referred to as "research solicitations." Specific guidance on the use of these solicitation mechanisms is found in the following documents.

a. AOs are described in 48 CFR 1872.

b. Selection of Funding Instruments is described in the NASA Grant and Cooperative Agreement Manual (GCAM). The GCAM provides internal policy guidance to NASA Program Officers and Grant Officers to implement Government-wide and NASA specific regulations for awarding and administering grants and cooperative agreements.

c. The Government-wide regulations are set forth in 2 CFR pt. 200 and are supplemented by NASA specific regulations provided in 2 CFR pt. 1800.

3.1.3 Proposal Evaluation Customarily, the principal elements considered in evaluating a proposal are relevance to NASA's objectives, intrinsic merit, and cost reasonableness. These three evaluation criteria are described in the NRA or Cooperative Agreement Notice Proposers' Guidebook. Proposals submitted to NASA are reviewed by panel reviewers, external reviewers (who submit written reviews but do not participate in a panel), or a combination of both as described below:

a. The responsible R&T Program Officer (or other designee, if assigned) selects the panel and, if used, external reviewers based on their known expertise relevant to the content of each proposal. These panel reviewers or individual reviewers are the proposer's professional peers who do not have a conflict of interest or potential bias (See Section 4.3).

b. There are at least two reviewers of each proposal.

c. In all cases, copies of every proposal will be available for inspection by the non-conflicted members of the panel while it is in session.

d. The final evaluation determined by the panel is reviewed and approved for completeness and clarity by the chairperson of the panel and the cognizant NASA Program Officer (or other designee, if assigned).

3.2 Proposals Received Other than Through a Competed Solicitation

Open competition and peer review (the scientific or technical review of proposals by qualified, unbiased experts) are the standard methods of ensuring that the most qualified R&T proposals are selected. Procedures for employing other than full and open solicitation and selection of proposals may be used on an exceptional basis according to governing legal and agency standards. All proposals that were not openly solicited and competed (sometimes referred to as non-competitive) including Unsolicited Proposals and Single-source Proposals are subject to the rules described in 2 CFR pt. 1800, Section 5.2 of the GCAM, and any other policies, procedures, concurrences, and/or approvals established by the NASA funding sponsor's organization and/or Center.

3.2.1 Unsolicited Proposals Unsolicited proposals are those submitted to NASA on the initiative of the applicant rather than in response to a NASA formal or informal solicitation. NASA Guidance for the Preparation and Submission of Unsolicited Proposals are used by the proposer to develop and submit an unsolicited proposal. The information NASA personnel may provide in discussing the development of an unsolicited proposal is described in 2 CFR pt. 1800 (applicable to unsolicited proposals for grants or cooperative agreements). However, the decision to submit an unsolicited proposal rests solely with the proposer. The procedures for receiving and reviewing unsolicited proposals are contained in the 2 CFR pt. 1800, and the NASA Guidance for the Preparation and Submission of Unsolicited Proposals. If an unsolicited proposal is determined to be compliant with 2 CFR pt. 1800, NASA will conduct an evaluation, consistent with the GCAM and the NASA Guidance for the Preparation and Submission of Unsolicited Proposals, after which the proposal is submitted to an appropriate NASA Selection Official for selection or rejection. Waivers from the peer review process may be granted for proposals that meet the criteria stated in Section 3.3.4, or otherwise established in policy. If an unsolicited proposal is selected, a written justification that addresses the criteria in 2 CFR pt. 1800 and the GCAM is submitted to the Selection Official for concurrence and then to the appropriate procurement office. This documentation includes a verification that there are not current or planned competitive solicitations to which the proposal could have been submitted. Unsolicited proposals from foreign sources are subject to policy established in NPD 1360.2.

3.2.2 Solicited Non-Competitive Proposals The circumstances under which NASA may solicit a single-source R&T proposal are contained in 2 CFR pt. 1800 and the GCAM. The fact that NASA has done business with a potential non-Federal source for years is not an acceptable justification for NASA to request a single-source proposal. NASA technical staff should be able to demonstrate that the proposing organization is uniquely qualified to fulfill the project needs or that that circumstances of the project necessitate a non-competitive grant or cooperative agreement. Solicited non-competitive proposals should be subjected to appropriate review, consistent with the GCAM, after which the selection recommendation is submitted to an appropriate NASA Selection Official for selection or rejection. Waivers from the peer review process may be granted for proposals that meet the criteria stated in Section 3.3.4. If a single-source proposal is selected, a written justification consistent with 2 CFR pt. 1800, is submitted to the Selection Official for concurrence and then to the appropriate procurement office.

