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Extramural Research

Funding Opportunities

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Office of Research and Development
National Center for Environmental Research
Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Program

CLOSED - FOR REFERENCES PURPOSES ONLY

Healthy Schools: Environmental Factors, Children’s Health and Performance, and Sustainable Building Practices

This is the initial announcement of this funding opportunity.

Funding Opportunity Number: EPA-G2013-STAR-H1

Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA) Number: 66.509

Solicitation Opening Date: June 7, 2013
Solicitation Closing Date: October 8, 2013, 11:59:59 pm Eastern Time

Eligibility Contact: Ron Josephson (josephson.ron@epa.gov); phone: 703-308-0442
Electronic Submissions: Todd Peterson (peterson.todd@epa.gov); phone: 703-308-7224
Technical Contact: Devon C. Payne-Sturges (payne-sturges.devon@epa.gov); phone: 703-347-8055

Table of Contents:
SUMMARY OF PROGRAM REQUIREMENTS
Synopsis of Program
Award Information
Eligibility Information
Application Materials
Agency Contacts
I. FUNDING OPPORTUNITY DESCRIPTION
A. Introduction
B. Background
C. Authority and Regulations
D. Specific Areas of Interest/Expected Outputs and Outcomes
E. References
F. Special Requirements
II. AWARD INFORMATION
III. ELIGIBILITY INFORMATION
A. Eligible Applicants
B. Cost Sharing
C. Other
IV. APPLICATION AND SUBMISSION INFORMATION
A. Internet Address to Request Application Package
B. Content and Form of Application Submission
C. Submission Dates and Times
D. Funding Restrictions
E. Submission Instructions and Other Submission Requirements
V. APPLICATION REVIEW INFORMATION
A. Peer Review
B. Programmatic Review
C. Human Subjects Research Statement (HSRS) Review
D. Funding Decisions
VI. AWARD ADMINISTRATION INFORMATION
A. Award Notices
B. Disputes
C. Administrative and National Policy Requirements
VII. AGENCY CONTACTS

Access Standard STAR Forms (Forms and Standard Instructions Download Page)
View research awarded under previous solicitations (Funding Opportunities: Archive Page)

SUMMARY OF PROGRAM REQUIREMENTS

Synopsis of Program:
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as part of its Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program, is seeking applications proposing research that will inform school (K-12 educational facilities) building design, construction and operation practices in order to foster safe and healthy school environments and maximize student achievement and teacher and staff effectiveness. Specifically, the goal is to understand the relationship between environmental factors defined broadly and the health, safety and performance of students, teachers and staff. In addition to health-related concerns, the school environment may similarly impact the performance of students, teachers and staff, including lowering student achievement outcomes, and reducing teacher effectiveness. Accordingly, research is needed to better understand the negative impacts of the school environment on students’ health, safety, and achievement, and to measure the positive potential benefits of effectively managing environmental factors and applying sustainable building practices. The results of this research will help ensure that the risks of environmentally-induced illness and injury to America’s students, teachers and other school staff are diminished or avoided and that students, teachers and staff are provided with optimal learning environments in their schools.

This solicitation provides the opportunity for the submission of applications for projects that may involve human subjects research.  Human subjects research supported by the EPA is governed by EPA Regulation 40 CFR Part 26 (Protection of Human Subjects).  This includes the Common Rule at subpart A and prohibitions and additional protections for pregnant women and fetuses, nursing women, and children at subparts B, C, and D.  Research meeting the regulatory definition of intentional exposure research found in subpart B is prohibited by that subpart in pregnant women, nursing women, and children.  Research meeting the regulatory definition of observational research found in subparts C and D is subject to the additional protections found in those subparts for pregnant women and fetuses (subpart C) and children (subpart D).  All applications must include a Human Subjects Research Statement (HSRS, as described in Section IV.B.5.c), and if the project involves human subjects research, it will be subject to an additional level of review prior to funding decisions being made as described in Sections V.C and V.D of this solicitation.

Guidance and training for investigators conducting EPA-funded research involving human subjects may be obtained here:
Ethics, Regulations, and Policies
Human Subjects Research at the Environmental Protection Agency: Ethical Standards and Regulatory Requirements

Award Information:
Anticipated Type of Award: Grant or Cooperative Agreement
Estimated Number of Awards: Approximately 6 awards
Anticipated Funding Amount: Approximately $6 million total for all awards
Potential Funding per Award: Up to a total of $1,000,000, including direct and indirect costs, with a maximum duration of 4 years.  Cost-sharing is not required.  Proposals with budgets exceeding the total award limits will not be considered.

Eligibility Information:
Public nonprofit institutions/organizations (includes public institutions of higher education and hospitals) and private nonprofit institutions/organizations (includes private institutions of higher education and hospitals) located in the U.S., state and local governments, Federally Recognized Indian Tribal Governments, and U.S. territories or possessions are eligible to apply.  See full announcement for more details.

Application Materials:
To apply under this solicitation, use the application package available at Grants.gov (for further submission information see Section IV.E. “Submission Instructions and other Submission Requirements”).  The necessary forms for submitting a STAR application will be found on the National Center for Environmental Research (NCER) web site, Forms and Standard Instructions Download Page. If your organization is not currently registered with Grants.gov, you need to allow approximately one week to complete the registration process.  This registration, and electronic submission of your application, must be performed by an authorized representative of your organization.

If you do not have the technical capability to utilize the Grants.gov application submission process for this solicitation, send a webmail message at least 15 calendar days before the submission deadline to assure timely receipt of alternate submission instructions.  In your message  provide the funding opportunity number and title of the program, specify that you are requesting alternate submission instructions, and provide a telephone number, fax number, and an email address, if available.  Alternate instructions will be emailed whenever possible.  Any applications submitted through alternate submission methods must comply with all the provisions of this Request for Applications (RFA), including Section IV, and be received by the solicitation closing date identified above.

Agency Contacts:
Eligibility Contact: Ron Josephson (josephson.ron@epa.gov); phone: 703-308-0442
Electronic Submissions: Todd Peterson (peterson.todd@epa.gov); phone: 703-308-7224
Technical Contact: Devon C. Payne-Sturges (payne-sturges.devon@epa.gov); phone: 703-347-8055

I. FUNDING OPPORTUNITY DESCRIPTION

A. Introduction
The EPA places a high priority on protecting children’s health and development from potentially damaging environmental exposures and injuries [Executive Order 13045, 62 Fed.Reg. 19885 (Apr. 21, 1997)] and insuring that children enjoy clean and safe environments where they live, learn and play.  Children’s health and safety continues to be a high priority in the current administration with respect to both regulatory reform and non-regulatory practices that may disproportionately impact children (Jackson 2009).  American children spend a significant portion of their day in school and accumulating evidence indicates that the quality of indoor school environments may affect the health and productivity of children as well as their adult teachers and school staff.  School facilities in poor condition not only present serious health risks, but may also lower academic outcomes, and diminish teacher and staff effectiveness.  EPA therefore has a growing interest in seeing schools designed to be free of adverse environmental effects.

In addition to improving the safety, health, and performance of students, teachers and staff, increased attention to the design, construction, and operational practices of schools can contribute to national sustainability goals for the environment.  Therefore, integrating research on sustainable building practices with health and safety issues, student achievement, and teacher and staff effectiveness has been identified as a priority research area by EPA, especially the Office of Air and Radiation and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) subcommittee on Building Technology Research and Development (US EPA 2005, OSTP, 2008).  The EPA, Office of Research and Development (ORD), National Center for Environmental Research (NCER), as part of its STAR program, is seeking grant applications for multidisciplinary research on the relationship between environmental factors in K-12 educational facilities and the safety, health, and academic performance of children, and the effectiveness of teachers and staff. 

This solicitation provides the opportunity for the submission of applications for projects that may involve human subjects research.  Human subjects research supported by the EPA is governed by EPA Regulation 40 CFR Part 26 (Protection of Human Subjects).  This includes the Common Rule at subpart A and prohibitions and additional protections for pregnant women and fetuses, nursing women, and children at subparts B, C, and D.  Research meeting the regulatory definition of intentional exposure research found in subpart B is prohibited by that subpart in pregnant women, nursing women, and children.  Research meeting the regulatory definition of observational research found in subparts C and D is subject to the additional protections found in those subparts for pregnant women and fetuses (subpart C) and children (subpart D).  All applications must include a Human Subjects Research Statement (HSRS, as described in Section IV.B.5.c), and if the project involves human subjects research, it will be subject to an additional level of review prior to funding decisions being made as described in Sections V.C and V.D of this solicitation.

Guidance and training for investigators conducting EPA-funded research involving human subjects may be obtained here:
Ethics, Regulations, and Policies
Human Subjects Research at the Environmental Protection Agency: Ethical Standards and Regulatory Requirements

B. Background
More than 55 million elementary and secondary students attend approximately 132,000 public and private schools in the United States (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2009a, and 2009b).  Along with approximately 3 million teachers and staff, this represents about 20% of the U.S. population. Children on average spend about 1,300 hours in a school building each year; teachers and employees spend even longer periods of time in school buildings (Juster 2004; U.S. Department of Education 1992).

According to the National Center for Education Statistics report, The Condition of America’s Public School Facilities: 2000, about one-quarter of schools report that they need extensive repair or replacement of one or more buildings.  Approximately 11 million students attend these schools. About 40% of schools report at least one unsatisfactory environmental condition such as poor ventilation, heating or lighting problems, or poor physical security.  According to a 1996 study by the General Accounting Office, School Facilities: America’s Schools Report Differing Conditions, these unsatisfactory environmental conditions are most often reported in urban schools, schools with high minority student enrollment, and schools with a high percentage of low income students.  Generally, many of these schools also receive Federal Title I funding under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).  In part, Title I programs are intended to close the achievement gap between high- and low-performing children, especially the achievement gaps between minority and nonminority students, and between disadvantaged children and their more advantaged peers.

In some instances, low-income and racial/ethnic minorities experience increased exposure to environmental hazards and suffer disproportionately from environmentally related diseases (Dilworth-Bart and Moore 2006; Evans and Kantrowitz 2002).  For example, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has estimated that African-American children are three times more likely than white children to be hospitalized for asthma and asthma-related conditions; and are four to six times more likely to die from asthma.  Minority children also have significantly higher rates of elevated blood lead levels.  Thus, unhealthy conditions in schools may exacerbate the health of children who are already disproportionately impacted by environmental hazards.

To date, school facility conditions have not been widely perceived as playing a critical role in the educational process, largely due to the fact that research into the complex relationship between aspects of the physical environment, including environmental factors, and the well-being, health, productivity, and academic performance of students is only now emerging.  However, recent research suggests that students attending schools in poor condition score lower on standardized tests than students who attend schools in good condition

Public concern about adverse effects of indoor air has increased in recent decades, beginning with a series of episodes in the 1970s in which occupants of residences and commercial and institutional buildings reported health problems associated with their buildings (Kreiss 1989).  Among the commonly reported complaints in these episodes were upper respiratory irritation, headache, fatigue, and lethargy, and less commonly, breathing difficulties or asthma.  These episodes continue to occur, particularly in commercial buildings and schools, with the reported health effects sometimes lasting for weeks, months, or years.  Wider recognition of this problem has increased concerns that health problems from poor indoor environments may affect the performance of individuals working in these buildings (Fisk 2000). 

Key determinants of indoor air quality in schools include both outdoor and indoor sources of contaminants.  Ambient air pollution (e.g., ozone, particulate matter), local point sources and traffic related pollutants can contribute to indoor air pollutant concentrations when outdoor air is drawn into school buildings through air intakes, as well as through doors, windows, ventilation shafts and leaks in the building envelope.  Both the location of schools in proximity to air pollution sources such as industry and roadways, as well as practices on school grounds, such as vehicle idling near school doorways, windows and air intakes, may result in higher levels of outdoor air pollutants being drawn indoors (NRC 2006).  Indoor pollutants include combustion gases such as carbon monoxide, allergens (including mold and other asthma triggers), volatile organic compounds, and particulate matter.  Sources of indoor pollutants include building materials (e.g., structural materials such as particleboard, adhesives, insulation); finishes (paints and coatings); furnishings (carpets, furniture); products used in a building (cleaning materials, pesticides, markers, art supplies); and equipment (copiers and printers).

Indoor environments in schools have been of particular public concern, for 4 major reasons:

  1. Schools, relative to other buildings, are seen as particularly likely to have environmental deficiencies because chronic shortages of funding for schools contribute to inadequate operation and maintenance of facilities.
  2. Children, who breathe higher volumes of air relative to their body weights and are actively growing, have greater susceptibility to some environmental pollutants than adults. 
  3. Children spend more time in school than in any other indoor environment outside the home.
  4. Positive or negative environmental effects on student achievement and teacher and staff effectiveness in schools could have important short- and long-term consequences, for students, teachers and society.

In addition, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) provided funding for school weatherization and physical improvement.  Although this should have measureable benefits on energy efficiency and the comfort of school buildings, there are concerns that certain weatherization products and techniques could compromise indoor air quality conditions, thereby exacerbating occupant health risks.  These potential increased risks could lead to greater absenteeism of students and teachers, reduced academic performance of school children, and the effectiveness of teachers and staff.

As public interest in possible adverse effects of indoor environments on health and performance has increased, scientific information on this topic has also grown, although slowly.  Recent scientific attention has focused on indoor environmental factors such as pollutants, thermal conditions, and ventilation rates and on a range of adverse effects including recognized diseases, nonspecific health problems, and impaired performance. 

Indoor environments in schools might cause health effects that directly impair concentration or memory, or other health effects that affect learning.  Health outcomes associated with indoor environmental quality (IEQ) can influence performance directly or through effects on attendance.  For instance, indoor pollutants might cause neurologic effects, or might exacerbate diseases such as asthma or allergy that produces symptoms or absenteeism that in turn impair learning.  Risks for asthma and allergy in children are of particular concern, as the prevalence of these diseases remains at an all-time high and asthma is also a common cause of school absences.  Parents report 13 million lost school days annually due to asthma, and research does show a correlation between asthma and high rates of student absenteeism (Akinbami 2006, Taras and Potts-Datema 2005).  Chronic absenteeism can have far reaching impact. When too many students miss two or more days per month, everyone in the class may suffer because teachers will have to repeat old material when chronically absent children are present, or slow the progress of the entire class to accommodate them (Balfanz and Byrnes 2012). IEQ factors can also influence performance through discomfort or other physiologic processes.  Adverse effects of IEQ on students may have additional indirect effects through direct adverse effects on the teachers, with consequent impaired teaching ability that impairs learning and increased teacher absenteeism. As a consequence there is a growing interest in designing and operating schools to have fewer adverse and more beneficial environmental and health conditions.

