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United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)

What's New 

(also see Archives for more information)

USDA agency news can be found at the following link: https://usda.gov/media/agency-news-releases

April 2019: Change to USDA F&A Calculation

The 2018 Farm Bill has changed how to calculate USDA F&A (i.e. indirect cost amount) when MSU is the direct applicant and the budget includes subawards.  The change limits the indirect cost amount for the overall award to 30 percent of Total Federal Funds Awarded (TFFA) under a research, education, or extension grant (30% TFFA = 42.85% TDC).  If the budget does not include subawards, then you would follow the normal process of determining the lesser of the TFFA or MTDC F&A amount for MSU’s budget.

If the budget includes subawards and MSU is the direct applicant to USDA, the F&A Calculator is provided to help determine the applicable F&A basis and rate.  The calculation can be tricky since any F&A requested by the subawardee(s) must be evaluated in relationship to the total possible F&A available (30% TFFA /Equivalent 42.85% TDC).  This can result in MSU’s F&A basis and rate being less than or equal to the maximum applicable rate.

Cost Share F&A Implications - Please review the solicitation in order to determine if F&A is allowed in the cost share budget.  If the solicitation is unclear please contact your OSP Proposal Team for guidance.  For the 2019 Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) RFA, USDA has indicated via a teleconference that they will not recognize F&A in the cost share budget.

June 27, 2018

National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) released a Sample Grants.gov Application Guide.

April 2018: Streamlined Approach to Proposal Subawards

USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA)  implemented a streamlined approach to proposal sub-awards.  This change was announced at the 2018 NERAOC conference (see presentation) and is based on NIFA’s strategic 2014-2018 plan.  With the streamlined approach NIFA no longer requires sub-award letters of commitment, detailed subaward budgets and budget narratives to be part of the proposal package submission unless a sub-award is to a Federal Agency, or the total amount to sub-awards is over 50% of the overall project budget.  MSU will continue to require the standard subaward documents at the time of proposal submission (i.e. Scope of Work, Budget, Budget Justification, Subrecipient Commitment form, and other documents that may be required by the RFA).  These documents are necessary to meet compliance and audit requirements.

April 2018

NIFA - new proposal submission applications will no longer be required for continuation awards.  The out years of an award will be issued as amendments to the initial award.  NIFA will trigger the continuation award via email.

Proposal Guidance      

Funding Opportunities

NIFA funding opportunities may be found at https://nifa.usda.gov/grants.  Most USDA agencies post their funding opportunities in Grants.gov and ezFedGrants.  

Proposal Tips

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) has a more structured proposal process than other USDA agencies.  The tips provided below apply to NIFA applications only (note, this is not a comprehensive list):

  • Use NIFA’s Sample Grants.gov Application Guide for assistance with putting the proposal together.  The last pages of the guide include a good checklist.
  • Many NIFA proposals require the NIFA Supplemental Info form.  A template of the form can be found on OSP’s User Attached Form web page.
  • The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) solicitation requires an AFRI Project Type form.  This form is attached as a User Attached Form and can be found on OSP’s User Attached Form web page
  • Attachments must be in pdf format.
  • Project title has a 140 character maximum (including spaces)
  • Application support templates for the below documents are found at the following site, https://nifa.usda.gov/resource/application-support-templates:
    • Conflict of Interest List
    • Project Summary
    • Current & Pending Support
    • Representation Regarding Felony Convictions or Tax Delinquent Status (included as an Other Attachment)
    • Confidentiality Agreement
    • Form 666 Organizational Information
  • Biographical Sketch should be limited to two pages each
  • Current and Pending Support is required for each key person identified

Submission System

Typically, proposals are submitted using MSU’s System-to-System (S2S) functionality in KC.  Proposals go from MSU’s system, to Grants.gov and are retrieved by the USDA agency. 

Some USDA agencies (e.g. APHIS) require applications to be submitted using ezFedGrants.  This system can be cumbersome and challenging to access.  If the solicitation gives you a choice between ezFedGrants and Grants.gov you must select the Grants.gov option and submit using KC’s S2S functionality. 

Contact your Proposal Team if you need assistance with accessing ezFedGrants.

