Understanding the options for DoD funding and how to best qualify.
When seeking funding from the DoD, you first need to understand the options for DoD funding. An unofficial tagline for DoD funders is, “It shouldn’t be this hard to give away money.” This article will help with understanding the options for DoD funding and also the techniques in which to best qualify. Understanding your options beyond the typical SBIR is important because it will increase your options related to the availability of funding.
🔬Read: What are SBIR/STTR Grants? to learn more about non-dilutive funding through the federal government.
The DoD uses a graphic and guide to determine a certain product’s acquisition life cycle. The photo below is an example of one type, but there have been many variations (including one for pharmaceuticals, medical devices, etc). There are different stages of technology development that the DoD looks to move through. In doing so, they can address an unmet need, or Requirement, within the military.
This article will not be highlighting the manufacturing or deployment, but instead on funding within the development phase.
This article will also highlight the differences between different types of Funding Solicitations and Funding Mechanisms, each of which have their own pros and cons. For each, there are different regulations and rules that will affect how and when you can use your grant money.
Mechanisms are the way in which you are given the money. The type of mechanism will be dependent on the type of solicitations (more on that later).
An Assistance Agreement is most similar to a grant. An Assistance Agreement is put out by the DoD to fulfill a specific government need priority. In many cases, the government will not know an exact solution, but are instead looking for researchers to come up with their own unique ideas for the research priority. An Assistance Agreement gives the principal investigator (PI) more freedom, as they are left to come up with ideas and research solutions without substantial involvement from the DoD. Because of the nature of these unknowns, the DoD does not expect perfect results each time they give money for an Assistance Agreement. This is why they are called "Best Effort" grants. In other words, the funding is not contingent upon getting a certain outcome from your research.
Assistance Agreements at the DoD are governed by the DoD Grant and Agreement Regulations (DoDGAR), and not the Federal Acquisitions Regulations (FAR). You can find these agreements on grants.gov.
Cooperative Agreements are very similar to Assistance Agreements. They are both grants and stem from specific research priorities set forth by the DoD. The main difference is that in Cooperative Agreements, the researcher will have substantial involvement from the DoD. This means that you are not doing this independently. Rather, you are working closely with staff at the DoD and continually seeking their input. But, Cooperative Agreements also carry the same "Best Effort" rule as above and can be found at grants.gov.
Contracts are more specific on what the government needs and what they expect to get in return. It is less of a "Best Effort" structure, and could have a broad range of ways in which they agree to give you the money. This could mean that your payment is dependent on your work, such as a cost reimbursement. This also means that if you exceed budget, you may be responsible for the extra costs. The DoD can also ask for different deliverables during contract negotiations. A specific type of deliverable is called a Contract Data Requirements List (CDRL), an assurance that you will send them some type of data at the end of the reward.
In terms of regulation, contracts are governed by the FAR as opposed to the DoDGAR. You can find contract listings on SAM.gov as well as grants.gov.
Military Interdepartmental Purchase Requests (MIPRs) are another type of award mechanism. This is a type of agreement between governmental agencies, usually originating from the DoD. This is relevant if you want a part of your award subcontracted to another federal laboratory or institute. In most cases, the DoD staff will understand and employ this mechanism only if needed.
CRADA (Cooperative and Development Agreements) is not actually a funding mechanism, but another way to share and cooperate between federal laboratories. Investigators can share research using these agreements easily. An example of a use of CRADA is applying for use of a certain piece of equipment that is only in a federal lab, or otherwise inaccessible to you. But with this mechanism, no funds from the government will go to a non-federal organization - meaning you will not be paid for this, but you might have to compensate the federal laboratory for using their equipment.
This category describes ways in which the government will give out money other than a contract, grant, or agreement. This process is typically faster than the other mechanisms mentioned above. It is specifically intended for speed in prototyping, research, or production. The ‘Other’ category is not governed by FAR, but is mainly preferred for non-traditional contractors. This could be businesses or researchers that haven’t done many projects with the DoD already.
Funding solicitations are similar to announcements. They notify the public of what types of innovation the DoD is looking to fund at the moment. They can be very specific or very broad. Below are the different types.
The Program Announcement (PA) is similar to a National Institutes of Health (NIH) Funding Opportunity Announcement. A PA will lead to an Assistance Agreement or a Cooperative Agreement; in other words, a type of grant. PAs can be put out for military-focused or public-purpose research. PAs can be put out by the government before they are exactly sure what they want, the DoD just has an idea at this point. For that reason, these projects are focused mainly in the early stages of research. The PA will also have defined budgets and timelines, so researchers can see what they will be receiving before applying. When preparing an application for a PA, a researcher should tailor their proposal to each specific budget and timeline. PAs will be found on grants.gov.
A Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) can lead to either type of agreement, or a contract. BAAs have very broad topic areas and are looking for the investigators to suggest the specific research topic themselves. In contrast with PAs, BAAs do not have a defined budget or timeline. The investigator is responsible for submitting whatever budget and timeline they deem appropriate. Because of this, there is less of a definitive end or beginning for a BAA. Instead, the DoD will notify you if there is money or if there is not. This could be frustrating to be approved, but not be able to receive the grant/contract because of lack of funds. But, the DoD could contact you later with an offer for funding when they have more money available. As mentioned previously, a BAA can result in a grant or a contract. This means that it is up to the DoD staff to decide whether they would like to fund using a contract or a grant for each project. BAAs are typically posted on grants.gov; there you will also find whether it is an assistance agreement, cooperative agreement, or contract.
A Request for Proposals (RFP) is a solicitation type that will become a contract. Because RFPs are always contracts, they will be governed by the FAR. The RFP will typically be later in the acquisitions life cycle, and will therefore be looking for more specific outcomes. Because the DoD office is looking for a specific outcome, there is less creativity, research, and planning. An RFP will usually lead to a prototype or a physical deliverable. RFPs and the FAR also have more strict rules on communication during the application period. For example, any advice given to one applicant must be accessible to all applicants. RFPs can be found with other contracts on FedBizOpps.
At the DoD, Small Business Innovative Research awards (SBIRs) will typically lead to contracts. This is different from the NIH and NSF process, which will lead to grants.
As the name suggests, SBIRs are reserved for small businesses across the country. Review criteria are set by the Small Business Administration (SBA) as opposed to the DoD itself. Because of this, some agencies at the DoD do not like SBIRs because they surrender control of a majority of the funding process to the SBA.
🔬Read: Introduction to the SBIR Program to learn more about the SBIR program and its structure.
Despite this, SBIRs at the DoD can be very beneficial for a small business. One benefit being that there are rules and precedent to give you preference for collaborating in the future. If you are awarded a contract for the first round of development, it could be easier for you to win the next round of development on the same technology. This allows the DoD to skip the competitive process involved with SBIR awards and use Sole Source Justification. This allows you the data rights to your research for the next round.
The Other Transaction Authority (OTA) leads to the ‘Other Transaction’ mechanism. OTAs are intended mainly for research, prototypes, or production and are agreements other than contracts, grants, or cooperative agreements. As mentioned above, OTAs need to go to a non-traditional contractor or a small business. An advantage of an OTA is that it is not governed by the FAR, so it can move a lot faster and has less defined rules. For this reason, OTAs have increased in popularity over the past couple of years; funding went from $1.4 billion in 2016 to $3.7 billion in 2018.
Below are some resources that you can use to research which type of grant is best for you.
Many of these are multi-page documents that can be hard to read all at once, but are great for referencing.
Q: What is a risk analysis matrix?
A: A risk matrix is a visual chart that represents your research’s risk analysis. You can find more about it here on the Defense Acquisitions University (DAU) website.
Q: If you are a spin-out originating from an academic university, what party should drive the application process for a grant/contract?
A: It depends what you are applying to, but in most cases the university will receive the funds. It might be a case-by-case basis in many situations.
Q: If you are a manufacturing service or engineering service, can you get involved in a grant?
A: You may be able to as a subcontractor. Each solicitation will have specific rules to refer to.
Q: What is the difference between the CDMRP and the PRMRP?
A: The CDMRP is the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program, the PRMRP is the Peer Reviewed Medical Research Program. The PRMRP is a portfolio within the CDMRP.
Q: Is there a resource for previously successful CDMRP applications?
A: You can check out the CDMRP website.
Q: Are there advantages for veteran owned businesses?
A: There could be. When filling out applications, many times there will be options for minority-owned, women-owned, and veteran-owned businesses. Reviewers can take this into account, but it may not change your score.
Q: I already have a prototype that is fully functioning. What are my next steps?
A: It depends if you want to do research or if you want to only license it. The techniques and mechanisms above are mainly for research.
Q: Do CDMRP review panels have a patient advocate?
A: Yes, the CDMRP uses a patient or consumer advocate on most or all of their review panels.
Q: How do funding lines differ between PAs, BAAs, or SBIRs?
A: This will completely depend on each case. Each solicitation will have a different topic and could lead to more or less funding. BAAs don’t have set budget limits, so you will need to set the budget yourself.
Q: Where can you find a point of contact to propose funding for a research project that does not already have a solicitation?
A: If you are looking for research funding, you can look for portfolio managers at different DoD agencies and contact them directly. They are the ones that most often interact with scientists.
This content comes from a University Lab Partners webinar hosted in partnership with ScienceDocs, presented by Dr. Carly Kiselycznyk.
This article comes as a follow-up to the Department of Defense’s (DoD) perspective when choosing to fund new projects.
Dr. Kiselycznyk is a SBIR Consultant at ScienceDocs. She has written and negotiated funding opportunities for medical research and development as a DoD grant writer. She also was a point of contact for research scientists trying to navigate the priorities and regulations of DoD leadership
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