The specific Strategic Goal and Objective from the EPA’s Strategic Plan that relate to this solicitation are:
Goal 3: Cleaning Up Communities and Advancing Sustainable Development, Objective 3.1: Promote Sustainable and Livable Communities

More information can be found in EPA’s FY 2011-2015 Strategic Plan

C. Authority and Regulations
The authority for this RFA and resulting awards is contained in the Safe Drinking Water Act, Section 1442, 42 U.S.C. 300j-1, Toxic Substances Control Act, Section 10, 15 U.S.C. 2609, Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, Section 20, 7 U.S.C. 136r, Clean Air Act, Section 103, 42 U.S.C. 7403, Clean Water Act, Section 104, 33 U.S.C. 1254, Solid Waste Disposal Act, Section 8001, 42 U.S.C. 6981.

For research with an international aspect, the above statutes are supplemented, as appropriate, by the National Environmental Policy Act, Section 102(2)(F).

Note that a project’s focus is to consist of activities within the statutory terms of EPA’s financial assistance authorities; specifically, the statute(s) listed above.  Generally, a project must address the causes, effects, extent, prevention, reduction, and elimination of air pollution, water pollution, solid/hazardous waste pollution, toxic substances control, or pesticide control depending on which statute(s) is listed above.  These activities should relate to the gathering or transferring of information or advancing the state of knowledge.  Proposals should emphasize this “learning” concept, as opposed to “fixing” an environmental problem via a well-established method.  Proposals relating to other topics which are sometimes included within the term “environment” such as recreation, conservation, restoration, protection of wildlife habitats, etc., must describe the relationship of these topics to the statutorily required purpose of pollution prevention and/or control.

Applicable regulations include: 40 CFR Part 30 (Uniform Administrative Requirements for Grants and Agreements with Institutions of Higher Education, Hospitals, and Other Non-Profit Organizations), 40 CFR Part 31 (Uniform Administrative Requirements for Grants and Cooperative Agreements to State and Local Governments) and 40 CFR Part 40 (Research and Demonstration Grants).  Applicable OMB Circulars include: OMB Circular A-21 (Cost Principles for Educational Institutions) relocated to 2 CFR Part 220, OMB Circular A-87 (Cost Principles for State, Local and Indian Tribal Governments) relocated to 2 CFR Part 225, and OMB Circular A-122 (Cost Principles for Non-Profit Organizations) relocated to 2 CFR Part 230.

D. Specific Research Areas of Interest/Expected Outputs and Outcomes
Note to applicant:  The term “output” means an environmental activity or effort, and associated work products, related to a specific environmental goal(s), (e.g., testing a new methodology), that will be produced or developed over a period of time under the agreement.  The term “outcome” means the result, effect, or consequence that will occur from the above activit(ies) that is related to an environmental, behavioral, or health-related objective.

Reviews of the existing literature on human health impacts, productivity/performance relationships, and benefits of sustainable building design suggest that the evidence linking indoor air quality and health is robust (mainly supported by research on office or residential buildings (Katz 2006; NRC 2006; USGBC 2007)).

Studies of environmental impact on occupant/student health: Evidence from schools and office building studies demonstrate that various environmental conditions are closely associated with the incidence of measurable adverse health effects, and that indoor air quality problems can result in increased absences because of respiratory infections, allergic diseases from biological contaminants, or adverse reactions to chemicals used in the building.  Building factors or pollution in buildings most frequently and consistently associated with respiratory health effects are the presence of moisture, water damage, and microbiological pollutants (IOM 2000; Bornehag 2001); animal and other biological allergens; and combustion products (Burr 2000) including nitrogen dioxide (Pilotto, et al. 2000; Norback et al., 2000).  Other risk factors for respiratory health effects include: moisture or dirt in HVAC systems (Mendell 2003; Sieber 1996); low ventilation rates (Menzies 1993; Milton 2000); formaldehyde (Norback  2000;  Pazdrak 1993;  Wantke 1996; Smedje  1996, 1997; Garret 1999; Franklin 2000; McCoach 1999); chemicals in cleaning products (McCoach 1999;  Zock 2001) and outdoor pollutants or vehicle exhaust (Guo 1999; Wyler 2000; Steerenberg 2001).  Of particular recent concern is the impact of dampness and mold on respiratory health.  A variety of studies show that dampness and mold in homes, offices, and schools results in a significant increase in a variety of respiratory- and asthma-related health outcomes (Fisk 2007;  Mudari 2007).

Studies of overall physical and environmental conditions of schools and student achievement and teacher and staff effectiveness:  Some research to date suggests that good physical condition of school buildings overall tends to reduce absenteeism of students and teachers, reduce school dropout rates, and improve student test scores.  For example, a number of studies that measure school conditions using an index of several variables consistently show higher scores on standardized tests as school conditions improve (Schneider 2002; Cash 1993; Earthman 1996; and Hines 1996).  “Natural experiment” studies where children moved out of older school buildings into newer facilities with “green” building design features also have found that the overall condition of school buildings impacts student performance.  For example, students in Oregon who moved into a “green” designed Ask Creek Intermediate School experienced a 15% reduction in absenteeism (Katz 2006).  In another study, students moving from a conventional school to Clearview Elementary School, a 2002 LEED Gold building in Pennsylvania, reported substantial improvements in health and test scores (Katz 2006).  In the NRC report on Green Schools, a 1993 study on high schools in rural Virginia found significant differences between achievement scores of students in substandard buildings and those in above-standard buildings.  Conditions of school buildings were evaluated using a questionnaire and student achievement was measured by student test scores on a standardized state-level test (Cash 1993).  A more recent study by Schneider (2002) found that students in schools with good physical conditions performed 3 to 4 percentage points better on standardized reading and math tests than students in buildings with poorer conditions, after controlling for poverty, ethnicity, and school size.  A similar study (although not reviewed by NRC) was conducted on 95 elementary schools in Manhattan, NY and also found a relationship between building quality and academic outcomes (Duran-Narucki 2008). In this study, the authors used statistical modeling to investigate whether school attendance acts as a mediator between building conditions and performance (Duran-Narucki 2008).  

Additional examples of student performance and school IEQ evidence include: associations between outdoor pollutants measured near schools (e.g., ozone, carbon monoxide, and particulate matter (PM)) and school attendance; correlations between lower indoor temperature and increased task completion; and associations between increased indoor concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) and an increase in student absences (NRC 2007; Chen, et al. 2000; Ransom and Pope 1992; Makino 2000; Gilliland et al. 2001).

The physical condition of a school is also likely to influence teaching quality and teacher retention rates.   In a study of teachers in Chicago and Washington D.C., for example, almost 80% of teachers reported that school facility conditions are an important factor in determining teaching quality, and almost half who graded their facilities at a “C” or below considered leaving.  In that study, the most frequently identified problem with school conditions was bad indoor air quality (Schneider, 2002).

Methodology Limitations:  Although the aforementioned studies provide some evidence of impacts of school building conditions on health and performance, there are methodological limitations to consider.  For example, few studies have looked systematically at changes in exposure, health, or productivity based on specific changes in building materials, cleaning products or cleaning practices.  Evidence on the effects of indoor environments on student and teacher health tends to be based on school-specific studies.  In order to advance scientific understanding, studies are needed that look across many schools and produce results that are generalizable.  Some studies linking building conditions to student absenteeism or student performance have been based on opinions of school administrators.  More objective measures of outcomes are needed that are statistically sound (controlling for other factors like socio-economic status (SES), race/ethnicity, school size, teacher quality).  A majority of current studies tend to look only at students in elementary schools.  Studies on older students are also important as adolescents and students in higher grades who miss more school days are at risk of dropping out, which has significant economic costs for individuals and the Nation as a whole.  Also, studies linking school building environments to student heath and achievement and teacher and staff effectiveness need to include neighborhood data in order to better understand the relationship between the school environment and its surrounding community.  Finally, the research methodologies reviewed in the NRC report (NRC 2006) correlating overall building conditions with student academic performance were designed to address more general questions and did not provide evidence regarding the role of specific aspects of school design or school building operation and maintenance on student health, achievement or teacher and staff effectiveness. 

The Agency is therefore soliciting proposals for innovative and multidisciplinary research that will result in an improved understanding of how environmental exposures associated with school building location, features, and operation/maintenance activities are linked with human outcomes (e.g., the health of students, teachers and staff, student achievement and teacher and staff effectiveness). For example, research to examine building performance characteristics (e.g., exposures from building materials, cleaning products and cleaning), will be informed by the development of a theory (conceptual models) linking those characteristics and student and/or teacher outcomes, and then testing the linkages using adequate measures of the outcomes of interest and fully specific regression models.  In addition, better understanding of the links between the environmental exposures associated with building location, features/maintenance and human outcomes also depends on better understanding the links between health and performance.  This may include identifying the kinds of illnesses or symptoms that interfere with specific types of tasks and the underlying mechanisms, and evaluating how building-related illness affects concentration, logical-thinking or memory which are important to productivity, especially in a knowledge-based economy. Applicants must study an environmental agent/chemical/stressor to which there is potential for human exposure. This may include any ambient environmental pollutant, chemical(s) or organic solvents, particulate matter (PM), pesticides, phytochemicals or metals. Non-chemical stressors (e.g., nutrition, temperature, humidity, lighting, and acoustics), social, and cultural factors cannot be considered alone, but applicants are encouraged to include them as secondary or modifier variables to the primary environmental stressor. Successful applicants are required to translate and apply their research findings into information for the affected communities, school districts, general public, policy-makers and public health professionals with the ultimate goal of protecting children’s health and improving children’s performance in schools.

This RFA solicits proposals from multidisciplinary teams for innovative research that would address one or more of the following topics of interest:

  1. How does exposure to indoor contaminants in school buildings in combination with other building conditions such as environmental conditions in and around the school facilities, temperature, humidity, lighting, and acoustics relate to observed adverse health effects in students, teachers, and staff; diminished student achievement; and reduced teacher and staff effectiveness? What is the relative importance of the various factors and conditions?
  2. Taking into account environmental risk factors, exposures, building features and maintenance practices, and health effects (positive and negative effects) associated with environmental conditions in and around the school facilities, how do these factors singly and in combination vary across population segments (e.g., race/ethnicity, class, geography)?
  3. What are the mechanisms that mediate the relationships between student’s in-school indoor environmental risk factors or exposures, health, academic achievement, and teacher and staff effectiveness?  What is the relative importance of the various factors and conditions?
  4. What combination of building features, materials, construction practices, and operations and maintenance practices are most effective in creating healthy indoor air quality resulting in an optimal health and safe learning environment, contributing positively to student health, student achievement and teacher effectiveness, consistent with other sustainability objectives such as energy efficiency, sustainable water management, and materials recycling?

Community-Engaged Research (CEnR)
Community-Engaged Research (CEnR) is a framework or orientation for conducting research  that supports the premise that people ought to be involved in the decisions, as well as the cultivation of information those decisions are guided by, that affect their lives (Cornwall and Jewkes 1995; Israel et al. 1998). CEnR also acknowledges that communities harbor a wealth of information about their own experiences and perspectives that may be used to positively inform and shape research endeavors. It encourages recognition of the strengths of the community institutions and individual members. CEnR builds upon those strengths to help inform the research project and produce the results that may benefit both the academic or institutional researchers (henceforth referred to as just “researchers”) and community partners (e.g. community-based organizations) (Israel 2005). CEnR may incorporate both qualitative and quantitative methodologies and can be applied to a range of topics including environmental science and engineering, public health, and social sciences. CEnR is not a uniform approach, but can occur along a continuum in a variety of forms, from outreach, through more shared leadership/participatory research approaches (e.g. community-based participatory research) to community-driven/community-led research.

CEnR continuum includes:

Outreach
Outreach describes one-way flows of information from researchers to the community. It provides the community with information on the status of the research, findings or interpretation of findings such as communication of risk and risk modification strategies. There is very little to no input into the research design or methods by the community.

Consultation
Consultation describes the process of obtaining the feedback or advice from the community to help inform the research project conducted by the researchers. The community input is primarily in the form of consultation, whereby the bulk of the design and methods are determined by the researchers. Community involvement typically occurs after researchers predetermine issues. Community’s input is limited. 

Involvement
Involvement describes more community input and bidirectional communication between the academic researchers and community partners. Communities may be able to provide input into the design, aims, methods, or research questions before these have been predetermined. Both parties cooperate with each other in a more mutual partnership.

Shared leadership/participatory
Shared leadership/participatory describes equal shared power, decision-making abilities and ownership of the research project. This is the ideal community-based participatory research (CBPR) partnership (Minkler, M and Wallerstein, N, 2008). Community partners in CBPR typically have equal footing with academic researchers in determining the direction of the project, communicating finding and ownership of the data and information. These projects may also develop research aims that better reflect local concerns and may be more applicable to translating the research findings into actions. CBPR projects may also enable far greater flexibility in the choice of topics to be investigated.

Community-driven
Community-driven describes strong community-led research projects where communities take the lead and initiative in directing the research project. The final decision-making ability lies with the community. They may consult with external academic partners to assist with technical questions. This model of research has been called community-owned and managed research (COMR) and recognizes the community’s authority and ability to manage the research enterprise, from the management of funds to the collection of data and generation of findings (Heaney, et al, 2007).

Community is defined as a group of people with diverse characteristics who are linked by social ties, share common perspectives, and engage in joint action within similar geographical locations or settings. Community is not only defined by a common geography; communities may also develop around a particular interest, issue, identity, or subject matter.