3.2.3 Congressionally directed funding for R&T programs and policies is often divided between assistance to non-Federal entities (site-specific) and increases to specific NASA programs (programmatic). Proposals submitted in response to congressionally directed site-specific funding are normally evaluated using criteria based upon those included in the NASA Guidance for Preparation and Submission of Unsolicited Proposals but are not necessarily peer reviewed. Technical evaluations to assure the validity of the evaluation and the independent quality inherent in merit review may be carried out by a qualified person who is not serving as the cognizant NASA Program Officer. The independent technical evaluation, if done in this manner, should not require the independent technical evaluator to make a recommendation for funding. If an impasse occurs after a good faith effort to resolve outstanding issues has been made, the cognizant MDAA shall inform the Associate Administrator (AA) and the Deputy Chief Financial Officer for Appropriations.

3.3 Peer Review

3.3.1 Peer review is the scientific or technical evaluation of proposals by qualified, unbiased experts. Specific goals of peer review are to:

a. Assess the work proposed according to the three main criteria given in 3.1.3 Proposal Evaluation: intrinsic merit, relevance, and cost reasonableness.

b. Assess the work proposed according to its consistency with any other evaluation criteria in the solicitation.

c. Demonstrate to internal and external communities that excellence and fairness are achieved in arriving at scientific and technical decisions by making the R&T communities themselves participants in the selection process.

3.3.2 To accomplish the goals of peer review, a person designated by the responsible MDAA or MSOD (e.g., the Deputy Associate Administrator for Research in SMD) ensures that:

a. Reviewers are knowledgeable and collectively cover the full range of scientific and technical expertise required for thorough proposal evaluation.

b. Conflicts of interest are scrupulously avoided. Screening for conflicts of interest must be a mandatory precondition for participation in NASA peer review activities.

c. NASA programmatic and technical needs and requirements, as described in the R&T solicitation, are communicated to and understood by reviewers.

d. The criteria for evaluation are understood by the reviewers, traceable to the needs and requirements outlined in the R&T solicitation, and clearly and objectively stated in that solicitation.

e. The responsible Program Officer or another NASA civil servant or Intergovernmental Personnel Act appointee monitors the peer reviewers.

3.3.3 To maintain equity in competitions open to both external and internal proposals (in which personnel of a Center or JPL may be participants), selection of investigations and investigator teams is always a function of the MD or MSO (i.e., a Center that is proposing should not also be selecting as this creates an appearance of bias).

3.3.4 The source selection authority may excuse proposals from the peer review process, but not merit review for: Proposals to provide unique infrastructure facilities or capabilities necessary for the conduct of R&T programs and for which the requisite experience and technical background to provide competent peer review are not available. Proposals for small grants (see Agency-level or MD policies as appropriate), especially for activities such as scientific meetings and publications by recognized scientific organizations. Congressionally directed funding (see section 3.2.3).

3.3.5 The decision to conduct merit review without peer review must be briefly explained in the recommendation document. Funding proposals above the simplified acquisition threshold (of $150K) without peer review is reported to the NASA Chief Scientist.

3.4 R&T Selection Process

3.4.1 After solicitation and peer review of proposals, the NASA Program Officer (or other NASA civil servant or IPA appointee) recommends to the Selection Official, identified in the solicitation, the suite of proposals to be selected for funding and those to be declined. These recommendations are based on results of the peer and or internal review of the proposals according to the evaluation criteria (see 3.1.3) and any other criteria identified in the research solicitation, which may include any programmatic considerations (such as program balance), comparison of recommended proposals to competing proposals with similar scores and objectives, and what the program can afford given the available budget.

