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Transcript: NIJ FY24 Violent Extremism Center of Excellence Solicitation Webinar

Deadline Notice

The deadline for the opportunity discussed in this webinar has passed.

On December 11, 2023, NIJ held a  webinar to provide information about the "NIJ FY 24 Domestic Radicalization and Violent Extremism Center of Excellence" solicitation, in which NIJ seeks proposals to establish a Center of Excellence for research and evaluation on the domestic radicalization to violent extremism phenomenon. 


STACY LEE: Good morning, and thanks for joining us for the National Institute of Justice Fiscal Year 2024 Domestic Radicalization and Violent Extremism Center of Excellence Solicitation Webinar. At this time, it's my pleasure to introduce Dr. Monica Mean, Director of the Office on Violence and Victimization Prevention at the National Institute of Justice.

DR. MONICA MEAN: Thank you so much, Stacy. Hello, everyone, and welcome to the webinar discussing the National Institute of Justice's Domestic Radicalization and Violent Extremism Research Center of Excellence solicitation. My name is Monica Mean and I'm the Director for the Office of Violence and Victimization Prevention here at NIJ. I am joined by Aisha Qureshi from my office who has done a remarkable job with the planning and execution and drafting of this solicitation. NIJ is truly excited to develop this Center of Excellence, which will conduct research and evaluation on the domestic radicalization to violent extremism phenomenon and add to the many years of NIJ-funded research in this space. We hope that this Center of Excellence will not only contribute new and pertinent knowledge that will advance evidence-based strategies for effective intervention and prevention, but also help translate and disseminate that knowledge to relevant stakeholders and support training, education and professional development of practitioners engaged in this work. We look forward to discussing the solicitation and answering your questions. Without further ado, it is my pleasure to introduce Dr. Nancy La Vigne, Director of the National Institute of Justice, who will help kick us off today.

DR. NANCY LA VIGNE: Thank you, Monica, and greetings everybody. I'll be brief. I just want to share a bit about my support for this solicitation and a little bit about its history for those of you who may not know it. Since 2012, NIJ, through a congressional mandate, has supported research on the pathways from domestic radicalization to violent extremism. We’ve made ample investments in this area, but this year, we decided to try something a little bit different. We want to continue to support research on this topic, but we want to do it at what we're calling a Center of Excellence while also having that center do more to support the research community in engaging in this research and putting a greater emphasis on what I call evidence to action. So, it's not just generating new knowledge, but it's making sure that the knowledge actually leads to changes on the ground that can prevent domestic radicalization and violent extremism. 

This solicitation is seeking a center for excellence that will have several core functions. You'll hear about that more later. Aisha will share that in detail, but just in broad brushstrokes, the center will assess the research needs of the field and then conduct research that meets those needs or to give subawards to partners to conduct that research. The focus is on rigorous research and evaluation. We're particularly interested in demonstration programs that might enable us to test out different methods and see whether they're effective in prevention and intervention activities. 

Another important component of this center is to focus on translating the research findings that are generated through the research or the subawards to ensure that the findings are accessible and reach the people who need to know about them. And, of course, to support changes on the ground as well as to support training, educational, and professional development of practitioners who are engaged in extremism prevention and intervention using a whole suite of evidence-based practices drawing from research that we already have in hand as well new research that gets funded through this program. 

It's my hope that this center will establish an active and ongoing relationship with the field. By “the field” I mean not just the field of researchers, but the field of practitioners who are trying their best to identify people who might be on a pathway of domestic radicalization and ultimately to mitigate efforts at violent extremism or prevent them outright. We are very much looking forward to getting winning proposals from this. It will be a cooperative agreement, which is a little bit different from a grant and that it's more of a partnership with NIJ. There's a little bit more flexibility meaning that as the winning grantee and NIJ see changes in the field, we can adapt accordingly. 

I'm very hopeful that whatever winning proposal is selected will keep in mind a lot of the priorities that NIJ has been digging deep into over the last 18 months or so since my arrival as Director. Those include conducting research through what I call an inclusive research approach. So, making sure that the research engages and involves people closest to the issue or in the problem under study... that it looks at issues around race and ethnicity and it's mindful of biases that are often baked into both the system and our data and research methodologies that promote or encourage multidisciplinary research teams. We find that operating in silos academically is not as valuable as when we can see partnerships across various disciplines. And that applies to every topic including this one. We also want to support strong field partnerships, like research practitioner partnerships, and the diversity of perspectives for this important work. 