Five core elements that define community are:

  • Locus (a sense of place) such as a city, town, village, tribes, neighborhood, workplace, etc.,
  • Sharing common interests and perspectives,
  • Joint action that bring people together,
  • Social ties such as family and friends, and
  • Diversity of people and perspectives (MacQueen, et al, 2001).  

Community-based organizations refer to organizations that may be involved in the research process as members or representatives of the community.  In the case of this RFA, organizations such as parent-teacher organizations (PTOs), health delivery organizations (e.g., hospitals), local public health departments, health professional associations, non-governmental organizations, and federally qualified health centers are possible community partners.  

To understand the key concepts and principles of CEnR, see Principles of Community Engagement, 2nd Edition (2011), Israel et al. (1998, 2001, 2005) and Minkler and Wallerstein (2008).  For approaches to plan and evaluate CEnR, see Partnerships for Environmental Public Health Evaluation Metrics Manual published by National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences at Evaluation Metrics. Key areas addressed in the Manual include community-research partnerships, the translation and dissemination of messages based on research findings, education and training, and capacity building.

A CEnR plan (see Section IV.B.5.d) detailing the proposed level of community involvement should be provided.  Since activities to address the research areas of interest may involve interacting with students, parents and teachers, collecting data on school premises, accessing school records (academic, health and building records) etc., applicants are expected to include a community engagement plan as part of their CEnR plan. Although a range of level of community involvement can be considered, applicants are encouraged to apply community-based participatory research (CBPR) principles and involve school personnel, students, parents and community members in the research process. In the application, the applicant must justify the level of community involvement that is being proposed. Educational institutions that receive Federal education funding under an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education are subject to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), 20 U.S.C. § 1232g.  Educational institutions that are the subject of a grantee’s study need to comply with FERPA when determining whether or not they can share personally identifiable information from education records, as defined at 20 USC section 1232g(4)(A), with the grantee.

Applicants should be aware of the sensitivities of conducting research in a school setting and the need for adequate communication of study results.  Community involvement in research on environmental hazards and children has been shown to make research more responsive to community needs, more likely to identify risks that researchers had not appreciated, improve informed consent, increase study enrollment, enhance data validity and quality, build trust for research, and help translate research into public policy.  Community involvement allows researchers to understand the views of the community in which research studies are conducted and to respond to those perspectives so that the risks of a research project are minimized and appropriate in light of the anticipated benefits of the findings as required by federal regulations on conducting research involving human subjects.

Alignment with U.S. Department of Education School Improvement Grants Program

The mission of the Department of Education (ED) is to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access. For this reason, many of its programs give priority to underserved communities to address inequities. For example, under its School Improvement Grants program (SIG), funded by the ARRA and Title I of the ESEA, ED provides funding to turn around the Nation’s persistently lowest-achieving schools. Numerous other programs give priority to schools and districts serving students who are eligible for free and reduced-price school meals, students with disabilities and students who are limited English proficient, migrant, or receiving services under other provisions of Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

ED understands high achievement and equal access begin with a safe, healthy and educationally adequate school facility. Because many of the schools defined as underserved or low-performing by ED programs have concerns regarding their buildings and facilities, environmental health and school climate, EPA encourages applicants to consider submitting research proposals that specifically investigate the relationship between the physical school environment and the health, academic performance and school climate1 at these underserved and/or persistently low achieving schools, and the extent to which research results could be extrapolated or generalized to other schools with similar health, academic performance, and school climate issues.

Innovation and Sustainability

To the extent practicable, research proposals must embody innovation and sustainability.  Innovation for the purposes of this RFA is defined as the process of making changes; a new method, custom or device.  Innovative research can take the form of wholly new applications or applications that build on existing knowledge and approaches for new uses.  Research proposals must include a discussion on how the proposed research is innovative (see Section IV.B.5.a).  The concept of sustainability is based on language in the U.S. National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA).  This definition is reiterated in Executive Order 13514, Federal Leadership in Environment, Energy, and Economic Performance, stating that the goal of sustainability is to, “create and maintain conditions, under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic, and other requirements of present and future generations.” Research proposals must include a discussion on how the proposed research will seek sustainable solutions that protect the environment and strengthen our communities (see Section IV.B.5.a).  ORD will draw from all of the above-mentioned innovation and sustainability definitions in the review/evaluation process of recommending research proposals (see Section V.A).

Outputs expected from the research funded under this RFA may include reports, presentations, and articles in peer-reviewed journals describing the relationship between environmental factors and the health, safety and performance of students, teachers and staff; methods and research protocols for measuring human health and performance impacts related to school building conditions and IEQ; and conceptual models/frameworks linking school building characteristics to student and/or teacher and staff outcomes.  Research protocols might include, for example, standardized tests of task performance (e.g., involving memory, concentration, comprehension or calculation tasks), standardized test scores or teacher evaluations based, at least in part, on student growth, absenteeism (student and/or teacher) and its relationship to student achievement, or the relationships between self-assessed performance and objective measures of performance.  Human health assessment methods and protocols might include health assessment questionnaires, analysis of school-based health clinic data or health data maintained by school nurses. Outputs may include models to estimate performance decrements from independent knowledge of health or discomfort outcomes.  Statistical associations developed between IEQ and school building characteristics parameters and health and performance impacts can then be used to estimate the proportion of diseases attributable to IEQ and track this information better in the future. Research outputs may also include design or management strategies for school buildings that protect the health and performance of students, teachers, and staff.

Outcomes from this research will include active engagement of a community and other stakeholders in research on environmental conditions in and around schools and impacts on children’s health and performance, and translation and sharing of research findings with school officials, parents, students, teachers, community-based organizations and public health professionals to promote and improve children’s health. Outcomes from this research can also inform future school infrastructure investments and operational practices. Ultimately, the outcome from this research will be improved learning environments in schools, less school absenteeism, healthier children, and improved educational performance.

1 School climate refers to the quality and character of school life. School climate is based on patterns of students', parents' and school personnel's experience of school life and reflects norms, goals, values, interpersonal relationships, teaching and learning practices, organizational structures and care of the physical environment. For more information see School Climate Exit EPA Click for Disclaimer)

E. References
Anastas, P.T. 2011. “Ethical Requirements for Human Observational Exposure Studies Conducted and Supported by EPA.” Memorandum to Assistant Administrators, Deputy Assistant Administrators, Regional Administrators, Deputy Regional Administrators, Associate Administrators, U.S. EPA. 19 January 2011.

Balfanz, R., & Byrnes, V. 2012. Chronic Absenteeism: Summarizing What We Know From Nationally Available Data. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Center for Social Organization of Schools.

Bornehag, C.G., G. Blomquist, et al. 2001. “Dampness in buildings and health: Nordic interdisciplinary review of the scientific evidence on associations between exposure to ‘dampness’ in buildings and health effects (NORDDAMP).” Indoor Air: International Journal of Indoor Air Quality and Climate 11(2):72-86.

Burr, M.L. 2000. Combustion Products. In: Indoor Air Quality Handbook. Eds.,  J. Spengler and J.M. Samet. New York, McGraw-Hill:29.3-29.25.

Cash, C.S. 1993. Building conditions and student achievement and behavior (PDF) (159 pp, 3.65 MB) Exit EPA Click for Disclaimer. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Blacksburg, VA: Virginia Polytech Institute and State University.

Chen, L., B.L. Jennison, et al. 2000. Elementary school absenteeism and air pollution. Inhalation Toxicology 12(11):997– 1016.

Cornwall, A; Jewkes, J. 1995. What is Participatory Action Research? Social Science & Medicine. 41(12):1667-76.

Dilworth-Bart, JE  and Moore, CF. 2006. Mercy Mercy Me: Social Injustice and the Prevention of Environmental Pollutant Exposures Among Ethnic Minority and Poor Children. Child Development, Volume 77, Number 2, Pages 247-265.

Duran- Narucki, V. School building condition, school attendance, and academic achievement in New York City public schools: A mediation model. 2008. Journal of Environmental Psychology. 28: 278-286.

Earthman, G.I., C.S. Cash, and D. Van Berkum. 1995. “Student achievement and behavior and school building condition.” Journal of School Business Management, 8(3).

Evans, G. W., Kantrowitz, E. 2002. Socioeconomic Status and Health: The Potential Role of Environmental Risk Exposures. Annu. Rev. Public Health 23: 303-331

Fisk, W.J., Q. Lei-Gomez, and M.J. Mendell. 2007. “Meta-analyses of the associations of respiratory health effects with dampness and mold in homes.” Indoor Air 17(4):284-295.

Garrett, M.H., M.A. Hooper, et al. 1999. “Increased risk of allergy in children due to formaldehyde exposure in homes.” Allergy 54(4):330-7.

Gilliland, F.D., K. Berhane, et al. 2001. The effects of ambient air pollution on school absenteeism due to respiratory illnesses. Epidemiology 12(1):43-54.

Guo, Y.L., Y.C. Lin, et al. 1999. “Climate, traffic-related air pollutants, and asthma prevalence in middle-school children in Taiwan.” Environmental Health Perspectives 107(12):1001-6.

Hines, E.W. 1996. “Building condition and student achievement and behavior.” Blacksburg, VA: Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

Institute of Medicine. 2000. Clearing the Air:Asthma and Indoor Exposures. Committee on the Assessment of Asthma and Indoor Air. Washington, DC, National Academy Press.

Institute of Medicine. 2005.  Ethical considerations for research on housing related hazards involving childrenExit EPA Click for Disclaimer National Academy of Sciences, Washington, DC.

Israel, BA; Schulz, AJ; Parker EA. et al. 1998. Review of Community-Based Research: Assessing Partnership Approaches to Improve Public Health. Annual Review of Public Health. 19: 173-202.

Israel, B.A., Eng, E., Schulz, A.J., Parker, E.A. (eds.)  2005. Methods in Community-Based Participatory Research for Health San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Israel, B.A., Schulz, J., Parker, E.A., & Becker, A.B. 2001. Community-Based Participatory Research: Policy Recommendations for Promoting a Partnership Approach in Health Research. Education for Health 14(2): 182-197.

Jackson, L.P. US EPA Administrator Remarks to the American Public Health Association, as prepared, 11/08/2009.

Juster, F.T.,  Ono H, and Stafford, F. 2004.  Changing Times of American Youth: 1981-2003 (PDF) (15 pp, 567 K). Exit EPA Click for Disclaimer Institute for Social Research. University of Michigan. Ann Arbor.

Kats G. Greening America’s Schools Costs and Benefits. October 2006.

Lasker RD, Weiss ES. 2003.Broadening participation in community problem solving: a multidisciplinary model to support collaborative practice and research. Journal of Urban Health. 80(1):14-47; discussion 48-60.

Makino, K. 2000.Association of school absence with air pollution in areas around arterial roads.  Journal of Epidemiology 10(5):292-9.

McCoach, J.S., A.S. Robertson, et al. 1999. “Floor cleaning materials as a cause of occupational asthma.” Indoor Air '99: The 8th International Conference on Indoor Air Quality and Climate, Edinburgh, Scotland, Construction Research Communications Ltd.

McDonald, MA. Practicing Community-engaged Research. Retrieved on October 17, 2012, from Duke Center for Community Research — DTMI Exit EPA Click for Disclaimer

Menzies, R., R. Tamblyn, et al. 1993. “The effect of varying levels of outdoor-air supply on the symptoms of sick building syndrome.” New England Journal of Medicine 328(12):821-7.

Merlo DF, Knudsen, LE, Matusiewicz, K, Niebrój L, Vähäkangas KH. 2007. Ethics in studies on children and environmental health. Journal of Medical Ethics 33: 408-413.

Minkler M. 2005. Community-based research partnerships: challenges and opportunities. Journal of Urban Health. 82(2 Suppl 2):ii3-12.

Minkler, M. & Wallerstein, N., Eds. (2008). Community-Based Participatory Research for Health: From Process to Outcomes, 2nd Ed. Jossey-Bass Publishers, New York.

Mudarri, D. and W. J. Fisk, 2007. “Public health and economic impact of dampness and mold.” Indoor Air 17(3):226-235.

National Center for Education Statistics. U.S. Department of Education. 2000. Condition of America’s Public School Facilities: 1999. NCES 2000-032.

National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities. Exit EPA Click for Disclaimer

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2012). Partnerships for Environmental Public Health Evaluation Metrics Manual. NIH Publication No. 12-7825. Available: Partnerships for Environmental Public Health (PEPH).

Norback, D., R. Walinder, et al. 2000. “Indoor air pollutants in schools: Nasal patency and biomarkers in nasal lavage.” Allergy 55(2):163-70.

NRC. 2006. Green Schools: Attributes for Health and Learning. The National Academies Press. Washington, D.C.

OSTP 2008.  Federal Research and Development Agenda for Net Zero Energy High Performance Green Buildings (PDF) (60 pp, 2.57 MB).

Pazdrak, K., P. Gorski, et al. 1993. “Changes in nasal lavage fluid due to formaldehyde inhalation.” International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health 64(7):515-9.

Pilotto, L.S., R.M. Douglas, et al. 1997. “Respiratory effects associated with indoor nitrogen dioxide exposure in children.” International Journal of Epidemiology 26(4):788-96.

Ransom, M.R., and C.A. Pope. 1992.  Elementary school absences and PM10 pollution in Utah Valley. Environmental Research 58(2):204-19.

Schneider, M. 2002. Public school facilities and teaching: Washington, DC, and Chicago.

Sieber, W.K., L.T. Stayner, et al. 1996. “The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health indoor environmental evaluation experience. Part Three: Associations between environmental factors and self-reported health conditions.” Applied Occupational and Environmental Hygiene 11(12):1387-92.

Smedje, G., D. Norback, et al. 1996. “Mental performance by secondary school pupils in relation to the quality of indoor air.” Indoor Air '96. The 7th International Conference on Indoor Air Quality and Climate, Nagoya, Japan.

Smedje, G., D. Norback, et al. 1997. “Asthma among secondary school children in relation to the school environment.” Clinical and Experimental Allergy 27(11):1270-8.

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics 2009a. Digest of Education Statistics, 2008 (NCES 2009-020), Chapter 1.