The Selection Official decides which proposals will be supported and which will be declined in a formal selection statement that identifies all bases for the selection. For grants and cooperative agreements, all selections are final and not subject to protest, although Agency-level review (as defined in the NASA FAR Supplement) and judicial review is a possibility (albeit rare). Individual Mission Directorate reconsideration processes (e.g., SMD has a directorate policy document on this subject) are permitted. No funding will be disbursed without explicit concurrence from the Selection Official. In some cases, NASA may elect to support only a portion of a proposed investigation. Partial selection is discussed in more detail in Section 3.4.4.

3.4.2 Selection Prerequisites Care and Use of Animals. R&T involving the use of animals should comply with the policy established in NPD 8910.1, Care and Use of Animals and NPR 8910.1. Use of Human Research Subjects. R&T involving human subjects should comply with the policy established in NPD 7100.8, NASA Research and Technology Program and Project Management Requirement. For AOs, which only result in contracts, the proposals are categorized as required by 48 CFR 1872. Per these provisions, the proposals and their evaluations are reviewed by an AO Steering Committee prior to submission of the recommendation for selection.

3.4.3 Selection Activities

a. The NASA Selection Official shall prepare Selection Statements as required by 48 CFR pts. 35, 1872 or the GCAM as applicable. In the case of grants and cooperative agreements, the NASA Selection Official may simply concur on the Recommendation/Selection Statements by the NASA Program Officer, who is then authorized to make awards and communicate with proposers.

b. After selection, each proposer is notified (by NSPIRES, NASA Solicitation and Proposal Integrated Review and Evaluation System, letter, or electronic mail) of the disposition of the proposal. Unless otherwise specified in the solicitation, each proposer should be offered a debriefing based on identified strengths and weaknesses, as described in 3.4.6.

c. The responsible NASA Program Officer forwards official notification of selection and required documentation to the appropriate NASA Procurement Office, which contacts the proposing institution to negotiate funding and all required terms and conditions through an appropriate award instrument.

3.4.4 NASA may select only a portion of a proposed investigation, e.g., only selected tasks, or all tasks for a shorter duration (e.g., a one year pilot study), or a combination. The proposer is not obliged to accept the offer and NASA may withdraw the offer entirety. An award may be contingent on an acceptable revised budget, statement of work, data management plan, or other element of proposals described in the solicitation or in the NASA Guidebook for Proposers.

3.4.5 Disclosure of Selections and Non-Selections For selected proposals, NASA will require the Principal Investigator to agree to the publication of the Proposal Title, the Principal Investigator's name and institution, Co-investigators' names and institutions (if applicable), and the Proposal Summary. NASA will include this condition in the solicitation and in the award instrument. After the award is made, NASA will post that information on an appropriate publicly accessible location. Selected proposers may release additional information about their proposals, subject to the requirements of NPD 2200.1, if the proposer is from NASA, the STI is produced by NASA, or a NASA channel will be used for information release. NASA considers other portions of selected proposals to be proprietary and will treat this information as confidential to the extent permitted by law. NASA will not release these sections of successful proposals to the public without consultation with the proposer. Except as required by law, NASA will not release any information from unselected proposals without permission of the proposer. The non-selection of a proposal does not restrict the submission of a similar or even the same effort by the proposer(s) in response to appropriate future NASA solicitations or to other appropriate funding agencies or organizations. However, if submission of the same or nearly the same proposal to NASA in the future is contemplated, proposers should be strongly urged to carefully consider the totality of the comments offered during their debriefing, as well as the proposal guidelines, before making their decision. Merely correcting any perceived deficiencies in a proposal as noted by a review process for one BAA in no way guarantees a higher rating in another solicitation. Proposers may use the NASA Ombudsman process, file protests and process contract disputes and appeals in accordance with the policy and procedures established in the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), the NASA FAR Supplement, and NPR 5101.33, Procurement Advocacy Program.

3.4.6 Debriefing of Proposers A proposer should be informed of the major factor(s) that led to the acceptance or rejection of the proposal unless the competitive solicitation explicitly states otherwise. At the discretion of the NASA Program Officer, such debriefings may be oral, written, or both. However, it is a best practice that these should be provided in writing to the proposer. If peer review was employed, then the (appropriately edited) comments from the peer reviewers is ideal. Debriefing of proposers should be in accordance with 48 CFR pts. 1800-1899. NASA informs non-selected proposers that proposals of nominally high intrinsic and programmatic merit may be declined for programmatic or financial reasons that may be unrelated to any scientific or technical qualities of the proposal. Awarded funds may not be used to defray debriefing travel costs.