I just want to acknowledge and honor Aisha Qureshi. She's been leading this portfolio and has done a fantastic job with it. I believe I'll be turning it back to her now. Thank you.

AISHA QURESHI: Thank you so much, Nancy. We really appreciate you taking the time to welcome everyone and to ground the solicitation in the overall work of the Institute. I really appreciate it. And I'd like to also thank everyone for joining today's webinar. As Nancy and Monica said, my name is Aisha Qureshi, and I am one of the Social Science Analysts here at NIJ working on the Domestic Radicalization and Violent Extremism Research Portfolio. 

For those of you who may not be familiar with NIJ, I just want to provide a brief overview of who we are and how we're structured. The National Institute of Justice, or NIJ, is the research, development and evaluation agency of the U.S. Department of Justice. Our goal is basically to enhance knowledge of crime and justice through science. This particular solicitation was posted on November 30 and will close on February 29, 2024. It should be noted that this year's Grants.gov deadline is February 15th. We'll go over what all of that means in just a few minutes. 

The purpose of today's webinar is to go over the Fiscal Year 2024 Domestic Radicalization and Violent Extremism Center of Excellence solicitation, the application and review processes and also some specifics about the solicitation and some frequently asked questions. Additionally, we'll highlight several new topical additions to the solicitation, funding for the research program and very important tips for ensuring application responsiveness to the solicitation. 

As many of you know, NIJ has been making awards through the solicitation for 12 continuous years now as Nancy mentioned. In its FY 2012 appropriation, Congress first provided NIJ funds for research targeted towards developing a better understanding of the domestic radicalization phenomenon and advancing evidence-based strategies for effective intervention and prevention. And every year since then, NIJ has received dedicated funding to carry out this mission. The goal of this new  Domestic Radicalization and Violent Extremism Research Portfolio was to answer a couple of core questions in the first five years. Those were, “What are the primary drivers of radicalization to violent extremism? How is radicalization to violent extremism analogous to other forms of extreme violence?” and “What policy choices or programmatic interventions prevent or reduce radicalization to violent extremism, induce disengagement, and support the deradicalization and desistance from violence extremism?” 

The program aimed to answer these questions for the benefit of multiple stakeholders but considered criminal justice agencies and their community partners as the primary beneficiaries. Since 2012, NIJ has funded over 50 projects totaling close to $40 million now through this annual solicitation. Many of the awards funded through these solicitations have helped answer or at least shed light on some of these research questions that I just mentioned. But as the field of terrorism and radicalization studies has evolved, in addition to the changing nature of the violent extremist threat in the U.S., NIJ has started funding awards that may help explain some of the more nuanced challenges faced by practitioners and policymakers. 

Broadly, our solicitation sought applications for funding for research and evaluation projects that would address the knowledge gaps related to preventing radicalization to violent extremism with clear implications for criminal justice policy and practice in the U.S. With the last solicitation in FY 23 for example, NIJ sought proposals for rigorous research and evaluation focused on four topic areas. And that included research to inform terrorism prevention efforts, research on the role of communications and radicalization, research on the reintegration of individuals convicted of terrorism-related offenses into the community, and evaluations of programs and practices to prevent terrorism. We awarded five projects under the solicitation related to these topics. 

Now let's get into the specifics of this solicitation. So what's the purpose? Why have we released the solicitation in an off-cycle? And why did we turn to a Center of Excellence or a COE instead of competing our annual solicitation for research and evaluation projects, once again, since we've been doing it for so many years? Nancy kind of touched on this already, but you'll note that while the solicitation includes elements of our conventional research from the previous solicitations, proposals for the COE will be encouraged to go beyond what was previously solicited. Namely, in addition to conducting and supporting research and evaluation, as we have been, we're looking for a COE to assess the research needs of the field. That's through enhanced information sharing and recurring convenings with multiple stakeholders. We're looking for the COE to translate and disseminate knowledge, which of course includes developing suites of best practice tools and guidelines for immediate reference by practitioners and by providing opportunities for training, education, and professional development for prevention and intervention practitioners. 

