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Jul 24 / SPA

A Message from the NIH Regarding Issues with Multi-Project Applications

Known Issues with NIH Multi-project Applications & Dealing with System Issues

There are a couple of known software issues impacting electronic multi-project applications that we’d like to bring to your attention…

Character Limitation for Project Titles of Components

 We are currently unable to process applications where the ‘Descriptive Title of Applicant’s Project’ field on the SF424 (R&R) cover form used within multi-project application components is over 75 characters. Although you can use up to 200 characters for your main project title in the Overall component, you can only use 75 characters for the project titles of all other components. This limitation is the result of an issue with how we are generating the Table of Contents within our multi-project assembled application images.

If you are using ASSIST, then this issue may also impact your ability to successfully generate an application preview. If your attempt to generate a preview results in a ‘Failed’ status, check the length of each component project title before trying again.

The fix to this issue will be available on August 8, 2014. Until then, please limit the project titles of your components (other than Overall) to 75 characters or less.

This issue does not impact single-project applications (i.e., you can still include project titles up to 200 characters for your R01 and other single-project submissions.)

Multiple Editors and the Delete Application Action in ASSIST

One of the nice features of ASSIST is that you can have multiple people simultaneously working on your application. However, this also poses some challenges from a system’s perspective. When implementing the new Delete Application feature, we did not correctly handle the scenario when one user attempts to delete an application when another user is editing it.

Currently, the system is working like this…Mary is editing a form in the application. John attempts to execute the Delete Application action, but receives an error indicating that a form in the application is locked by Mary. Mary gets out of the form so John can delete the application. On John’s subsequent attempt to delete the application, he still receives a message indicating that the form is locked by Mary. John must log out of ASSIST and log back in in order to complete the action without errors.

We are scheduled to release a fix to this issue on October 17, 2014. This tiny glitch shouldn’t cause too much worry in the meantime since it only impacts applications that you want to delete.

What to do if you encounter a ‘System Issue’

Experiencing a system issue with ASSIST,, SAM, or eRA Commons that you believe threaten your ability to submit on time? Don’t panic. NIH will not penalize applicants who experience confirmed system issues that are beyond their control. However, it is imperative that you follow our Guidelines for Applicants Experiencing System Issues. This process includes contacting the eRA Commons Help Desk by the due date to report your issue and your good-faith effort to submit on-time. Once it is confirmed that a system issue exists, the help desk will work with you to determine the best path forward. In many cases, the eRA production support team can reprocess your application without any additional action on your end. In other cases, they will provide guidance on changes that must be made to the application in order to process it. Either way, the first step to resolution is contacting the eRA Commons Help Desk.

Applicants that fail to document their issues on or before the submission deadline or that do not have a confirmed system issue will be subject to the standard NIH Policy on Late Submission of Grant Applications.

As always, the eRA Commons Help Desk is available to clarify any of the above items.

Jul 16 / SPA

Important Communication Information for Everyone

Your day is most likely filled with constant communication. Weblog Mind Tools (via Lifehacker) offers a communication checklist to help ensure that your emails, phone calls, and meetings are always productive.

According to the 7 Cs, your communication should always be:

  1. Clear: Make the goal of your message clear to your recipient. Ask yourself what the purpose of your communication is.
  2. Concise: Your message should also be brief and to the point. Why communicate your message in six sentences when you can do it in three?
  3. Concrete: Ensure your message has important details and facts, but that nothing deters the focus of your message.
  4. Correct: Make sure what you’re writing or saying is accurate. Bad information doesn’t help anybody. Also make sure that your message is typo free.
  5. Coherent: Does your message make sense? Check to see that all of your points are relevant and that everything is consistent with the tone and flow or your text.
  6. Complete: Your message is complete when all relevant information is included in an understandable manner and there is a clear “call to action”. Does your audience know what you want them to do?
  7. Courteous: Ensure that your communication is friendly, open, and honest, regardless of what the message is about. Be empathetic and avoid passive-aggressive tones.

Think about the 7 Cs every time you need to communicate something and you’ll always know you’re delivering the clearest message possible.

May 8 / SPA

Ask Dr. Llama About Computers


“If you drop a computer on your toe, you will have megahertz.”