USDA provides a chart that indicates the submission system used by each agency at the following link (see the Submit Applications column): https://www.nfc.usda.gov/FSS/Training/Online/ezFedGrants/Resources/JA-USDA_Agency_Functions.pdf.

Budget Guidelines

The guidelines listed here are generally applicable to this sponsor. Please refer to the solicitation for any deviation to standard guidelines or specific requirements for a program.

Personnel

Salary
Salaries should be based on KC values unless a known increase/decrease is expected, for example due to a change in title/rank; salaries are usually escalated in the out years using 2-3% inflation; salary should not exceed the Executive Level IV salary amount; provide a justification for a higher rate if salary exceeds this amount
Fringe
Fringe should be based on KC values
Research Associate (Post Doc) Salary
Salaries should be based on KC values if a current employee; the current minimum salary for a Post Doc can be found at this link
Research Associate (Post Doc) Fringe
Fringe should be based on KC values; Post Docs are eligible for retirement in the 4th year of employment, or upon employment at MSU if they participated in a retirement plan at a previous employer that made employer contributions. Please contact HR for more information.
Graduate Student Stipend
Stipend amounts should be based on standard/published college/department levels or HR levels
Graduate Student Fringe
Appropriate health benefits should be applied based on the current Grad Fringe Chart; 7.65% for summer hourly work
Undergraduate Labor
Usually based on hourly rates; see HR standard rates
Undergraduate Fringe
Fringe of 7.65% applied during the summer; fringe only applied during AY if student is not expected to be enrolled full time
Administrative Staff
In most circumstances, the salaries of administrative or clerical staff are included as part of indirect costs.  If included in a proposal budget, clearly describe the circumstances for requiring direct charging of these services in the budget justification.

Equipment

Allowable items ordinarily will be limited to research equipment not already available for the conduct of the work; general purpose equipment is not allowable (such as a personal computer) unless primarily or exclusively used for the project and well justified; some USDA programs have limitations on the amount or type of allowable equipment

Participant Support Costs

Costs associated with conference, workshop, or symposium attendees who are not employees of the applicant or subawardees. Trainee costs are the costs associated with educational projects that support trainees. In the budget justification, identify the purpose of the conference/training, dates, and places.

Travel

Domestic
Allowable for employees who travel on business related to the award; should be in accordance with organizational policy; justification should be itemized to include the purpose of travel, destination, anticipated or known dates of travel, duration, and number of individuals, type of travel (mileage/air), lodging & food (per diem) for each trip
Foreign
Allowable for employees who travel on business related to the award; should be in accordance with organizational policy; justification should be itemized to include the purpose of travel, destination, anticipated or known dates of travel, duration, and number of individuals, type of travel (mileage/air), lodging & food (per diem) for each trip.  Foreign travel includes any travel outside of North America and/or U.S. Possessions.

Other Direct Costs

Communications
Generally allowable if integral to the project
Computer Services/ADP
Generally allowable; include established rates in the justification
Conferences
Include facility rental and equipment rental related to holding the conference/meeting; fees for speakers are allowable (include amount and description of the service); meals may not be charged outside of the scope of the conference (see Meals/Refreshments below); details of costs should be itemized
Consultant Services
A consultant should not be affiliated with the performing organization (i.e., not an MSU employee); consultant rate should not exceed the Executive Level IV level based on an 8 hour day; provide the consultant name, service to be provided, hourly or daily fee, and estimated time devoted to the project; may include consulting expenses (travel, meals, lodging); if details not available at proposal stage, funds for this purpose will be withheld until provided to the sponsor; a resume or CV and a letter of collaboration/intent should be included
Equipment/Facility Rental
Equipment rental should include the type of equipment, purpose, length of time needed, and rate; facility rental may be included for off-site facilities not owned by the organization and should include the monthly rental charge; laboratory facilities should include a letter of agreement allowing the project to operate in the space; land-use charges may be included and should include the charge per acre, number of acres, and total costs; user fees may be budgeted and should include the type of service, applicability to the project, and itemization of costs
Graduate Student Tuition & Fees
Generally allowable.  The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) does not allow Tuition and Fees on Non-Assistance Cooperative Agreements.
Honoraria
Unallowable
Incentives
Unallowable for nearly all NIFA programs except EFNEP
Materials & Supplies
Generally allowable; justification should include the types of materials in general terms with estimated costs
Meals/Refreshments
Meals not related to a conference/meeting are generally not allowable unless the activity maintains the continuity of a meeting and to do otherwise will impose arduous conditions on the meeting participants; breakfast meals are generally not allowable because no continuity of the meeting exists
Publication/Dissemination
Allowable; provide justification
Subaward

