400.00 Proposal Development

410.00  Identifying Funding Sources.  

410.10 OSP Resources.  OSP maintains up-to-date electronic databases, reference books, reports, directories, guidelines, forms and newsletters from federal, state and private agencies which can be consulted with a particular project in mind. The Office of Sponsored Programs staff can help broaden the pool of possible sponsors by visiting with researchers.

Current information about a particular sponsor, including the program deadline, the review process, allowable costs, past and present funding priorities and agency personnel is available through OSP’s Pre-Award office.

Searchable database of funding sources -- SPIN (from InfoEd International) is available to MSU faculty and students. Since this is a subscription based service, access is limited to MSU campuses. Funding alert services are also available.

Faculty profiles can be created in GENIUS (from InfoEd International). Choose keywords that identify your areas of research interest, and you will receive e-mail alerts of new funding opportunities as they become available. Search the GENIUS Expertise database to identify collaborators worldwide. Call OSP (994-2381) for assistance.

Researchers are welcome to visit OSP in 309 Montana Hall to browse information files, search databases, download forms, scan letters of support, and convert files to PDF.

410.20 Grants.gov.  Grants.gov allows electronic access to more than 1,000 grant programs offered by all federal grant-making agencies. Grants.gov replaces paper applications with electronic forms and requires electronic submission of all applications. It is the central portal for federal grant announcements and submissions and all federal granting agencies now post their funding opportunities on Grants.gov (http://grants.gov) (many also post on their own funding websites). Most agencies also require submission via Grants.gov—although some have not completed their implementation at this date. Researchers should regularly visit agency websites to keep abreast of agency migration to electronic posting and receipt of applications.

MSU is already registered as an institution through Grants.gov. No additional registration by PIs is necessary. If the sponsor requires submission through Grants.gov, contact OSP well in advance of due dates in order to assure an on-time application through this federally required system.

For more information and tips, refer to OSP’s Grants.gov webpage. Your Fiscal Manager in OSP can also answer questions and provide guidance. Call 994-2381.


420.00  Limited Submissions.  Some sponsors limit the number of proposals that MSU may submit to a particular program. Institutional procedures have been developed for selecting proposals in these circumstances, and announcements soliciting internal proposals are distributed by OSP. An internal selection process is used to review the proposals and select those that most closely match the sponsor's and MSU’s interests and have the best opportunity for success.  Limited Submission Policy

430.00  Proposal Preparation Overview.  The format or presentation of a particular proposal will depend on the requirements of the sponsor. Most sponsors have developed policies and procedures for the submission of proposals and may require the use of specific application forms or electronic web-based systems. Other sponsors may have less stringent format requirements. In any case, PIs should obtain the most recent version of the sponsor’s application guidelines and should follow the required proposal format. Guidelines or URLS should be forwarded to OSP well in advance of the due date of the proposal to allow for internal review and processing.

OSP has developed the Electronic Proposal Clearance Form which must be used when submitting proposals to OSP for review and approval. The form summarizes key administrative and fiscal information about the proposal that is helpful to the MSU reviewer. The proposal will not be authorized or transmitted to the sponsor until the completed ePcf and the accompanying documents, such as Grants.gov packages have been received by OSP. The link and instructions for the ePcf are available on the main OSP website page.

The ePcf and all attachments must be submitted to OSP for review no later than 48 hours prior to the submission deadline. PROPOSALS RECEIVED LESS THAN 48 HOURS PRIOR TO THE SUBMISSION DUE DATE WILL BE SUBMITTED ONLY IF THE ASSISTANT VICE PRESIDENT FOR RESEARCH (OR DESIGNEE) DETERMINES THAT THERE IS ADEQUATE TIME FOR A COMPLETE REVIEW OF THE PROPOSAL MATERIALS. In certain instances a proposal may be submitted to the sponsor but later withdrawn or declined if issues arise due to the lack of time to properly review proposal materials. IT IS THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE PI TO ENSURE THAT THE PROPOSAL IS SUBMITTED TO OSP 48 HOURS PRIOR TO THE DEADLINE.