Dear Dr. Llama,

I am nearing the end of my project and need to purchase a computer and the Sponsored Programs office is giving me grief about this. I’ve got my eye on this sharp new Macintosh and want to get it. Now. Any advice?


Dr. Jona Licious


Dear Dr. Licious,

Computer purchases in the final months of a project period raise audit concerns. What is the benefit to the sponsored project? Obtain documentation and keep for audit purposes. All charges to a project, particularly in the last 90 days of the project period, must be allowable and allocable as a direct cost, and be reasonable and necessary for the conduct of remaining project activities. If the computer is expected to be used beyond the project expiration date, the cost should not be allocated 100% to the expiring project unless continuation funding from that same sponsor is expected.

And remember, purchases to just use remaining funds at the end of a project are not appropriate!


Apr 24 / SPA

Pilot Program for Enhancement of Contractor Employee Whistleblower Protections

The National Defense Authorization Act, P.L. 112-239 (PDF) (NDAA) established a pilot program for the enhancement of contractor and subcontractor employee protections from reprisal for whistleblowing.

What is Whistleblowing?

Whistleblowing is the disclosure by a person, usually an employee in a government agency or private enterprise, to the public or to those in authority, of mismanagement, corruption, illegality, or some other wrongdoing.  Specifically:

  • Gross mismanagement of a Federal contract or grant;
  • The gross waste of Federal funds;
  • An abuse of authority relating to a Federal contract or grant;
  • A substantial and specific danger to public health or safety; or,
  • A violation of law or regulation related to a Federal contract or grant (including the competition for, or negotiation of, a contract or grant).

Extended Protections

Section 828(a) of the NDAA, Pilot Program for Enhancement of Contractor Employee Whistleblower Protections, provides that, “An employee of a contractor, subcontractor, or grantee may not be discharged, demoted, or otherwise discriminated against as a reprisal for disclosing the aforementioned types of information to:

  • ​A Member of Congress, or a representative of a Congressional committee,
  • An Inspector General,
  • The Government Accountability Office,
  • A federal employee responsible for contract or grant oversight or management at the relevant agency,
  • An official from the Department of Justice, or other law enforcement agency,
  • A court or grand jury, or,
  • A management official or other employee of the contractor, subcontractor, grantee, or sub-grantee who has the responsibility to investigate, discover or address misconduct


The pilot program also establishes a new process for review of whistleblower reprisal complaints alleged by employees of contractors, subcontractors, and grantees,  “A person who believes that the person has been subjected to a reprisal prohibited by subsection (a) may submit a complaint to the Inspector General of the executive agency involved.”

Procedures for submitting fraud, waste, abuse, and whistleblower complaints are generally accessible on the Office of Inspector General (OIG) website, via phone (800) 409-9926, or Whistleblower Internet sites, such as these:

Concerns related to alleged fraud, waste, and/or abuse may be reported anonymously to the Wayne State University Office of Internal Audit as follows:

All allegations will be investigated and reported to the appropriate University officials and the sponsor.  Please provide sufficient information to enable a thorough investigation.

Apr 10 / SPA

Ask Dr. Llama About Travel


“It’s been written that if  you travel far enough, you meet yourself.  That is frightening!  And confusing!”

Dear Dr. Llama,

SPA finance team is questioning my travel expense to Africa, charged to my federally funded grant, for a possible dis-allowance due to the timing factor. The travel took place after the end date, but was completed within a week’s time after that.  I traveled to participate in the conference that focused on the Geology project on which I worked, to present my work supported by this grant.  What can I do to include this cost on my grant?


Kenya Dig It

Dear KDI,

It is imperative that no expense, travel or any other type that take place after the end date, can be charged to a grant.  However, once it is determined that the travel was related to the accomplishment of the goals of this particular grant;, the following can help you present your case for the allowability of the travel expense in question:

  1. If such a travel is specifically mentioned in the proposal and is approved by the sponsor.
  2. There is a specific approval from the sponsor for this travel during the life time of this grant.
  3. If it can be justified, that without that particular travel expense, the required work on the grant would be deemed incomplete.

In case there is still a lack of clarity, the sponsor should immediately be contacted, via your SPA Grant and Contract Officer, for their comments and assistance in basing decisions on allowability.