NIFA no longer requires sub-award letters of commitment, detailed subaward budgets and budget narratives to be part of the proposal package submission unless a sub-award is to a Federal Agency, or the total amount to sub-awards is over 50% of the overall project budget.  OSP will continue to require the completed subaward documents for our files at the time of proposal submission (i.e. Scope of Work, Budget, Budget Justification, Subrecipient Commitment form, and other documents that may be required by the RFA).  These documents are necessary to meet compliance and audit requirements. 

USDA’s budget requirements also apply to a subawardee, including any applicable indirect costs limitations.

Contingency
/Misc.

Unallowable

F&A

NIFA typically allows the lesser of MSU’s approved rate or 30% of Federal Funds Awarded inclusive of any subaward F&A amounts.  For help with determining what rate to use when your budget includes subcontracts, see the “USDA/NIFA F&A Calculator” section below.

However, allowable Indirect Cost Rates vary by USDA program. Please refer to the solicitation.  NIFA also maintains a chart at the following link: https://nifa.usda.gov/resource/indirect-cost-chart.

IDC restrictions should also be listed in the RFA. When applying for USDA funding that does not have an RFA, MSU will accept the USDA agency reduced rate provided that the Office of Sponsored Programs is given a copy of their F&A policy, a link to their website stating their policy, or a letter/email from a senior official at the USDA agency informing MSU of the applicable rate and base (e.g. TDC, TFFA, MTDC). If documentation is not available at the time of proposal, MSU’s policy is to submit the budget with the full applicable F&A rate and if needed, will revise the budget once the F&A documentation has been obtained.

The Agricultural Research Service limits F&A depending on the agreement type.  See the following chart for F&A limitations for ARS: https://www.ars.usda.gov/ARSUserFiles/FMAD/Agreements/Partnership%20Resources/IDC%20Funding%20Restrictions%20and%20Tuition%20Reimb%20Limitations%2006122019.pdf

Cost Share

Only include if required by the FOA; the same level of budget details are required for any required cost share; cost sharing by a 3rd party must include a letter signed by the contributing AOR and counter signed by the recipient's AOR; if the letter is submitted with the proposal, the counter signature is not required

 

USDA/NIFA F&A Calculator

To help determine the applicable F&A basis and rate, MSU has created an F&A Calculator.  Follow the below instructions when using the calculator:

The F&A Calculator inputs, indicated by the gray fields, are as follows:

  1. Enter the Total Cost Cap/Target amount (including the subaward amounts, if any) in cell D2.
  2. Enter MSU’s MTDC exclusions (other than the subaward amounts) in cell D5.
  3. Enter MSU’s applicable F&A rate (e.g. 56.5% for Research, 36% for activities other than Research, 26% Off-campus) in cell D9.
  4. Enter the subawardee direct and indirect amounts (contact OSP if you have more than 15 subawards budgeted) in the separately provided input boxes provided in Column D (not shown in the screenshot below).
    F&A calculator inputs indicated on spreadsheet

The F&A Calculator will provide you with the following KC inputs, indicated by the yellow fields:

  1. The F&A Rate Type, in cells D11/12
  2. The Applicable F&A Rate, in cells F11/12
    F and A rate type and the applicable F and A rate indicated on spreadsheet

The F&A Calculator will also provide the following check numbers to verify the budget totals in KC are consistent with what was included in the F&A Calculator, indicated by the light green fields:

  1. MSU’s F&A Amount, in cells E11/12
  2. Total Direct Cost, in cells G11/12
  3. Total Summary Cost, in cells F14/15
    Check numbers to verify budget totals in KC indicated on spreadsheet
    MTDC rate type and applicable KC rate indicated on spreadsheet

Compliance

Export Control

An Export Control and Open Research Worksheet (ECORRW) is not required for USDA funding, unless there is a specific condition of the project that requires ECTS review.