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. 2009b. Digest of Education Statistics, 2008 (NCES 2009-020), Chapter 2. Exit EPA Click for Disclaimer

U.S. Department of Education. 1992. Education in States and Nations: 1991-1992.  Available at (ESN) Table 35c: Mid-career secondary school teacher salary (in U.S. dollars) per school day and number of school days per year, by country: 1992. Exit EPA Click for Disclaimer

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2008. Scientific and Ethical Approaches for Observational Exposure Studies.  Research Triangle Park, NC.  EPA 600/R-08/062.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  2000. Indoor Air Quality and Student Performance.  Indoor Environments Division. Washington DC.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Program Needs for Indoor Environments Research (PNIER) (PDF) (58 pp, 446 K), EPA 402/B-05/001. 2005. Indoor Environments Division. Washington DC.

U.S. General Accounting Office.  1995. School Facilities: Condition of America’s Schools.  Washington, DC: General Accounting Office (GAO/HEHS-95-61).

Wantke, F., C.M. Demmer, et al. 1996.  “Exposure to gaseous formaldehyde induces IgE-mediated sensitization to formaldehyde in school-children.” Clinical and Experimental Allergy 26(3):276-80.

F. Special Requirements
Agency policy and ethical considerations prevent EPA technical staff and managers from providing applicants with information that may create an unfair competitive advantage.  Consequently, EPA employees will not review, comment, advise, and/or provide technical assistance to applicants preparing applications in response to EPA RFAs.  EPA employees cannot endorse any particular application.

Multiple Investigator applications may be submitted as: (1) a single Lead Principal Investigator (PI) application with Co-PI(s) or (2) a Multiple PI application (with a single Contact PI).  If you choose to submit a Multiple PI application, you must follow the specific instructions provided in Sections IV. and V. of this RFA.  For further information, please see the EPA Implementation Plan for Policy on Multiple Principal Investigators (RBM Toolkit).

This solicitation provides the opportunity for the submission of applications for projects that may involve human subjects research.  There are many scientific and ethical considerations that must be addressed in such studies by the study sponsor and research team, including, but not limited to, those related to recruitment, retention, participant compensation, third-party issues, researcher-participant interactions, researcher-community interactions, communications, interventions, and education.  All such research must comply with the requirements of 40 CFR Part 26, and any human observational exposure studies must also adhere to the principles set forth in the Scientific and Ethical Approaches for Observational Exposure Studies (SEAOES) (EPA/600/R-08/062) (SEAOES (PDF) (133 pp, 1.21 MB)) document.  SEAOES, which was published by researchers in EPA and which discusses the principles for the ethical conduct of human research studies, serves as a resource for applicants interested in applying under this solicitation.  References to “SEAOES Principles” in this solicitation refers, in general, to the issues of interest in conducting human subjects research studies that maintain the highest scientific and ethical standards and safety during the conduct of these studies.  All applications must include a Human Subjects Research Statement (HSRS; described in Section IV.B.5.c) and if the project involves human subjects research, it will be subject to an additional level of review prior to funding decisions being made as described in Sections V.C and V.D of this solicitation.

A Community-Engaged Research (CEnR) plan detailing community involvement should be provided (see Section I.D above and IV.B.5.d below for additional information).

The application shall include a plan (see “Data Plan” in section IV.B.5.e) to make available to the NCER project officer all data generated (first produced under the award) from observations, analyses, or model development used under an agreement awarded from this RFA.  The data must be available in a format and with documentation such that they may be used by others in the scientific community.

These awards may involve the collection of “Geospatial Information,” which includes information that identifies the geographic location and characteristics of natural or constructed features or boundaries on the Earth or applications, tools, and hardware associated with the generation, maintenance, or distribution of such information.  This information may be derived from, among other things, a Geographic Positioning System (GPS), remote sensing, mapping, charting, and surveying technologies, or statistical data.

II. AWARD INFORMATION

It is anticipated that a total of approximately $6 million will be awarded under this announcement, depending on the availability of funds, quality of applications received, and other applicable considerations.  The EPA anticipates funding approximately 6 awards under this RFA.  Requests for amounts in excess of a total of $1,000,000, including direct and indirect costs, will not be considered.  The total project period requested in an application submitted for this RFA may not exceed 4 years. 

The EPA reserves the right to reject all applications and make no awards, or make fewer awards than anticipated, under this RFA.  The EPA reserves the right to make additional awards under this announcement, consistent with Agency policy, if additional funding becomes available after the original selections are made.  Any additional selections for awards will be made no later than six months after the original selection decisions.

EPA may award both grants and cooperative agreements under this announcement.

Under a grant, EPA scientists and engineers are not permitted to be substantially involved in the execution of the research.  However, EPA encourages interaction between its own laboratory scientists and grant Principal Investigators after the award of an EPA grant for the sole purpose of exchanging information in research areas of common interest that may add value to their respective research activities.  This interaction must be incidental to achieving the goals of the research under a grant.  Interaction that is “incidental” does not involve resource commitments.

Where appropriate, based on consideration of the nature of the proposed project relative to the EPA’s intramural research program and available resources, the EPA may award cooperative agreements under this announcement.  When addressing a research question/problem of common interest, collaborations between EPA scientists and the institution’s principal investigators are permitted under a cooperative agreement.  These collaborations may include data and information exchange, providing technical input to experimental design and theoretical development, coordinating extramural research with in-house activities, the refinement of valuation endpoints, and joint authorship of journal articles on these activities.  Proposals may not identify EPA cooperators or interactions; specific interactions between EPA’s investigators and those of the prospective recipient for cooperative agreements will be negotiated at the time of award. 

III. ELIGIBILITY INFORMATION

A. Eligible Applicants
Public nonprofit institutions/organizations (includes public institutions of higher education and hospitals) and private nonprofit institutions/organizations (includes private institutions of higher education and hospitals) located in the U.S., state and local governments, Federally Recognized Indian Tribal Governments, and U.S. territories or possessions are eligible to apply.  Profit-making firms are not eligible to receive assistance agreements from the EPA under this program.

Eligible nonprofit organizations include any organizations that meet the definition of nonprofit in OMB Circular A-122, located at 2 CFR Part 230.  However, nonprofit organizations described in Section 501(c) (4) of the Internal Revenue Code that lobby are not eligible to apply.

Foreign governments, international organizations, and non-governmental international organizations/institutions are not eligible to apply.

National laboratories funded by Federal Agencies (Federally-Funded Research and Development Centers, “FFRDCs”) may not apply.  FFRDC employees may cooperate or collaborate with eligible applicants within the limits imposed by applicable legislation and regulations.  They may participate in planning, conducting, and analyzing the research directed by the applicant, but may not direct projects on behalf of the applicant organization.  The institution, organization, or governance receiving the award may provide funds through its assistance agreement from the EPA to an FFRDC for research personnel, supplies, equipment, and other expenses directly related to the research.  However, salaries for permanent FFRDC employees may not be provided through this mechanism.

Federal Agencies may not apply.  Federal employees are not eligible to serve in a principal leadership role on an assistance agreement, and may not receive salaries or augment their Agency’s appropriations in other ways through awards made under this program.

The applicant institution may enter into an agreement with a Federal Agency to purchase or utilize unique supplies or services unavailable in the private sector to the extent authorized by law.  Examples are purchase of satellite data, chemical reference standards, analyses, or use of instrumentation or other facilities not available elsewhere.  A written justification for federal involvement must be included in the application.  In addition, an appropriate form of assurance that documents the commitment, such as a letter of intent from the Federal Agency involved, should be included.

Potential applicants who are uncertain of their eligibility should contact Ron Josephson (josephson.ron@epa.gov) in NCER, phone: 703-308-0442.

B. Cost-Sharing
Institutional cost-sharing is not required.

C. Other
Applications must substantially comply with the application submission instructions and requirements set forth in Section IV of this announcement or they will be rejected.  In addition, where a page limitation is expressed in Section IV with respect to parts of the application, pages in excess of the page limit will not be reviewed.  Applications must be submitted through grants.gov or by other authorized alternate means (see Section IV.E. “Submission Instructions and Other Submission Requirements” for further information) on or before the solicitation closing date and time in Section IV of this announcement or they will be returned to the sender without further consideration.  Also, applications exceeding the funding limits or project period term described herein will be returned without review.  Further, applications that fail to demonstrate a public purpose of support or stimulation (e.g., by proposing research which primarily benefits a Federal program or provides a service for a Federal agency) will not be funded.

Applications deemed ineligible for funding consideration will be notified within fifteen calendar days of the ineligibility determination.

IV. APPLICATION AND SUBMISSION INFORMATION

Additional provisions that apply to this solicitation and/or awards made under this solicitation, including but not limited to those related to confidential business information, contracts and subawards under grants, and proposal assistance and communications, can be found at EPA Solicitation Clauses.

These, and the other provisions that can be found at the website link, are important, and applicants must review them when preparing applications for this solicitation.   If you are unable to access these provisions electronically at the website above, please communicate with the EPA contact listed in this solicitation to obtain the provisions.

Formal instructions for submission through Grants.gov follow in Section E.

A. Internet Address to Request Application Package
Use the application package available at Grants.gov (see Section E. “Submission Instructions and Other Submission Requirements”).  Note: With the exception of the current and pending support form (available at Forms and Standard Instructions Download Page), all necessary forms are included in the electronic application package.

An email will be sent by NCER to the Lead/Contact PI and the Administrative Contact (see below) to acknowledge receipt of the application and transmit other important information.  The email will be sent from receipt.application@epa.gov; emails to this address will not be accepted.  If you do not receive an email acknowledgment within 30 days of the submission closing date, immediately inform the Eligibility Contact shown in this solicitation.  Failure to do so may result in your application not being reviewed.  See Section E. “Submission Instructions and Other Submission Requirements” for additional information regarding the application receipt acknowledgment.

B. Content and Form of Application Submission
The application is made by submitting the materials described below.  Applications must contain all information requested and be submitted in the formats described.

  1. Standard Form 424

    The applicant must complete Standard Form 424. Instructions for completion of the SF424 are included with the form. (However, note that EPA requires that the entire requested dollar amount appear on the SF424, not simply the proposed first year expenses.) The form must contain the signature of an authorized representative of the applying organization.

    Applicants are required to provide a “Dun and Bradstreet Data Universal Numbering System” (DUNS) number when applying for federal grants or cooperative agreements. Organizations may receive a DUNS number by calling 1-866-705-5711 or by visiting the web site at Dun and Bradstreet. Exit EPA Click for Disclaimer

    Executive Order 12372, “Intergovernmental Review of Federal Programs,” does not apply to the Office of Research and Development's research and training programs unless EPA has determined that the activities that will be carried out under the applicants' proposal (a) require an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), or (b) do not require an EIS but will be newly initiated at a particular site and require unusual measures to limit the possibility of adverse exposure or hazard to the general public, or (c) have a unique geographic focus and are directly relevant to the governmental responsibilities of a State or local government within that geographic area.

    If EPA determines that Executive Order 12372 applies to an applicant's proposal, the applicant must follow the procedures in 40 CFR Part 29. The applicant must notify their state's single point of contact (SPOC). To determine whether their state participates in this process, and how to comply, applicants should consult Intergovernmental Review (SPOC List). If an applicant is in a State that does not have a SPOC, or the State has not selected research and development grants for intergovernmental review, the applicant must notify directly affected State, area wide, regional and local entities of its proposal.

    EPA will notify the successful applicant(s) if Executive Order 12372 applies to its proposal prior to award.

  2. Key Contacts

    The applicant must complete the “Key Contacts” form found in the Grants.gov application package. An “Additional Key Contacts” form is also available at Forms and Standard Instructions Download Page. The Key Contacts form should also be completed for major sub-agreements (i.e., primary investigators). Do not include information for consultants or other contractors. Please make certain that all contact information is accurate.

    For Multiple PI applications: The Additional Key Contacts form must be completed (see Section I.F. for further information). Note: The Contact PI must be affiliated with the institution submitting the application. EPA will direct all communications related to scientific, technical, and budgetary aspects of the project to the Contact PI; however, any information regarding an application will be shared with any PI upon request. The Contact PI is to be listed on the Key Contact Form as the Project Manager/Principal Investigator (the term Project Manager is used on the Grants.gov form, the term Principal Investigator is used on the form located on NCER’s web site). For additional PIs, complete the Major Co-Investigator fields and identify PI status next to the name (e.g., “Name: John Smith, Principal Investigator”).

  3. Table of Contents

    Provide a list of the major subdivisions of the application indicating the page number on which each section begins.

  4. Abstract (1 page)

    The abstract is a very important document in the review process. Therefore, it is critical that the abstract accurately describes the research being proposed and conveys all the essential elements of the research. Also, the abstracts of applications that receive funding will be posted on the NCER web site.

    The abstract should include the information described below (a-h). Examples of abstracts for current grants may be found on the NCER web site.

    1. Funding Opportunity Title and Number for this proposal.
    2. Project Title: Use the exact title of your project as it appears in the application. The title must be brief yet represent the major thrust of the project. Because the title will be used by those not familiar with the project, use more commonly understood terminology. Do not use general phrases such as “research on.”
    3. Investigators: For applications with multiple investigators, state whether this is a single Lead PI (with co-PIs) or Multiple PI application (see Section I.F.). For Lead PI applications, list the Lead PI, then the name(s) of each co-PI who will significantly contribute to the project. For Multiple PI applications, list the Contact PI, then the name(s) of each additional PI. Provide a web site URL or an email contact address for additional information.
    4. Institution(s): In the same order as the list of investigators, list the name, city and state of each participating university or other applicant institution. The institution applying for assistance must be clearly identified.
    5. Project Period and Location: Show the proposed project beginning and ending dates and the performance site(s)/geographical location(s) where the work will be conducted.
    6. Project Cost: Show the total funding requested from the EPA (include direct and indirect costs for all years).
    7. Project Summary: Provide three subsections addressing: (1) the objectives of the study (including any hypotheses that will be tested), (2) the experimental approach to be used (a description of the proposed project), and (3) the expected results (outputs/outcomes) of the project and how it addresses the research needs identified in the solicitation, including the estimated improvement in risk assessment or risk management that will result from successful completion of the proposed work.
    8. Supplemental Keywords: Without duplicating terms already used in the text of the abstract, list keywords to assist database searchers in finding your research. A list of suggested keywords may be found at: Forms and Standard Instructions Download Page.
  5. Research Plan, Quality Assurance Statement, Human Subjects Research Statement, CEnR Plan, Data Plan and References

    1. Research Plan (15 pages)

      Applications should focus on a limited number of research objectives that adequately and clearly demonstrate that they meet the RFA requirements. Explicitly state the main hypotheses that you will investigate, the data you will create or use, the analytical tools you will use to investigate these hypotheses or analyze these data, and the results you expect to achieve. Research methods must be clearly stated so that reviewers can evaluate the appropriateness of your approach and the tools you intend to use. A statement such as: “we will evaluate the data using the usual statistical methods” is not specific enough for peer reviewers.