440.00  Elements of a Proposal. 

In general, a proposal uses the following format:

Title Page includes the applicant name (Montana State University), title and duration of the project, amount requested, name and address of the PI and of the Institutional contact (in most cases, OSP).

Abstract or Proposal Summary describes the objectives, methodology and significance of the proposed project. The abstract should be intelligible to someone who is not an expert in the field and should be able to stand alone.

Introduction frames the problem and concisely states the importance of the research being proposed.

Project Narrative includes the specific aims of the research, background and significance, preliminary studies and research design and methods.


CV/Biographical Sketch should be submitted for all key personnel, indicating background, professional interests, research capabilities and publications. Sponsors appreciate clarity and brevity in this section.

Budget and Budget Justification reflecting a reasonable estimate of the expenses necessary to conduct the project. For more information about budget development, see Section 460.00 below. 

Current and Pending Support outlining active awards and pending proposals for all key personnel. This includes all financial resources, whether Federal, non-Federal, commercial or institutional, available in direct support of an individual's research endeavors, including but not limited to research grants, cooperative agreements, contracts, and/or institutional awards. Training awards, prizes, or gifts do not need to be included.

Facilities and Resources describing equipment or other relevant resources that will be available to the project. Examples of such resources include: laboratory and office space, library resources, animal facilities, computer services or equipment.

OSP Pre-Award personnel are available to provide assistance in the preparation and submission of proposals.

450.00 Cost Accounting Principles of Sponsored Project Support.  The majority of externally sponsored funding at MSU is provided by the federal government.  Cost accounting principles for higher education grantees are established by the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

The OMB circulars that are most relevant to universities include:

OMB Circular A-21: Cost Principles for Educational Institutions. This circular establishes principles for determining direct and indirect costs applicable to grants, contracts and other agreements with educational institutions.

OMB Circular A-110:   Uniform Administrative Requirements for Grants and Agreements with Institutions of Higher Education, Hospitals and other Non-Profit Organizations. This circular sets forth the administrative requirements that educational institutions must adhere to. Generally, individual federal agencies implement OMB Circular A-110 as individual agency regulations.

OMB Circular A-133: Audits of Institutions of Higher Education and Other Non-Profit Institutions. This circular establishes audit requirements and defines federal responsibilities for implementation and monitoring such requirements for institutions of higher education receiving federal awards. In addition, the ethical standards expected of faculty participating in federally sponsored programs, are dictated by other federal funding agency policies such as financial conflict of interest regulations and misconduct policies.

Costs may be charged if expenses meet the following criteria:

Reasonableness:  The nature of the expenditure and the amount must reflect an action that a prudent person would take under the circumstances.

Allocability:  The expenditure must provide a direct benefit to the project (i.e., the cost of a piece of equipment that is required to accomplish the work of two projects may be proportionately shared by those projects).
Consistency:  Costs incurred for the same purpose in like circumstances must be treated consistently as direct or indirect (F&A) costs across the institution.
Allowability:  Costs must conform to any limitations or exclusions as set forth in OMB Circular A-21 (Cost Principles for Educational Institutions). Examples of unallowable costs under federal sponsorship include alcoholic beverages, entertainment costs and memberships.

Typically unallowable costs.  (worksheet within Excel workbook)

Costs that do not meet all of the above criteria may NOT be charged to federal grants.

Non-governmental sponsors may apply different cost principles. Investigators should read the sponsor instructions carefully and consult with OSP for further advice.

460.00 Developing a Budget Proposal.  The proposal budget should delineate the entire cost of the project and accurately reflect costs that are necessary to complete the work. The budget should reflect the methodology described in the proposal narrative. Reviewers should be able to determine if sufficient funds are being requested to successfully complete the project, and that those requests are reasonable given the scope of work.

Accuracy and detail are essential in budgeting for any proposal. PIs should follow a sponsor's guidelines exactly and provide information in the format specified in the proposal guidelines.

Your departmental business manager/accountant and the OSP staff are available to assist investigators in developing budgets that are consistent with University policy and agency requirements. These staff members have access to current information about various University costs, such as fringe benefit rates and tuition.