Human Subjects

If the project includes human subject’s research, IRB approval will be required prior to account set-up.

Animal Subjects

If the project includes animal subjects, IACUC approval will be required prior to account set-up.

Conflict of Interest

Project-based Conflict of Interest disclosures are required for all key personnel prior to account set-up.

Award Guidance

USDA/NIFA typically issues grants with standard research terms and conditions.  Smaller USDA agencies issue more complex agreements that take additional time to negotiate.

Subawards

USDA/NIFA

CGA creates NIFA subawards and amendments except those to government agencies, which are prepared by OSP.  All subawards require completed AD-1048 – this form does not need to be sent to the sponsor, but should be kept on file.

Prior Approvals

USDA NIFA

  • Administrative/Clerical staff not in the approved budget
  • Change in scope
  • Reduction of PI effort of 25% or more or PI absence of 3 months or more
  • No-cost extension (after first 12 months)
  • Rebudgeting of Participant Support Costs
  • Subawards if more than 50% of the award and all subawards to government agencies.

USDA ARS

Grants and Assistance type Cooperative Agreements require prior approval for:

  • Administrative/Clerical staff not in the approved budget
  • Change in scope
  • Reduction of PI effort of 25% or more or PI absence of 3 months or more
  • No cost extension
  • Rebudgeting of Participant Support Costs
  • Subawards not included in the approved budget
  • In addition to #1-6 above, Non Assistance Cooperative Agreements require prior approval for:
    • Budget deviations exceeding 10% of most recent approved budget and award exceeds $250,000 (SAT)
    • Advertising referring to USDA or any REE agency in connection with the award
  • In addition to #1-6 above, Research Support Agreements (RSAs) require prior approval for:
    • Travel costs
    • Operation of government-owned vehicles by MSU employee

Other USDA Sub-Agencies

See specific award terms and conditions

Reporting

Progress/
Technical Report

  • Annual Progress Report is due 90 calendar days after the award’s anniversary date and should be submitted to REEport
  • Final Technical Reports are required within 90 calendar days after the expiration or termination of the award

Financial Reports

  • Annual  SF-425 Financial Statement 90 days following the award anniversary date
  • Final SF-425 Financial Statement 90 days following the end of the project

Other Reports

Final Invention Statement, as required.

Effort Reporting / Cost Share

If the award has specific cost-sharing or matching requirements, as outlined in 2 CFR 200.306, contributions must meet all of the following criteria:

  1. Are verifiable from MSU’s records;
  2. Are not included as contributions for any other Federal award;
  3. Are necessary and reasonable for accomplishment of project or program objectives
  4. Are allowable
  5. Are not paid by the Federal government under another Federal award, except where the Federal statute authorizing a program specifically provides that Federal funds made available for such program can be applied to matching or cost sharing requirements of other Federal programs;
  6. Are provided for in the approved budget when required by the USDA awarding agency.

Unrecovered indirect costs, including indirect costs on cost sharing or matching may be included as part of cost sharing or matching only with the prior approval of the USDA awarding agency.

Additional information on cost share can be found on the Sponsored Program Administration website at the following link: https://www.cga.msu.edu/PL/Portal/249/CostSharePolicy

In cases where salaried cost share has been committed, MSU uses the effort reporting system for tracking and documentation.  Non-salary cost share is documented through PI certified operating statements.

Effort Reporting

MSU effort reporting overview and FAQ’s can be found on the Sponsored Program Administration website at the following link:
https://www.cga.msu.edu/PL/Effort/EffortReportingTools.aspx

Effort reporting instructions can also be located on the Sponsored Program Administration website: 
https://www.cga.msu.edu/PL/Portal/231/EffortReportingInstructionsEffortAdministrators

For additional questions and information, please contact the CGA Effort Reporting inbox at, effortreporting@cga.msu.edu

Record Retention

Record retention is 3 years from submission of the final expenditure report.

Sponsor Resources

USDA is made up of 29 agencies, including the following granting agencies:

Forms and Templates

Archives

None at this time

Category:     Subcategories: OSP, Policy

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