      This description must not exceed fifteen (15) consecutively numbered (bottom center), 8.5x11-inch pages of single-spaced, standard 12-point type with 1-inch margins. While these guidelines establish the minimum type size requirements, applicants are advised that readability is of paramount importance and should take precedence in selection of an appropriate font for use in the proposal.

      The description must provide the following information:

      1. Objectives: List the objectives of the proposed research and the hypotheses being tested during the project, and briefly state why the intended research is important and how it fulfills the requirements of the solicitation. This section should also include any background or introductory information that would help explain the objectives of the study. If this application is to expand upon research supported by an existing or former assistance agreement awarded under the STAR program, indicate the number of the agreement and provide a brief report of progress and results achieved under it.
      2. Approach/Activities: Outline the research design, methods, and techniques that you intend to use in meeting the objectives stated above.
      3. Innovation: Describe how your project shifts current research or engineering paradigms by using innovative theoretical concepts, approaches or methodologies, instrumentation or interventions applicable to one or more fields of research.
      4. Sustainability: Describe how your project embodies the principles of sustainability and seeks sustainable solutions that protect the environment and strengthen our communities. The sustainability primer (sustainability primer (PDF) (2 pp, 195 K)) provides examples of research activities that promote and incorporate sustainability principles.
      5. Expected Results, Benefits, Outputs, and Outcomes: Describe the results you expect to achieve during the project (outputs) and the potential benefits of the results (outcomes). This section should also discuss how the research results will lead to solutions to environmental problems and improve the public’s ability to protect the environment and human health. A clear, concise description will help NCER and peer reviewers understand the merits of the research.
      6. Project Management: Discuss other information relevant to the potential success of the project. This should include facilities, personnel expertise/experience, project schedules with associated milestones and target dates, proposed management, interactions with other institutions, etc. Describe the approach, procedures, and controls for ensuring that awarded grant funds will be expended in a timely and efficient manner and detail how project objectives will be successfully achieved within the grant period. Describe how progress toward achieving the expected results (outputs and outcomes) of the research will be monitored and measured. Applications for multi-investigator projects must identify project management and the functions of each investigator in each team and describe plans to communicate and share data.
      7. Appendices may be included but must remain within the 15-page limit.
    2. Quality Assurance Statement (3 pages)

      For projects involving environmental data collection or processing, conducting surveys, modeling, method development, or the development of environmental technology (whether hardware-based or via new techniques), provide a Quality Assurance Statement (QAS) regarding the plans for processes that will be used to ensure that the products of the research satisfy the intended project objectives. Follow the guidelines provided below to ensure that the QAS describes a system that complies with ANSI/ASQC E4, Specifications and Guidelines for Quality Systems for Environmental Data Collection and Environmental Technology Programs. Do not exceed three consecutively numbered, 8.5x11-inch pages of single-spaced, standard 12-point type with 1-inch margins.

      NOTE: If selected for award, applicants will be expected to provide additional quality assurance documentation.

      Address each applicable section below by including the required information, referencing the specific location of the information in the Research Plan, or explaining why the section does not apply to the proposed research. (Not all will apply.)

      1. Identify the individual who will be responsible for the quality assurance (QA) and quality control (QC) aspects of the research along with a brief description of this person’s functions, experience, and authority within the research organization. Describe the organization’s general approach for conducting quality research. (QA is a system of management activities to ensure that a process or item is of the type and quality needed for the project. QC is a system of activities that measures the attributes and performance of a process or item against the standards defined in the project documentation to verify that they meet those stated requirements.)

      2. Discuss project objectives, including quality objectives, any hypotheses to be tested, and the quantitative and/or qualitative procedures that will be used to evaluate the success of the project. Include any plans for peer or other reviews of the study design or analytical methods.

      3. Address each of the following project elements as applicable:

        1. Collection of new/primary data:
          (Note: In this case the word “sample” is intended to mean any finite part of a statistical population whose properties are studied to gain information about the whole. If certain attributes listed below do not apply to the type of samples to be used in your research, simply explain why those attributes are not applicable.)

          1. Discuss the plan for sample collection and analysis. As applicable, include sample type(s), frequency, locations, sample sizes, sampling procedures, and the criteria for determining acceptable data quality (e.g., precision, accuracy, representativeness, completeness, comparability, or data quality objectives).
          2. Describe the procedures for the handling and custody of samples including sample collection, identification, preservation, transportation, and storage, and how the accuracy of test measurements will be verified.
          3. Describe or reference each analytical method to be used, any QA or QC checks or procedures with the associated acceptance criteria, and any procedures that will be used in the calibration and performance evaluation of the analytical instrumentation.
          4. Discuss the procedures for overall data reduction, analysis, and reporting. Include a description of all statistical methods to make inferences and conclusions, acceptable error rates and/or power, and any statistical software to be used.
        2. Use of existing/secondary data (i.e., data previously collected for other purposes or from other sources):

          1. Identify the types of secondary data needed to satisfy the project objectives. Specify requirements relating to the type of data, the age of data, geographical representation, temporal representation, and technological representation, as applicable.
          2. Specify the source(s) of the secondary data and discuss the rationale for selection.
          3. Establish a plan to identify the sources of the secondary data in all deliverables/products.
          4. Specify quality requirements and discuss the appropriateness for their intended use. Accuracy, precision, representativeness, completeness, and comparability need to be addressed, if applicable.
          5. Describe the procedures for determining the quality of the secondary data.
          6. Describe the plan for data management/integrity.
        3. Method development:
          (Note: The data collected for use in method development or evaluation should be described in the QAS as per the guidance in section 3A and/or 3B above.)

          Describe the scope and application of the method, any tests (and measurements) to be conducted to support the method development, the type of instrumentation that will be used and any required instrument conditions (e.g., calibration frequency), planned QC checks and associated criteria (e.g., spikes, replicates, blanks), and tests to verify the method’s performance.

        4. Development or refinement of models:
          (Note: The data collected for use in the development or refinement of models should be described in the QAS as per the guidance in section 3A and/or 3B above.)

          1. Discuss the scope and purpose of the model, key assumptions to be made during development/refinement, requirements for code development, and how the model will be documented.
          2. Discuss verification techniques to ensure the source code implements the model correctly.
          3. Discuss validation techniques to determine that the model (assumptions and algorithms) captures the essential phenomena with adequate fidelity.
          4. Discuss plans for long-term maintenance of the model and associated data.
        5. Development or operation of environmental technology:
          (Note: The data collected for use in the development or evaluation of the technology should be described in the QAS as per the guidance in section 3A and/or 3B above.)

          1. Describe the overall purpose and anticipated impact of the technology.
          2. Describe the technical and quality specifications of each technology component or process that is to be designed, fabricated, constructed, and/or operated.
          3. Discuss the procedure to be used for documenting and controlling design changes.
          4. Discuss the procedure to be used for documenting the acceptability of processes and components, and discuss how the technology will be benchmarked and its effectiveness determined.
          5. Discuss the documentation requirements for operating instructions/guides for maintenance and use of the system(s) and/or process(s).
        6. Conducting surveys:
          (Note: The data to be collected in the survey and any supporting data should be described in the QAS as per the guidance in section 3A and/or 3B above.)

          Discuss the justification for the size of the proposed sample for both the overall project and all subsamples for specific treatments or tests. Identify and explain the rational for the proposed statistical techniques (e.g., evaluation of statistical power).

      4. Discuss data management activities (e.g., record-keeping procedures, data-handling procedures, and the approach used for data storage and retrieval on electronic media). Include any required computer hardware and software and address any specific performance requirements for the hardware/software configuration used.

    3. EPA Human Subjects Research Statement (HSRS) (6 pages)

      All human research studies conducted or supported by EPA are governed by EPA regulations at 40 CFR Part 26 (Protection of Human Subjects). This includes the Basic Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Research Subjects, also known as the Common Rule, at subpart A and additional prohibitions and special protections for pregnant women, nursing women, and children in research conducted or supported by EPA at subparts B, C, and D. Depending upon the type of research being conducted, additional subparts of 40 CFR Part 26 may be relevant.

      Procedures for the review and oversight of human research subject to 40 CFR Part 26 are also provided in EPA Order 1000.17 Change A1 (EPA Order 1000.17 Change A1 (PDF) (41 pp, 333 K)). These include review of projects for EPA-supported human research by the EPA Human Subjects Research Review Official (HSRRO). EPA Order 1000.17 Change A1 requires preliminary approval by the HSRRO of all proposed EPA-supported human research before the agreement can be entered into. Additional requirements must be met and final approval received from the HSRRO before the research can begin. When reviewing human observational exposure studies, EPA Order 1000.17 Change A1 requires the HSRRO to apply the principles described in the SEAOES document (SEAOES (PDF) (133 pp, 1.21 MB)) and grant approval only to studies that adhere to those principles.

      All applications submitted under this solicitation must include a HSRS as described below. Please use the definitions below to determine whether the proposed research involves human subjects, and then prepare a HSRS as explained below in the “HSRS Requirements” section.

      Definitions (from 40 CFR Part 26 Subparts A, B, and C) to determine the involvement of human subjects in proposed research:

      • "Human subject" means a living individual about whom an investigator (whether professional or student) conducting research obtains (1) data through intervention or interaction with the individual, or (2) identifiable private information.
      • "Intervention" includes both physical procedures by which data are gathered and manipulations of the subject or the subject's environment that are performed for research purposes.
      • "Interaction" includes communication or interpersonal contact between investigator and subject.
      • "Private information" includes information about behavior that occurs in a context in which an individual can reasonably expect that no observation or recording is taking place, and information which has been provided for specific purposes by an individual and which the individual can reasonably expect will not be made public (for example, a medical record).
      • "Individually identifiable" means the identity of the subject is or may readily be ascertained by the investigator or associated with the information.
      • "Research involving the intentional exposure of a human subject" means a study of a substance in which the exposure to the substance experienced by a human subject participating in the study would not have occurred but for the human subject’s participation in the study. Research involving intentional human exposures have additional requirements based upon the 2004 NRC Report “Intentional Human Dosing Studies for EPA Regulatory Purposes” Exit EPA Click for Disclaimer See Sections 9 - 15.
      • "Observational research" means any human research that does not meet the definition of research involving intentional exposure of a human subject.

      Human Subjects Research Statement (HSRS) Requirements

      If the proposed research does not involve human subjects as defined above, provide the following statement in your application package as your HSRS: “The proposed research does not involve human subjects.” Applicants should provide a clear justification about how the proposed research does not meet the definition (for example, all samples come from deceased individuals OR samples are purchased from a commercial source and provided without identifiers, etc.).

      If the proposed research does involve human subjects, then include in your application package a HSRS that addresses each applicable section listed below, referencing the specific location of the information in the Research Plan, providing the information in the HSRS, or explaining why the section does not apply to the proposed research. (Not all will apply.) Please use the definitions provided above to ensure consistency in the interpretation of terminology. Do not exceed six consecutively numbered, 8.5x11-inch pages of single-spaced, standard 12-point type with 1-inch margins.

      NOTE: Before EPA approves any research involving human subjects, the requirements of the regulations at 40 CFR Part 26 must be met. Also, before EPA approves human observational exposure research, EPA will examine it to ensure consistency with the SEAOES Principles. The federal Office for Human Research Protections requires that federally funded human subjects research only be conducted at facilities covered by a Federalwide Assurance (FWA). An FWA is a document that designates the Institutional Review Board that will review and oversee the research, specifies the ethical principles under which the research will be conducted, and names the individuals who will be responsible for the proper conduct of the research. The factors below are not intended to be exhaustive of all those needed for the HSRRO to provide the final approval necessary for research to be conducted, but provide a basis upon which the HSRRO may grant the conditional approval necessary for the funding process to begin.

      Items 1 – 8 must be completed for all studies involving human subjects. (For studies involving intentional exposures, also complete Items 9 -15.)