461.00 Major Budget Categories.  Sponsored project costs fall into two broad categories: direct costs and facilities and administration (F &A) costs.  F&A costs are also sometimes called “indirect costs,” “IDCs” or “overhead”.

462.00 Direct Costs.  Direct costs are those which can be specifically identified and allocated to a single sponsored project. At MSU, these costs usually include salaries/wages, fringe benefits, equipment, travel, materials and supplies, publications, subcontract or contracted services, communications, repair and maintenance, participant support costs, and rent. These costs are described in more detail below.

Salaries and Wages. 
Faculty - Use current salary figures.  For multi-year proposals, an escalation factor may be added up to 7% per year. No additional compensation may be paid from a sponsored project unless it is specifically identified as such in the budget proposal and specifically approved by the sponsor.  For summer salary, the National Science Foundation will pay only 2/9 of AY salaries. 
Staff - Use current salary figures.  For multi-year proposals, an escalation factor may be added up to7% per year.  If the position is new, contact HR/Personnel and Payroll [http://www.montana.edu/wwwpn/] to establish an approximate grade and salary or visit the salary administration website, http://www2.montana.edu/policy/recruit_hiring/rhm200.html#sec214_00.

Graduate Research Assistants - contact the Graduate Office to obtain the current graduate stipend amount. If paying graduate fees, they should be shown as a separate line item in your budget.

Fringe Benefits.  There are different benefit rates for faculty, classified, full-time students, or temporary help. The rates are found OSP Information Sheet or call OSP for more information.  Note that Montana law (§2-18-703 MCA) http://data.opi.state.mt.us/bills/mca/2/18/2-18-703.htm requires MSU to contribute a certain dollar amount towards the insurance group benefits costs for each MSU employee.  That contribution is required regardless of whether the employee has elected insurance coverage by a state-sponsored group benefit plan.  Thus, the fringe benefits charge to the research sponsor must include the statutory insurance benefits contribution amount for each employee proposed to be paid under the grant, whether or not the employee has elected state-sponsored insurance coverage.

Equipment.  Items with a cost of at least $5,000 with a useful life of one year or more are listed here. Cost estimates should include any tax and shipping costs. Parts or pieces of equipment to be fabricated (totaling $5,000 or greater) should also be included in this category.

** Restriction on General Purpose Office Equipment: Federal regulations (OMB Circular-21) do not allow purchase of general-purpose office equipment (regardless of the purchase price) unless the purchase has been approved by the sponsoring agency in advance of purchase. “'General purpose equipment means equipment, the use of which is not limited only to research, medical, scientific or other technical activities. Examples of general purpose equipment include office equipment and furnishings (chairs, file cabinets, etc.), air conditioning equipment, reproduction and printing equipment, motor vehicles, and automatic data processing equipment."

Travel.  Allowable costs include meals, lodging, airfare, and ground transportation which must be in accordance with State of Montana travel rates. Per diem rates, mileage rates, and motor pool rates are available from the MSU-Bozeman Business Office Procedures Manual http://www2.montana.edu/policy/business_manual/ and Facilities Services http://www2.montana.edu/policy/facility_use/.   Some sponsors require a separate category for domestic and foreign travel. Proposers must provide sufficient detail to support the costs; insufficient detail for travel costs could result in delays at the sponsoring agency.

Materials and Supplies.  All consumable materials including the purchase cost of animals as well as small items of equipment that do not meet the threshold for "capital equipment" are listed under this category.  Each item or group of items should be listed and carefully justified by using catalog prices or reasonable estimates plus taxes and shipping costs.  All Materials and supplies must be purchased in accordance with MSU purchasing requirements.  [http://www2.montana.edu/policy/purchasing/

Publications.  Include the best estimate of the costs of any publications.

Services Provided by Others:

Subcontract.  A subcontract/subaward issued to an agency, university or independent contractor that [http://www.montana.edu/osp/SubcontractsMainPage.html] performs a portion of the prime contract/award scope of work—MSU passes-through a portion of the prime work to another.  All of the terms and conditions in the prime grant or contract, applicable to the type of subrecipient involved, are included in the subcontract/subaward agreement. Each proposed subcontractor should prepare and submit a detailed budget and a scope of work which should be listed separately on your budget; however, these budgets should be carefully reviewed for accuracy.  Generally, federal sponsors allow MSU to apply its allowed F&A rate on the first $25,000 subcontract costs for the life of the award and that F&A amount should be budgeted as a direct subcontract cost.