We expect applicants to this NIJ COE to apply a justice lens to their proposals. So in other words, applicants to NIJ's COE solicitation will be encouraged to highlight how the proposed effort supports the furtherance of criminal justice practice, policy, and research. So our purpose for releasing the solicitation is to not only continue supporting the types of more conventional research and evaluation projects that we've been supporting for the last 12 years, but to take it a step further than that and create this kind of iterative feedback loop of the needs of the field, ensuring that research is being funded to meet those needs, that the research is being translated and put into the hands of practitioners, and that those practitioners are receiving the training or the professional development needed to be responsive to that research and implement it to the best of their abilities. 

We really want to build and enhance this research and feedback loop infrastructure. We want to encourage interdisciplinary and researcher practitioner collaborations and long-term partnerships, and to establish a proficient and diverse workforce that's well-resourced and trained to develop, implement, or expand active research programs. 

We also anticipate that the center will provide national scale, high-quality training to increase researcher practitioner productivity. Therefore, under the solicitation, we have dedicated $7 million to a Center of Excellence, which will be funded as a cooperative agreement, as Nancy said, for no more than five years. This work would begin on July 1 of 2024 [On January 18, 2024, NIJ changed this date to January 1, 2025]. While NIJ may provide additional funding in future years, it's not guaranteed as it depends on many factors like congressional appropriations and NIJ priorities. 

I'm going to go over a little bit more about this solicitation in particular. It has four core functions which we expect the awardee to carry out after the award has been made. The first is to conduct and support research and evaluation. So, the COE will conduct or solicit through an open and competitive request for proposals for research on various topics as they relate to radicalization and violent extremism, including, but not limited to the four topic areas of interest that we outlined in our last year's solicitation, which were, again, to conduct research to inform terrorism prevention efforts, the role of communications and radicalization, the reintegration of individuals incarcerated for terrorism-related charges, and evaluations of programs and practices to prevent terrorism. But we also added a fifth category here, which is investigator-initiated research into domestic radicalization and violent extremism with the hopes of expanding and being more inclusive to research topics through the COE. 

Of course, all of the important considerations that we had highlighted in our previous solicitations still stand. Things like protecting civil rights and liberties, not supporting research that solely examines the conventional political views of individuals or groups, including their participation in nonviolent forms of political activism and a whole host of other human subjects and privacy protections as outlined in the solicitation. 

The second core function tasks the COE to assess the research needs of the field. So under this core function, we're encouraging communication and information sharing through things like standalone or periodically recurring convenings with multiple stakeholders, as mentioned in the solicitation, to share findings and improve research rigor. So things like program status meetings or workshops of current and former NIJ award recipients of the domestic radicalization and violent extremism research portfolio. This is to share findings and actionable next steps to ensure that NIJ's investments are adding to the overall evidence base, but also so that everyone, practitioners, researchers, the relevant government entities at all levels of government are being kept abreast of this work on an ongoing and recurring basis. We also want the COE to use these opportunities to keep abreast of the needs of the field, practitioners in particular, so that we can ensure that any other research steps that we take are in line with these needs. 

The third core function emphasizes translation and dissemination. Specifically, we're asking that the COE translate knowledge for practice purposes and promote this information through targeted dissemination efforts. Some of the activities under this core function may include things like periodic literature reviews or synthesis exercises of both NIJ and non-NIJ-funded research. The expectation is for the COE to develop and disseminate a suite of best practice tools and guidelines for immediate reference by practitioners. And the tools will describe research findings in accessible and actionable ways. This translation and dissemination should remain a continuous activity within the COE and the awardee should be proactive in disseminating the information to a multitude of audiences through a variety of platforms or mechanisms. 

Lastly, the fourth core function will provide opportunities for training, education, and professional development for practitioners working in the field of extremism prevention and intervention that will be based in part on the suite of best practice tools and guidelines that are developed under Core Function 3 that we just discussed. So the goal is for graduates of these opportunities to use the knowledge and tools learned to engage in or promote their own research endeavors in their local communities because we know that the insights gained from research that is conducted by individuals with direct experience in the field are incredibly rich. Again, we expect the COE to carry out this task through regular engagements in the form of symposia and workshops among others.