      1. Human subjects involvement, characteristics, and design.
        1. Describe and justify the proposed involvement of human subjects in the work being proposed.
        2. Describe the characteristics of the subject population, including their anticipated number, age range, and health status if relevant.
        3. Describe and justify the sampling plan, as well as the recruitment and retention strategies and the criteria for inclusion or exclusion of any subpopulations.
        4. Describe the research material that will be obtained from or about living individuals in the form of data, specimens, or records.
        5. List any collaborating sites where human subjects research will be performed, and describe the role of those sites and collaborating investigators in the research.
        6. Describe and justify any compensation being provided to subjects for their participation in the research.
        7. Describe the plan for communicating individual and/or aggregate research results to participants, if relevant.
      2. Potential risks to subjects.
        1. Describe the potential risks to human subjects (physical, psychological, financial, legal, or other) and assess their likelihood and seriousness to the human subjects.
      3. Adequacy of protection against risks.
        1. Describe planned procedures for protecting against or minimizing potential risks and assess their likely effectiveness.
        2. Describe planned procedures for the process of obtaining and maintaining informed consent. Include a description of the circumstances under which consent will be sought and obtained, who will seek it, the nature of the information to be provided to prospective subjects, and the method of documenting consent.
        3. If waiver of some or all of the elements of informed consent or of documentation of consent will be sought, provide justification for the waiver.
        4. Where appropriate, discuss the plans for ensuring necessary medical or professional intervention in the event of adverse effects to subjects.
      4. Protection of vulnerable groups, see 40 CFR Part 26, subparts C & D.
        1. Explain the rationale for the involvement of any vulnerable populations, including pregnant women, fetuses, and children if relevant.
        2. Describe the additional protections in place, if any, for protecting vulnerable populations included in the research.
        3. If children are included in the research, describe the process for obtaining parental permission and child assent if relevant.
      5. Protection of privacy and confidentiality.
        1. Describe how data, specimens, and/or records will be collected, managed, and protected, including at collaborating sites, if any, as well as at the primary site.
        2. Indicate who will have access to individually identifiable private information about human subjects.
        3. Describe any additional procedures for the protection of privacy and confidentiality of the human research subjects.
        4. Discuss any mandatory reporting requirements with the potential to come into play during the conduct of the research and describe how these will be communicated to participants if relevant.
        5. Discuss the potential of the research to obtain information about third parties and describe how this will be handled if it occurs.
      6. Relationship between researcher and community.
        1. If the research will take place in a community setting, describe the procedures in place for defining the community, obtaining its involvement in the research, and establishing and maintaining trust.
      7. Potential benefits of the research to the participants and others.
        1. Discuss the potential benefits of the research to the research participants and others.
        2. Discuss why the risks to subjects are reasonable in relation to the anticipated benefits.
      8. Importance of the knowledge to be gained.
        1. Discuss the importance of the knowledge to be gained as a result of the proposed research.
        2. Discuss why the risks to subjects are reasonable in relation to the importance of the knowledge that reasonably may be expected to result.

        The following sections are to be completed for projects involving the intentional exposure of a human subject. Note that intentional exposure of children, pregnant women or nursing women is prohibited, according to 40 CFR Part 26, subpart B. If your proposal does not involve intentional exposures of humans, you may enter “non-applicable” for Sections 9 – 15.

      9. Projects involving intentional exposure of human subjects should only be considered if they have the potential of providing a clear health or environmental benefit or if acquisition of such information is not obtainable by any other means. In no case should the exposure cause lasting harm to study participants.
        1. Provide justification, in advance of being conducted, that the study could contribute to addressing an important scientific question that cannot be resolved on the basis of animal data or other study;
        2. Discuss how the study is designed in accordance with current scientific standards and practices to i) address the research question, ii) include representative study populations for the endpoint in question, and iii) meet requirements for adequate statistical power;
        3. Discuss how the study will be conducted in accordance with recognized good clinical practices, including appropriate monitoring for safety; and
        4. Confirm that the grantee will report comprehensively to their EPA Project Officer, providing the full study protocol, detailed analyses of the data and report any adverse events promptly.
      10. Value of Studies that Seek to Provide a Potential Public Health or Environmental Benefit
        1. Discuss the constitution of the IRB and their ability to consider whether a study has the potential of providing a clear health or environmental benefit to the community.
      11. Criteria for Scientific and Ethical Acceptability
        1. Confirm that the following necessary conditions for scientifically and ethically acceptable intentional human dosing studies have been satisfied:
          1. prior animal studies and, if available, human observational studies;
          2. a demonstrated need for the knowledge to be obtained from intentional human dosing studies;
          3. justification and documentation of a research design and statistical analysis that are adequate to address an important scientific question, including adequate power to detect appropriate effects;
          4. an acceptable balance of risks and benefits, and minimization of risks to participants;
          5. equitable selection of participants;
          6. free and informed consent of participants; and
          7. review by an appropriately constituted IRB.
      12. Participant Selection Criteria
        1. Discuss how the project design ensures that the following conditions are met in selecting research participants:
          1. Selection should be equitable;
          2. Selection of persons from vulnerable populations must be convincingly justified in the protocol, which also must justify the measures to be taken to protect those participants;
          3. Selection of individuals with conditions that put them at increased risk for adverse effects in such studies must be convincingly justified in the protocol, which also must justify the measures that investigators will use to decrease the risks to those participants to an acceptable level.
      13. Payment for Participation
        1. Discuss how IRBs, all relevant review boards, investigators, and research sponsors should ensure that payments to participants in intentional human dosing studies are neither so high as to constitute undue inducement nor so low as to be attractive only to individuals who are socio-economically disadvantaged. Proposed levels of and purposes for remuneration (e.g., time, inconvenience, and risk) should be scrutinized in light of the principles of justice and respect for persons.
      14. Best Practices in Informed Consent
        1. Discuss the proposed process regarding informed consent in intentional human dosing studies and how it compares to best practices.
      15. Compensation for Research-Related Injuries
        1. Discuss how you ensure that participants receive needed medical care for injuries incurred in the study, without cost to the participants.
    4. Community-Engaged Research (CEnR) Plan (5 pages)

      Provide a plan to detail school and community involvement. At a minimum, the plan should:

      • Identify the role of school and/or community members in the proposed research plan and justify the level of community engagement (i.e., the degree of community input or engagement in the conceptualization, design, methods, data collection, analyses, or dissemination of research).
      • Focus on research issues related to the research questions stated in Section I D. Specific Research Areas of Interest/Expected Outputs and Outcomes that are of significance to the school/school district and/or the community that is interested in the proposed work.
      • Describe how this research will enhance the capacity of the community/school district to engage in the research and scientific process. One approach could be providing an educational component to the research project to engage teachers, parents and students to learn about the role of the physical environment, environmental pollution, indoor air quality, building conditions and health.
      • Include resources for partnership development (e.g., to hire community liaisons, to enlist environmental educators, or to provide participant support costs for community involvement).
      • If a host organization (any organization/institution other than the applicant) is used to facilitate community participation, partnerships, or environmental education, evaluate the organization’s mission and practices concerning community partnerships and/or education (e.g., how the staff has or can develop skills to sustain community participation).
      • Articulate the strategy, objectives, activities, timing, and delivery methods for disseminating research findings and/or educational resources to the school and identified community as well as the scientific community.
      • Provide evidence of community support such as a letter of support from community-based organizations, school districts, principals, PTAs, etc.
      • Evidence of a productive working relationship between the community and researchers is a necessary component. This active engagement should be described fully in the application. However, if a partnership between the community and researchers has not been formed prior to the initiation of the grant, the applicant must provide information on past successful community partnership experiences and/or describe any trainings or courses they have taken on the topic of community engagement. Responsiveness to this criterion will need to be apparent to the peer reviewers, so the applicant must clearly define the approach they will take to incorporate community engagement.
      • Each project must demonstrate meaningful and active participation of relevant stakeholders that may have concerns about children’s environmental health and/or academic performance. Applicants are encouraged to consider a variety of mechanisms for community engagement, including, but not limited to: formation of a community advisory board or community outreach committee.
    5. Data Plan (2 pages)

      Provide a plan to make all data resulting from an agreement under this RFA available in a format and with documentation/metadata such that they may be used by others in the scientific community. This includes data first produced under the award, i.e., from observations, analyses, or model development collected or used under the agreement. Applicants who plan to develop or enhance databases containing proprietary or restricted information must provide, within the two pages, a strategy to make the data widely available, while protecting privacy or property rights.

    6. References: References cited are in addition to other page limits (e.g. research plan, quality assurance statement, data plan).

  6. Budget and Budget Justification

    1. Budget

      Prepare a master budget table using “SF-424A Budget Information for Non-Construction Programs” (aka SF-424A), available in the Grants.gov electronic application package and also at Forms and Standard Instructions Download Page. Only complete “Section B-Budget Categories”. Provide the object class budget category (a. - k.) amounts for each budget year under the “Grant Program, Function or Activity” heading. Each column reflects a separate budget year. For example, Column (1) reflects budget year 1. The total budget will be automatically tabulated in column (5).

      If a subaward is included in the application, provide a separate SF-424A and budget justification for the subaward. Include the total amount for the subaward under “Other” in the master SF-424A.

      Applicants may not use subagreements to transfer or delegate their responsibility for successful completion of their EPA assistance agreement. Therefore, EPA expects that subawards or subcontracts should not constitute more than 40% of the total direct cost of the total project budget. If a subaward/subcontract constitutes more than 40% of the total direct cost, additional justification may be required before award, discussing the need for the subaward/subcontract to accomplish the objectives of the research project. Please refer to Contracts and Subawards if your organization intends to identify specific contractors, including consultants, and subawardees in your proposal.

      Please note that institutional cost-sharing is not required. However, if voluntary cost-sharing is proposed, a brief statement concerning cost-sharing should be added to the budget justification.

    2. Budget Justification [2 pages in addition to the Section IV.B.5. page limitations, not including additions under No. (7) below to support subawards]

      Describe the basis for calculating the personnel, fringe benefits, travel, equipment, supplies, contractual support, and other costs identified in the SF-424A. The budget justification should not exceed two consecutively numbered (bottom center), 8.5x11-inch pages of single-spaced, standard 12-point type with 1-inch margins.

      Budget information should be supported at the level of detail described below:

      1. Personnel: List all staff positions by title. Give annual salary, percentage of time assigned to the project, total cost for the budget period, and project role. Compensation paid for employees engaged in grant activities must be consistent with payments for similar work within the applicant organization. Note that for salaries to be allowable as a direct charge to the award, a justification of how that person will be directly involved in the project must be provided. General administrative duties such as answering telephones, filing, typing, or accounting duties are not considered acceptable.

        Below is a sample computation for Personnel:

        Position/Title Annual Salary % of Time Assigned to Project Cost
        Project Manager $70,000 50% $ 35,000
        Env. Specialist $60,000 100% $ 60,000
        Env. Health Tech $45,000 100% $ 45,000
        Total Personnel $140,000

        Note this budget category is limited to persons employed by the applicant organization ONLY. Those employed elsewhere are classified as subawardees, contractors or consultants. Contractors and consultants should be listed under the “Contractual” budget heading while subawards made to eligible subrecipients are listed under the “Other” budget heading.

      2. Fringe Benefits: Identify the percentage used and the basis for its computation. Fringe benefits are for the personnel listed in budget category (1) above and only for the percentage of time devoted to the project. Fringe benefits include but are not limited to the cost of leave, employee insurance, pensions and unemployment benefit plans. The applicant should not combine the fringe benefit costs with direct salaries and wages in the personnel category.

      3. Travel: Specify the estimated number of trips, purpose of each trip, number of travelers per trip, destinations, and other costs for each type of travel. Explain the need for any travel, paying particular attention to travel outside the United States. Include travel funds for annual STAR program progress reviews (estimate for two days in Washington, D.C.) and a final workshop to report on results.

        Below is a sample computation for Travel:

        Purpose of Travel Location Item Computation Cost
        EPA STAR Progress Review DC Lodging 4 people x $100 per night
        x 2 nights
        $800
        Airfare 4 people x $500 round trip $2,000
        Per Diem 4 people x $50 per day
        x 2 days
        $400
        Total Travel $3,200

      4. Equipment: Identify all tangible, non-expendable personal property to be purchased that has an estimated cost of $5,000 or more per unit and a useful life of more than one year. Details such as the type of equipment, cost, and a brief narrative on the intended use of the equipment for project objectives are required. Each item of equipment must be identified with the corresponding cost. General-purpose equipment (office equipment, etc.) must be justified as to how it will be used on the project. (Property items with a unit cost of less than $5,000 are considered supplies.)

      5. Supplies: “Supplies” means tangible property other than “equipment.” Identify supplies to be used under the project. This may include: software, office supplies, and laboratory supplies such as reagents, chemicals and glassware. Specifically identify computers to be purchased or upgraded.

      6. Contractual: Specify the amount you anticipate expending for services/analyses or consultants and specify the purpose of the contracts and estimated cost. Any procurement of services from individual consultants or commercial firms (including space for workshops) must comply with the competitive procurement requirements of 40 CFR Part 30.40-30.48 or 40 CFR 31.36, as appropriate. Please see Contracts and Subawards for more details.

        Examples of Contractual costs include:

        1. Consultants – Consultants are individuals with specialized skills who are paid at a daily or hourly rate. EPA’s participation in the salary rate (excluding overhead) paid to individual consultants retained by recipients or by a recipient's contractors or subcontractors is limited to the maximum daily rate for a Level IV of the Executive Schedule (formerly GS-18), to be adjusted annually.
        2. Equipment Rental – When there is a need to rent equipment for use on the project, provide information on the type of equipment to be rented, the purpose or use on the project, the length of time needed and the rental rate. Renting or leasing of equipment will require a lease vs. purchase cost analysis prior to approval.
        3. Facility Rental – When it is necessary to rent office or other facilities spaces for project implementation, and the space(s) are located off-site from the organization’s main facility in space not owned by the applicant organization, the cost of the rent may be charged against the award as a contractual expense if the space is used specifically for the project. The budget justifications should provide details on the monthly rental charge and if the rent is pro-rated to the project.
        4. Service or Maintenance Contracts – Costs should be in direct correlation to the use of the equipment for the project (i.e., if a particular machine is used 50% of the time for the project, the project should only be charged 50% of the service/maintenance costs). Provide details of the type of equipment and the amount of the service contract to be paid from EPA funds.
        5. Speaker/Trainer Fees – Information on speakers should include the fee and a description of the services they are providing.
      7. Other: List each item in sufficient detail for the EPA to determine the reasonableness of its cost relative to the research to be undertaken. “Other” items may include publication costs, long distance telephone charges, and photocopying costs. Note that subawards, such as those with other universities for members of the research team, are included in this category. Subawards must have a separate 424A and budget justification, not to exceed one additional page each. Subawards may not be used to acquire services from consultants or commercial firms. Please see Contracts and Subawards for more details.

      8. Indirect Costs: Indirect costs are those incurred by the applicant for a common or joint purpose that benefit more than one cost objective or project, and are not readily assignable to specific cost objectives or projects as a direct cost. In order for indirect costs to be allowable, the applicant must have a negotiated indirect cost rate (e.g., fixed, predetermined, final or provisional), or must have submitted a proposal to their cognizant agency. If indirect costs are included in the budget, identify the cognizant agency and the approved indirect rate. If your organization does not have a cognizant agency, please note that in the budget justification and provide a brief explanation for how you calculated your indirect cost rate.