Contracted Services.  This category consists of services rendered by others EXCEPT equipment rentals, repairs, and maintenance. It includes consultant and professional services, honorariums/speaker fees, and general off-campus services provided by others.

On-campus services (e.g., animal care, technical services, plant growth, etc.) should also be included in this budget category..

Most federal agencies limit the minimum daily compensation rate paid to off-campus consultant services to GS-18 level ($482 per day as of 4/01) [replace number with website reference]. Legal Counsel's signature is required on all contract service agreements for $25,000 or above. More information regarding subcontracts, vendors, and consultants can be found at http://wuro.wustl.edu/How%20to%20tell.pdf .

Communications.  This includes long-distance, cell phone, postage, courier (FedEX etc.), advertising and other costs of communicating.  Cell phone costs must conform to MSU’s cell phone policy.  Generally, the policy allows cell phones to be charged directly to sponsored grants or contracts only when explicitly approved by the sponsoring agency.  Otherwise cell phone costs are reimbursable only when the specific call is grant-related.

Repair and Maintenance.  This includes costs of maintaining and repairing equipment and vehicles.

Participant Support Costs.  This category includes the costs of the travel, meals and lodging of project participants other than MSU employees--for example, participants in a conference conducted as part of the research. No F & A costs may be charged on participant support costs under federal awards.

Rent.  The cost of renting or leasing space is shown in this category.

A budget narrative should follow your itemized budget to fully identify and explain unusual items or activities. For example, contracted services, subcontractors, equipment with a unit cost of $5,000 or more, or foreign travel should be explained in the narrative.

463.00   Facilities and Administration Costs


463.01 General.  F & A costs (also called “indirect cost”, “IDCs”, or “overhead”) are those that are incurred for common or joint objectives and therefore cannot be identified readily and specifically with a particular sponsored project, an instructional activity, or any other institutional activity.  They include such categories as library operations, utility costs, depreciation of buildings and equipment, operations and maintenance costs, grant and contract administration and accounting, and general administrative expenses for central offices such as the President, Provost, Vice Presidents, Human Resources, Purchasing, etc.

463.02 F & A Rates.  MSU's F & A cost rate is negotiated periodically with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and current rates are found at http://www.montana.edu/osp/documents/RtAgmtJuly2011.pdf].

The full facilities and administration cost rate will be applied to all proposals unless the funding agency prohibits facilities and administration costs, has its own rates, or has been approved in advance by the VP for Research. For proposals submitted to state agencies, Board of Regents Policy 404 (Indirect Cost Recovery Rate) must be followed. The policy may be accessed at http://mus.edu/borpol/bor400/404.pdf.

Not all sponsors allow F & A cost recovery. If F & A costs are not allowed by the sponsor, or if the sponsor has an established facilities and administration cost rate which is different from the MSU federally negotiated rate, a copy of the sponsor's statement to that effect should be attached to the Proposal Clearance Form when it is submitted for approval to the OSP. 

463.03 F & A Rates Not Chargeable to Certain Costs.  When allowed, F & A rates are applied against all costs EXCEPT:

  • Equipment items costing $5,000 or more
  • Subcontract costs of more than $25,000 per subcontract
  • Participant support costs
  • Tuition remission
  • Rental or lease payments

463.04 MSU Use of F & A Funds. The MSU Policy on Use of F & A Funds is found in Appendix A

464.00  Cost Sharing.  Cost sharing is sometimes required by the funding sponsor and MSU policy allows proposals to include cost sharing only when required by the sponsor as part of the eligibility criteria. Cost-sharing under a federal grant is subject to certain federal regulations, which stipulate that cost-sharing must come from non-federal sources. Proposals listing cost-sharing must explain how the cost-sharing commitments will be met and PIs are advised that cost sharing will be proposed only in accordance with MSU’s Cost Sharing Policy, contained in Appendix B.