Just a few other considerations about these core functions, I think the first is that, of course, this solicitation is focused on establishing a research Center of Excellence. So we don't expect that everything will be in place before the award is made, but we do, however, encourage applicants to, as much as possible, utilize existing infrastructure to carry out these tasks. That might mean that you form a partnership through a subaward or you utilize expert advice through a consultant, et cetera. We don't expect one entity, so the applicant, to carry out all of the work described. In fact, applicants who don't propose to subcontract with anyone in these capacities won't be considered for funding. 

And lastly, we're looking for a diversity of perspectives, as Nancy mentioned. We want to promote greater inclusivity in extremism research and allow opportunities for applicants of all backgrounds to be more closely involved with extremism research. 

What are we expecting in terms of deliverables if your application is awarded funding? So besides the standard grant reporting requirements like semi-annual research, performance progress, and quarterly financial reports, there are three key deliverables under the solicitation, and those include a final research report. So any recipient of an award under the solicitation and under the COE, especially as it relates to Core Function 1 will be expected to submit a final research report. Additional information on the final research report requirements for the solicitation is posted on NIJ's webpage. 

Secondly, any datasets and associated files and documentation as applicable. So any recipient of an award under the COE will be expected to submit to the National Archive of Criminal Justice Data, NACJD, all datasets that result in whole or in part from the work funded by the award, along with associated files and any documentation necessary for future efforts by others to reproduce the project's findings or to extend the scientific value of the data through the secondary analysis. 

And lastly, scholarly products, so in addition to these deliverables and the required reports and data on performance measures, NIJ expects scholarly products to result from each award under the solicitation and COE, taking the form of one or more published peer-reviewed scientific journal articles or other appropriate products listed in the solicitation. NIJ expects that there will be an equal effort to make the research findings accessible to practitioner and policymaker audiences. 

In this section, I'd like to go over some important reminders and some new updates about how to submit applications. Like previous years, there are certain elements of the application that have to be received in order for your application to be considered. So if even one of these is missing, your application will not move on to the review process. The following application elements must be included in the application submission for an application to meet the Basic Minimum Requirements, or BMR, to advance to peer-review and receive consideration for funding. These are the proposal narrative, the budget worksheet and budget narrative, which is now a web-based forum, and CVs and resumes for key personnel. Key personnel meaning the principal investigator and any and all co-principal investigators and key project staff. Additionally, every applicant is required to fill out a SF-424 application for federal assistance and SF-LLL or disclosure of lobbying activities form. Without which, the application cannot be completed. 

Of course there are still requirements that need to accompany the application for full consideration. These include things like the project abstract, goals, objectives, deliverables and timelines, relevant letters of support, any bibliographies or references and tools, instruments, charts, graphs, et cetera, and many others that may or may not apply to your solicitation. The application checklist can be found on pages 18 to 25 of the solicitation. We ask that you please carefully review the checklist when preparing your application and prior to submission. 

This is a really important part of this presentation, especially if you've applied for a solicitation in the past under a different system. In the last few years, NIJ has transitioned to a new grants management and application submission system called JustGrants. Because of this, applications are submitted in a new two-step process each with its own deadline. First, you'll need to submit an SF-424 and SF-LLL in Grants.gov. The deadline to submit these two forms is February 15, 2024. Next, you'll have to submit the full application, including all applicable attachments in JustGrants by February 29 2024. This is specified in the solicitation, but I'd also like to make sure it's emphasized here. So the solicitation's closing on February 29, that's when the complete application package has to be submitted. However, it should be noted that the Grants.gov deadline is February 15. The two forms, the SF-424 and the SF-LLL, must be submitted by February 15 when you register in Grants.gov. And it's only if this step is completed can an applicant apply in JustGrants with the full application package by February 29. If an applicant fails to submit in Grants.gov, they'll be unable to apply in JustGrants. So we highly encourage applicants to submit their Grants.gov materials at least 72 hours before the Grants.gov deadline on February 15. This way, if you run into any technical issues, you can contact the Grants.gov customer support hotline or email address. The hotline operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, except on federal holidays. Processing delays up to several weeks can sometimes occur when registering, that's why we strongly encourage applicants to register several weeks before the application submission deadline for Grants.gov, even if you're not ready to submit your application yet, or you're just thinking about applying, please register early. 