  7. Resumes

    Provide resumes for each investigator and important co-worker. You may include resumes from staff of subawardees such as universities. Do not include resumes of consultants or other contractors. The resume for each individual must not exceed two consecutively numbered (bottom center), 8.5x11-inch pages of single-spaced, standard 12-point type with 1-inch margins.

  8. Current and Pending Support

    Complete a current and pending support form (provided at Forms and Standard Instructions Download Page) for each investigator and important co-worker. Do not include current and pending support for consultants or other contractors. Include all current and pending research regardless of source.

    Note to all prospective applicants requiring multiple Current and Pending Support Form pages: Due to a limitation in Adobe Acrobat's forms functionality, additional pages cannot be directly inserted into the original PDF form and preserve the form data on the subsequent pages. Multiple page form submissions can be created in Acrobat 8 and later using the "PDF Package" option in the "Create PDF from Multiple Files" function. If you have an earlier version of Adobe Standard or Professional, applicants will need to convert each PDF page of the form to an EPS (Encapsulated Post Script) file before creating the PDF for submission. The following steps will allow applicants with earlier versions of Adobe Standard or Professional to create a PDF package:

    1. Populate the first page of the PDF, and save it as a EPS (Encapsulated Post Script) file.
    2. Reopen the form, and populate it with the data for page 2. Save this page as a different EPS file. Repeat for as many pages as necessary.
    3. Use Acrobat Distiller to convert the EPS files back to PDF.
    4. Open Acrobat Professional, and combine the individual pages into a combined PDF file
  9. Guidelines, Limitations, and Additional Requirements

    1. Letters of Intent/Letters of Support

      Letters of intent to provide resources for the proposed research or to document intended interactions are limited to one brief paragraph committing the availability of a resource (e.g., use of a person's time or equipment) or intended interaction (e.g., sharing of data, as-needed consultation) that is described in the Research Plan or the Community-Engaged Research Plan. Letters of intent are to be included as an addition to the budget justification documents. EPA employees are not permitted to provide letters of intent for any application.

      Letters of support do not commit a resource vital to the success of the proposal. A letter of support is written by businesses, organizations, or community members stating their support of the applicant's proposed project. EPA employees are not permitted to provide letters of support for any application.

      Note: Letters of intent or support must be part of the application; letters submitted separately will not be accepted. Any letter of intent or support that exceeds one brief paragraph (excluding letterhead and salutations), is considered part of the specific plan it is associated with (e.g., Research Plan or the Community-Engaged Research Plan) and is included in the page limitation for that specific plan (e.g., 15 pages for the Research Plan or 5 pages for the Community-Engaged Research Plan). Any transactions between the successful applicant and parties providing letters of intent or support financed with EPA grant funds are subject to the contract and subaward requirements described here Contracts and Subawards.

    2. Funding Opportunity Number(s) (FON)

      At various places in the application, applicants are asked to identify the FON.

      The Funding Opportunity Number for this RFA is:
      Healthy Schools: Environmental Factors, Children’s Health and Performance, and Sustainable Building Practices, EPA-G2013-STAR-H1.

    3. Confidentiality

      By submitting an application in response to this solicitation, the applicant grants the EPA permission to make limited disclosures of the application to technical reviewers both within and outside the Agency for the express purpose of assisting the Agency with evaluating the application. Information from a pending or unsuccessful application will be kept confidential to the fullest extent allowed under law; information from a successful application may be publicly disclosed to the extent permitted by law.

C. Submission Dates and Times
Applications must be transferred to Grants.gov no later than 11:59:59 pm Eastern Time on the solicitation closing date.  Applications transferred after the closing date and time will be returned to the sender without further consideration.  EPA will not accept any changes to applications after the closing date.

It should be noted that this schedule may be changed without prior notification because of factors not anticipated at the time of announcement.  In the case of a change in the solicitation closing date, a new date will be posted on the NCER web site (Funding Opportunities) and a modification posted on www.grants.gov. 

Solicitation Closing Date: October 8, 2013, 11:59:59 pm Eastern Time (applications must be submitted to Grants.gov by this time, see Section IV.E “Submission Instructions and Other Submission Requirements” for further information).

NOTE: Customarily, applicants are notified about evaluation decisions within six months of the solicitation closing date.  Awards are generally made 9-12 months after the solicitation closing date.

D. Funding Restrictions
The funding mechanism for all awards issued under STAR solicitations will consist of assistance agreements from the EPA.  All award decisions are subject to the availability of funds.  In accordance with the Federal Grant and Cooperative Agreement Act, 31 U.S.C. 6301 et seq., the primary purpose of an assistance agreement is to accomplish a public purpose of support or stimulation authorized by federal statute, rather than acquisition for the direct benefit or use of the Agency.  In issuing a grant, the EPA anticipates that there will be no substantial EPA involvement in the design, implementation, or conduct of the research.  However, the EPA will monitor research progress through annual reports provided by grantees and other contacts, including site visits, with the Principal Investigator(s).

If you wish to submit applications for more than one STAR funding opportunity you must ensure that the research proposed in each application is significantly different from any other that has been submitted to the EPA or from any other financial assistance you are currently receiving from the EPA or other federal government agency.

Collaborative applications involving more than one institution must be submitted as a single administrative package from one of the institutions involved.

Each proposed project must be able to be completed within the project period and with the initial award of funds.  Applicants should request the entire amount of money needed to complete the project.  Recipients should not anticipate additional funding beyond the initial award of funds for a specific project.

E. Submission Instructions and Other Submission Requirements
Please read this entire section before attempting an electronic submission through Grants.gov. 
If you do not have the technical capability to utilize the Grants.gov application submission process for this solicitation, send a webmail message at least 15 calendar days before the submission deadline to assure timely receipt of alternate submission instructions.  In your message  provide the funding opportunity number and title of the program, specify that you are requesting alternate submission instructions, and provide a telephone number, fax number, and an email address, if available.  Alternate instructions will be emailed whenever possible.  Any applications submitted through alternate submission methods must comply with all the provisions of this RFA, including Section IV, and be received by the solicitation closing date identified above.

Note:  Grants.gov submission instructions are updated on an as-needed basis.  Please provide your Authorized Organizational Representative (AOR) with a copy of the following instructions to avoid submission delays that may occur from the use of outdated instructions.

  1. Preparing for Submission.  The appropriate electronic application package available through the Grants.gov site must be used for electronic submissions.  To begin the application process, go to Grants.gov and click on the “Apply for Grants” tab on the left side of the page.  Then click on “Apply Step 1:  Download a Grant Application Package” to download the compatible Adobe viewer and obtain the application package.  For more information on Adobe Reader please go to Grants.gov Help

    Note:  Grants.gov is aware of a corruption issue when Adobe Reader application packages are saved in different versions of Adobe Reader.  It is recommended that applicants uninstall earlier versions of Adobe Reader and then install the version available and compatible through Grants.gov.

    The application package may be quickly accessed from Download Application Package page using the appropriate FON.  Be sure to download the electronic application package for the appropriate FON.   Please register for announcement change notification emails.  Note: With the exception of the current and pending support form (available at Forms and Standard Instructions Download Page), all necessary forms are included in the electronic application package.

    The electronic submission of your application package must be made by an official representative of your institution who is registered with Grants.gov and authorized to sign for Federal assistance.  Most submission problems can be avoided by communicating with the AOR well before the solicitation closing date and allowing sufficient time for following the guidance provided below.  Note for organizations not currently registered: the registration process may take a week or longer to complete.  We recommend you designate an AOR and begin the registration process as soon as possible.

    For more information, go to Grants.gov and click on “Get Registered”. 

  2. Acknowledgement of Receipt.  The complete application must be transferred to Grants.gov no later than 11:59:59 pm Eastern Time on the solicitation closing date (see “Submission Dates and Times”).  Grants.gov provides an on-screen notification of successful initial transfer as well as an email notification of successful transfer from Grants.gov to EPA.  While it is advisable to retain copies of these Grants.gov acknowledgements to document submission, the only official documentation that the application has been received by NCER is the email acknowledgement sent by NCER to the Lead/Contact PI and the Administrative Contact.  This email will be sent from receipt.application@epa.gov; emails to this address will not be accepted.  If an email acknowledgment from receipt.application@epa.gov has not been received within 30 days of the solicitation closing date, immediately inform the Eligibility Contact shown in this solicitation.  Failure to do so may result in your application not being reviewed.

  3. Application Package Preparation.  The application package consists of a. through d. below. 

    1. Application for Federal Assistance (SF 424):  Complete the form except for the “competition ID” field.
    2. EPA Key Contacts Form 5700-54:  Complete the form.  If additional pages are needed, see (d) below.
    3. SF-424A Budget Information for Non-Construction Programs: Only complete “Section B-Budget Categories”.   Provide the object class budget category (a. - k.) amounts for each budget year under the “Grant Program, Function or Activity” heading.  Each column reflects a separate budget year.
    4. Project Narrative Attachment Form (click on “Add Mandatory Project Narrative”):  Attach a single electronic file labeled “Application” that contains the items described in Section IV.B.3. through IV.B.9.a (Table of Contents, Abstract, Research Plan, Quality Assurance Statement, Human Subjects Research Statement, CEnR Plan, Data Plan, References, Budget Justification, Resumes, Current and Pending Support, and Letters of Intent/Support) of this solicitation.  In order to maintain format integrity, this file must be submitted in Adobe Acrobat PDF.  Please review the PDF file for conversion errors prior to including it in the electronic application package; requests to rectify conversion errors will not be accepted if made after the solicitation closing date and time. If Key Contacts Continuation pages (see Forms and Standard Instructions Download Page) are needed, place them before the Table of Contents (Section IV.B.3.). 

    Please note that applicants are limited to using the following characters in all attachment file names.  Valid file names may only include the following UTF-8 characters: 
    A-Z, a-z, 0-9, underscore ( _ ), hyphen (-), space, period. If applicants use any other characters when naming their attachment files their applications will be rejected by grants.gov.

    Once the application package has been completed, the “Submit” button should be enabled.  If the “Submit” button is not active, please call Grants.gov for assistance at 1-800-518-4726.  Applicants who are outside the U.S. at the time of submittal and are not able to access the toll-free number may reach a Grants.gov representative by calling 606-545-5035.  Investigators should save the completed application package with two different file names before providing it to the AOR to avoid having to re-create the package should submission problems be experienced or a revised application needs to be submitted.  Note:  Revised applications must be submitted before the solicitation closing date and time.

  4. Submitting the application.  The application package must be transferred to Grants.gov by an AOR.  The AOR should close all other software before attempting to submit the application package.  Click the “submit” button of the application package. Your Internet browser will launch and a sign-in page will appear.  Note:  Minor problems are not uncommon with transfers to Grants.gov.  It is essential to allow sufficient time to ensure that your application is submitted to Grants.gov BEFORE 11:59:59 pm Eastern Time on the solicitation closing date.  The Grants.gov support desk operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, except Federal Holidays.

    A successful transfer will end with an on-screen acknowledgement.  For documentation purposes, print or screen capture this acknowledgement.  If a submission problem occurs, reboot the computer – turning the power off may be necessary – and re-attempt the submission. 

    Note:  Grants.gov issues a “case number” upon a request for assistance.

  5. Transmission Difficulties.  If transmission difficulties that result in a late transmission, no transmission, or rejection of the transmitted application are experienced, and following the above instructions do not resolve the problem so that the application is submitted to Grants.Gov by the deadline date and time, follow the guidance below.  The Agency will make a decision concerning each late submission on a case-by-case basis as to whether it should be forwarded for peer review.  All emails, as described below, are to be sent to Todd Peterson (peterson.todd@epa.gov) with the FON in the subject line.

    Please note that if the application you are submitting is greater than 70 MB in size, please call or send an email message to the Electronic Submissions Contact listed for this RFA.  The Agency may experience technical difficulty downloading files of this size from Grants.gov.  Therefore, it is important that the Agency verify that the file can be downloaded.  The Agency will provide alternate submission instructions if the file cannot be downloaded.

    1. If you are experiencing problems resulting in an inability to upload the application to Grants.gov, it is essential to call Grants.gov for assistance at 1-800-518-4726 before the application deadline. Applicants who are outside the U.S. at the time of submittal and are not able to access the toll-free number may reach a Grants.gov representative by calling 606-545-5035.  Be sure to obtain a case number from Grants.gov.
    2. Unsuccessful transfer of the application package: If a successful transfer of the application cannot be accomplished even with assistance from Grants.gov due to electronic submission issues, send an email message by 11:59:59 pm Eastern Time on the solicitation closing date. The email message must document the problem and include the Grants.gov case number as well as the entire application in PDF format as an attachment.
    3. Grants.gov rejection of the application package:  If a notification is received from Grants.gov stating that the application has been rejected for reasons other than late submittal, promptly send an email to Todd Peterson (peterson.todd@epa.gov) with the FON in the subject line within one business day of the closing date of this solicitation.  The email should include any materials provided by Grants.gov and attach the entire application in PDF format.

V. APPLICATION REVIEW INFORMATION

A. Peer Review
All eligible grant applications are reviewed by appropriate external technical peer reviewers   based on the criteria and process described below.  This review is designed to evaluate each application according to its scientific merit.  The individual external peer reviewers include non-EPA scientists, engineers, social scientists, and/or economists who are accomplished in their respective disciplines and proficient in the technical subjects they are reviewing.

Prior to the external technical peer review panel meeting, all reviewers will receive electronic copies of all applications, as well as a full set of abstracts for the applications. Each application will be assigned to a minimum of three primary peer reviewers, one of whom will be assigned the role of Rapporteur. Each reviewer will be assigned up to approximately 10 applications on which to serve as a primary reviewer. During the review period leading up to the panel meeting, primary reviewers will read the full set of abstracts and entire application package for each application they are assigned. They will also prepare a written individual evaluation for each assigned application that addresses the peer review criteria described below and rate the application with a score of excellent, very good, good, fair, or poor. 

At the beginning of the panel meeting, each primary reviewer will report their ratings for the applications they reviewed.  Those applications receiving at least two ratings of Very Good or one rating of Excellent from among the primary reviewers will then be further discussed by the panel in terms of the peer review criteria below.  In addition, if there is one Very Good rating among the primary reviewers of an application, the primary reviewer, whose initial rating is the Very Good, may request discussion of the application by the peer review panel.  All other applications will be declined for further consideration.