3.5 Partnerships and International Collaboration

3.5.1 In accordance with NPD 1080.1, Policy for the Conduct of NASA Research and Technology, NASA's policy is to encourage the participation of organizations of every type, domestic and foreign, Government and private, for profit and not-for-profit, in collaborative R&T partnerships. Broad participation can be encouraged through public announcements seeking proposals for R&T partnerships or through similar means. Foreign organizations can be encouraged to submit proposals directly as appropriate or to participate on proposals submitted by U.S. organizations, subject to compliance with applicable laws and regulations. It is NASA policy that all R&T investigations involving non-U.S. organizations will be conducted on a no exchange of funds basis. Any such R&T partnerships shall be conducted in accordance with all applicable laws, regulations, and policies.

3.5.2 The Office of International and Interagency Relations (OIIR), in conjunction with the relevant MD or MSO, shall negotiate all international collaborations. All international negotiations follow NPD 1360.2, Initiation and Development of International Cooperation in Space and Aeronautics Programs. For international collaborations involving NASA, each partner assumes full financial responsibility for its own commitments, pursuant to NPD 1360.2. Any foreign contract acquisition valued above $100,000 or involving export control issues is coordinated with OIIR, in accordance with 48 CFR pts.1800-1899 and Subpart 1825.7002. International agreements that contemplate the procurement of goods or services using U.S.-appropriated funds, unless done solely on a cooperative basis will require the Office of Procurement concurrence in accordance with 48 CFR pts. 1800-1899 and Subpart 1825.7003, International Agreements.

3.6 Conflicts of Interest and Confidentiality

3.6.1 The issues of conflict of interest and confidentiality are of critical importance to the peer review process. Regardless of whether the review process is conducted by external reviewers or by a convened panel, the presiding NASA Program Officer shall address and resolve conflicts of interest based on the following requirements:

a. Every reviewer is screened for potential personal and organizational conflicts of interest, agrees to provide immediate notice to the Selection Official and NASA Program Officer if any conflicts arise, agrees to maintain the confidentiality of proposals and the information therein, and agrees to maintain the confidentiality of all aspects of the review process, except when otherwise required by law.

b. U.S. Government employees who serve as reviewers are governed by 41 U.S.C 423. Non-Federal reviewers sign a nondisclosure agreement in advance of being sent any proposals. By signing and executing a nondisclosure agreement, a non-civil servant reviewer agrees to abide by its requirements for confidentiality.

c. Should an unanticipated conflict arise or otherwise become known during the course of examining the proposal under review, the reviewer will inform the cognizant NASA Program Officer and cease participation pending a NASA decision on the issue.

d. NASA will not condone disclosure by a reviewer of either the proposals themselves or their evaluation materials and discussions under any circumstances at any time even after the selections are announced. Since the review process is not complete until the selections are announced, a breach of confidentiality of the review process could result in the entire selection process being declared invalid. Just as serious, unauthorized disclosure of privileged review information may lead to the proposer and/or his/her proposing colleagues to make critical career decisions based on erroneous, preselection hearsay information. Civil servants who disclose confidential proposal information and results are subject to disciplinary action and criminal penalties under 41 U.S.C. 423.

e. In certain situations, the individuals selected to participate as reviewers may have been identified in a competing proposal or have, otherwise, been identified as having a conflict of interest. In such situations, NASA takes appropriate measures to assure the objectivity and integrity of the evaluation process, including, for example, excluding the individual from panel discussions of proposals for which a conflict exists. In some cases, the individual may also be excluded from the discussion of proposals that are in direct programmatic competition with proposals with which he or she is conflicted.

f. The Office of General Counsel is responsible for assisting with the resolution of conflicts of interest.

| TOC | Preface | Chapter1 | Chapter2 | Chapter3 | Chapter4 | Chapter5 | Chapter6 | AppendixA | AppendixB | AppendixC | ALL |
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