After the discussion of an application by the panel, the primary reviewers may revise their initial ratings and if they do so, this will also be documented. The final ratings of the primary reviewers will then be translated by EPA into the final peer review score (excellent, very good, good, fair, or poor) for the application. This is reflected in a peer review results document developed by the Rapporteur which combines the individual initial and final evaluations of the primary reviewers and captures any substantive comments from the panel discussion. This score will be used to determine which applications undergo the internal programmatic review discussed below.  A peer review results document is also developed for applications that are not discussed.  However, this document is a consolidation of the individual primary reviewer initial evaluations, with an average of the scores assigned by the primary reviewers.  

Peer reviewers consider an application’s merit based on the criteria below.  Criteria 1-7 are listed in descending order of importance:

  1. Research Proposal (criteria “1a” through “1h” are equal):
    1. The originality and creativity of the proposed research, the appropriateness and adequacy of the proposed research methods, and the Quality Assurance Statement.
    2. Practical and technically defensible approach that can be performed within the proposed time period.
    3. Research contributes to scientific knowledge in the topic area.
    4. The proposed research challenges and seeks to shift current research or engineering paradigms by using innovative theoretical concepts, approaches or methodologies, instrumentation or interventions applicable to one or more fields of research.
    5. Projected benefits of the proposed activity to society, such as improving the environment or human health.
    6. The proposed research embodies the principles of sustainability and seeks sustainable                   
    7. solutions that protect the environment and strengthen our communities.  The                                 
    8. sustainability primer (sustainability primer (PDF) (2 pp, 195 K))                 
    9. provides examples of research activities that promote and incorporate sustainability                      
    10. principles.
    11. The results are disseminated broadly to enhance scientific and technological understanding.
    12. Theproposal is well prepared with supportive information that is self-explanatory or understandable.
  2. Investigators: The qualifications of the Principal Investigator(s) and other key personnel, including research training, demonstrated knowledge of pertinent literature, experience, and publication records.  All key personnel must make a significant time commitment to the project.
  3. Community-Engaged Research (CEnR) Plan (criteria “3a” through “3g” are equal):
    1. Demonstration that the focus is on research issues of significance to a school/school district and/or community that is interested in the proposed work.
    2. Identifies the role(s) of community members in the research plan and justifies level of community engagement.
    3. Describes the ability of the research to enhance community capacity to engage in the research and scientific process.
    4. Describes how research findings will be disseminated to the identified community (ies), as well as the scientific community.
    5. Evaluates the applicant’s assessment of a host organization’s mission and practices concerning community partnerships (e.g., how the staff has or can develop skills to sustain effective community participation).  Note: Applicable if a host organization (any organization/institution other than the applicant’s) is used to facilitate community participation or partnerships.
    6. Describes community support and interaction.
    7. Describes past successful community partnership experiences and or describes any trainings or courses applicant(s) has taken on the topic of community engagement.
  4. Responsiveness: The responsiveness of the proposal to the research needs identified for the research area.  The proposal adequately addresses the objectives and special considerations specified by the RFA.
  5. Project management: The approach for ensuring successful achievement of project objectives is adequate and in accordance with the proposal's project schedule and milestones. The proposal adequately describes monitoring and measuring of progress toward achieving expected results (outputs and outcomes).  The approach, procedures, and controls for ensuring timely and efficient expenditure of awarded grant funds are well defined and acceptable.
  6. Facilities and equipment: The availability and/or adequacy of the facilities and equipment proposed for the project.  Note any deficiencies that may interfere with the successful completion of the research.
  7. Budget: Although budget information does not reflect on the application’s scientific merit, the reviewers are asked to provide their view on the appropriateness and/or adequacy of the proposed budget and its implications for the potential success of the proposed research.  Input on requested equipment is of particular interest.

B. Programmatic Review
Applications receiving final peer review scores of excellent or very good will then undergo an internal programmatic review, as described below, conducted by technical experts from the EPA, including individuals from the Office of Research and Development (ORD) and program and regional offices involved with the science or engineering proposed.  All other applications are automatically declined.

Those applicants who received final scores of excellent or very good as a result of the peer review process will be asked to provide additional information for the programmatic review pertaining to the proposed Lead PI’s (in the case of Multiple-PI applications, the Contact PI’s) "Past Performance and Reporting History."  The applicant must provide the EPA Project Officer with information on the proposed Lead/Contact PI's past performance and reporting history under prior Federal agency assistance agreements (assistance agreements include grants and cooperative agreements but not contracts) in terms of: (i) the level of success in managing and completing each agreement, and (ii) history of meeting the reporting requirements under each agreement.

This information is required only for the proposed Lead/Contact PI's performance under Federal assistance agreements initiated within the last three years that were similar in size and scope to the proposed project. 

The specific information required for each agreement is shown below, and must be provided within three weeks of EPA's request.  A maximum of three pages will be permitted for the response; excess pages will not be reviewed.  Note: If no prior past performance information and/or reporting history exists, you will be asked to so state.

  1. Name of Granting Agency.
  2. Grant/Cooperative agreement number.
  3. Grant/Cooperative agreement title.
  4. Brief description of the grant/cooperative agreement.
  5. A description of how the agreement is similar in size and scope to the proposed project and whether or not it was successfully managed and completed; if not successfully managed and completed, provide an explanation.
  6. Information relating to the proposed Lead/Contact PI's past performance in reporting on progress towards achieving the expected results (outputs/outcomes) under the agreement.  Include the history of submitting timely progress/final technical reports, describe how progress towards achieving the expected results was reported/documented, and if such progress was not being made, provide an explanation of whether, and how, this was reported. 
  7. Total (all years) grant/cooperative agreement dollar value.
  8. Project period.
  9. Technical contact (project officer), telephone number, and Email address (if available).

The purpose of the programmatic review is to ensure an integrated research portfolio for the Agency and help determine which applications to recommend for award.  In conducting the programmatic review, the EPA will consider information provided by the applicant and may consider information from other sources, including prior and current grantors and agency files.

The internal programmatic review panel will assess (relevance is more important than the Lead/Contact PI's past performance):

  1. The relevance of the proposed science to EPA research priorities.
  2. The proposed Lead/Contact PI's past performance under Federal agency assistance agreements (assistance agreements include grants and cooperative agreements but not contracts) initiated within the last three years that were similar in size and scope to the proposed project in two areas:  First, in successfully managing and completing these prior Federal assistance projects, including whether there is a satisfactory explanation for any lack of success.  Second, in reporting progress toward achieving results (outputs/outcomes) under these agreements, including the proposed Lead/Contact PI's history of submitting timely progress/final technical reports that adequately describe the progress toward achieving the expected results under the agreements.  Any explanation of why progress toward achieving the results was not made will also be considered.  Applicants whose proposed Lead PI/Contact PI has no relevant past performance and/or reporting history, or for whom this information is not available, will be evaluated neither favorably nor unfavorably on these elements.

C. Human Subjects Research Statement (HSRS) Review
Applications being considered for funding after the Programmatic Review that involve human subjects research studies will have their HSRS reviewed by EPA’s HSRRO prior to award.  The HSRRO will review the information provided in the HSRS and the Research Plan to determine if the ethical treatment of human subjects is described in a manner appropriate for conditional approval to be granted. 

D. Funding Decisions
Final funding decisions are made by the NCER Director based on the results of the peer review and the internal programmatic review and, where applicable, the EPA HSRRO’s assessment of the applicant’s HSRS (see Section IV.B.5.c).  In addition, in making the final funding decisions, the NCER Director may also consider program balance and available funds.  Applicants selected for funding will be required to provide additional information listed below under “Award Notices.” The application will then be forwarded to EPA’s Grants and Interagency Agreement Management Division for award in accordance with the EPA’s procedures.

VI. AWARD ADMINISTRATION INFORMATION

A. Award Notices
Customarily, applicants are notified about evaluation decisions within six months of the solicitation closing date.  A Peer Review Results document summarizing the scientific review will be provided to each applicant with an award or declination letter. 

Applicants to be recommended for funding will be required to submit additional certifications and an electronic version of the revised project abstract.  They may also be asked to provide responses to comments or suggestions offered by the peer reviewers and/or submit a revised budget.  EPA Project Officers will contact the Lead PI/Contact PI to obtain these materials.  Before or after an award, applicants may be required to provide additional quality assurance documentation.

The official notification of an award will be made by the Agency’s Grants and Interagency Agreement Management Division.  Applicants are cautioned that only a grants officer is authorized to bind the Government to the expenditure of funds; preliminary selection by the NCER Director in the Office of Research and Development does not guarantee an award will be made.  For example, statutory authorization, funding, or other issues discovered during the award process may affect the ability of EPA to make an award to an applicant.  The award notice, signed by an EPA grants officer, is the authorizing document and will be provided through electronic or postal mail.

B. Disputes
Disputes related to this assistance agreement competition will be resolved in accordance with the dispute resolution procedures set forth in 70 FR 3629, 3630 (January 26, 2005) which can be found at Dispute Resolution Procedures.  Questions regarding disputes may be referred to the Eligibility Contact identified below.

C. Administrative and National Policy Requirements
Additional provisions that apply to this solicitation and/or awards made under this solicitation, including but not limited to those related to DUNS, SAM, copyrights, disputes, and administrative capability, can be found at EPA Solicitation Clauses.

These, and the other provisions that can be found at the website link, are important, and applicants must review them when preparing applications for this solicitation.  If you are unable to access these provisions electronically at the website above, please communicate with the EPA contact listed in this solicitation to obtain the provisions.

Expectations and responsibilities of NCER grantees and cooperative agreement holders are summarized in this section, although the terms grant and grantee are used.  See Guidance & Frequent Questions for the full terms and conditions associated with an award, including which activities require prior approval from the EPA.

  1. Meetings: Principal Investigators will be expected to budget for, and participate in, All-Investigators Meetings (also known as progress reviews) approximately once per year with EPA scientists and other grantees to report on research activities and discuss issues of mutual interest. 
  2. Approval of Changes after Award: Prior written approval of changes may be required from EPA. Examples of these changes are contained in 40 C.F.R. 30.25.  Note: prior written approval is also required from the EPA Award Official for incurring costs more than 90 calendar days prior to award.
  3. Human Subjects: A grant applicant must agree to meet all EPA requirements for studies using human subjects prior to implementing any work with these subjects.  These requirements are given in 40 CFR Part 26.  Studies involving intentional exposure of human subjects who are children or pregnant or nursing women are prohibited by Subpart B of 40 CFR Part 26.  For observational studies involving children or pregnant women and fetuses please refer to Subparts C & D of 40 CFR Part 26.  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services regulations at 45 CFR Part 46.101(e) have long required "... compliance with pertinent Federal laws or regulations which provide additional protection for human subjects."  EPA’s regulation 40 CFR Part 26 is such a pertinent Federal regulation.  Therefore, the applicant's Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval must state that the applicant's study meets the EPA's regulations at 40 CFR Part 26.  No work involving human subjects, including recruiting, may be initiated before the EPA has received a copy of the applicant’s IRB approval of the project and the EPA has also provided approval.  Where human subjects are involved in the research, the recipient must provide evidence of subsequent IRB reviews, including amendments or minor changes of protocol, as part of annual reports. 

    Guidance and training for investigators conducting EPA-funded research involving human subjects may be obtained here: Ethics, Regulations, and Policies
    Human Subjects Research at the Environmental Protection Agency: Ethical Standards and Regulatory Requirements

  4. Data Access and Information Release:

    After award, all data first produced under the award must be made available to the NCER Project Officer without restriction and be accompanied by comprehensive metadata documentation adequate for specialists and non-specialists alike to be able to understand how and where the data were obtained and to evaluate the quality of the data.  If requested, the data products and their metadata must be provided to the NCER Project Officer in a standard exchange format no later than the due date of the grant's final report or the publication of the data product's associated results, whichever comes first.

    Congress, through OMB, has instructed each federal agency to implement Information Quality Guidelines designed to "provide policy and procedural guidance...for ensuring and maximizing the quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity of information, including statistical information, disseminated by Federal agencies." The EPA's implementation may be found at EPA Information Quality Guidelines (EPA IQG).  These procedures may apply to data generated by grant recipients if those data are disseminated as described in the Guidelines.

  5. Reporting:  A grant recipient must agree to provide annual progress reports, with associated summaries, and a final report with an executive summary.  The summaries will be posted on NCER’s website.

    A grant recipient must agree to provide copies of any peer reviewed journal article(s) resulting from the research during the project period.  In addition, the recipient should notify the NCER Project Officer of any papers published after completion of the grant that were based on research supported by the grant.  NCER posts references to all publications resulting from a grant on the NCER web site.

  6. Acknowledgement of EPA Support: EPA’s full or partial support must be acknowledged in journal articles, oral or poster presentations, news releases, interviews with reporters and other communications.  Any documents developed under this agreement that are intended for distribution to the public or inclusion in a scientific, technical, or other journal shall include the following statement or another as specified by NCER’s project officer:

    This publication [article] was developed under Assistance Agreement No.________ awarded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to [name of recipient].  It has not been formally reviewed by EPA.  The views expressed in this document are solely those of [name of recipient or names of authors] and do not necessarily reflect those of the Agency.  EPA does not endorse any products or commercial services mentioned in this publication.

A graphic that may be converted to a slide or used in other ways, such as on a poster, is located at Guidance & Frequent Questions.  EPA expects recipients to use this graphic in oral and poster presentations.

VII. AGENCY CONTACTS

Further information, if needed, may be obtained from the EPA contacts indicated below. Information regarding this RFA obtained from sources other than these Agency Contacts may not be accurate. Email inquiries are preferred.

Eligibility Contact: Ron Josephson (josephson.ron@epa.gov); phone: 703-308-0442
Electronic Submissions: Todd Peterson (peterson.todd@epa.gov); phone: 703-308-7224
Technical Contact: Devon C. Payne-Sturges (payne-sturges.devon@epa.gov); phone: 703-347-8055

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