Additionally, for when you're submitting your applications, we are urging all applications to submit at least 72 hours prior to the application due date to allow time for the applicant to receive a validation message or a rejection notification from Grants.gov. And this way, you'll be able to correct in a timely fashion any problems that may have caused a rejection notification. 

And lastly, to make things easier for processing, please be sure to label your documents and attachments appropriately. So, if you're submitting the program narrative, please make sure the words “program narrative” are in your document title. If you don't submit your forms in Grants.gov by these deadlines, the rest of your application in JustGrants will not be accepted. So please be sure to carefully read the “How to Apply” section in the OJP Grant Application Resource Guide referenced in the solicitation. 

Over the years, applicants have sometimes experienced difficulties submitting applications, so I'd like to touch on a few points regarding these difficulties and how they can be prevented to ensure successful and timely submission. The first issue that we've seen more than once here at NIJ is applicants, whether they are universities or otherwise, utilize third-party software to submit their applications. In essence, the applicant has submitted all of their required paperwork to the third-party software program well before the deadline and has left it up to the third-party software to then submit all of that paperwork correctly and in time to the NIJ application submission system. However, there have been instances where third-party software has failed to properly submit the application into Grants.gov or JustGrants. This has resulted in NIJ not receiving parts or all of the required application, deeming their application incomplete and therefore failing the basic minimum requirements threshold. These applications cannot move on to the peer review process. This is a really unfortunate, very sad situation, and we can't control how applicants submit their applications or what software programs to use, but we'd really like to underscore the importance of submitting your application as early as you can and also going back into Grants.gov and JustGrants systems to ensure that your full application, all of the documentation, has in fact been submitted. 

Another question that we often get is if applicants can submit a letter of support from an agency or organization relative to their project after the application deadline. The answer to this question is no. All letters of support must be secured from the appropriate parties and attached to the application before the deadline. 

Lastly, we often get questions about whether NIJ can grant extensions to the deadline or exceptions to specific applicants based on various circumstances. This is also something that NIJ cannot do. Unless it can be proven that there was a technical glitch with the NIJ system or software while the applicant was submitting an application, NIJ cannot grant any extensions or exceptions to the deadline. Because this is a competitive solicitation, allowing certain applicants to submit a late application is unfair to the applicants that submit their applications in full and on time. 

In order to prevent some of these issues that we just discussed from arising, applicants are also strongly encouraged to contact NCJRS, Grants.gov, or JustGrants support. We've listed the full numbers and email addresses here. These can also be found in the solicitation itself. 

Let's talk a little bit about what happens after the application is submitted. So once the solicitation is closed, all applications are screened for Basic Minimum Requirements or BMR. During the BMR process, we assess the application to make sure that it's responsive to the solicitation, so you're proposing establishing a Center of Excellence for example, and if it is being submitted by an eligible application and a list of eligible applicants is available in the solicitation as well. During BMR, we also check to make sure that the application includes the critical elements. Those being, again, the program narrative, the budget detail worksheet and budget narrative, and CVs and resumes of all key personnel. As a reminder, there are other attachments that should be included with an application, such as, again, the SF-424, SF-LLL forms, and any human subjects and privacy documentation which is required for all projects whether human subjects are involved or not. Failure to include these items, among others, as they're applicable to your application, may result in a less favorable review or a delay in releasing funds if you are awarded. 

Once your application passes BMR, it moves on to the external peer review process. The external peer review panels are made up of researchers and practitioners in the field relevant to the solicitation. They score the applications and discuss them, providing NIJ with both the merits and concerns of the proposed research. External peer reviewers use the following criteria to assess each application. So statement of the problem at 15%. Kind of understanding the problem, the research questions, and awareness of the state of the current research. Project design and implementation at 45%. So quality and technical merit, feasibility of project, soundness of methods, and awareness of potential pitfalls and how to mitigate them. Potential impact at 20%. So the ability of the project to contribute a significant scientific or technical advancement to the field. This includes the dissemination plan. Capabilities and competencies at 15%. So demonstrated productivity and experience of the applicant organization and proposed project staff, relationship between the capabilities and competencies of the proposed project staff, and the scope and strategies of the project. And, of course, the budget, which is self-explanatory, at 5%. 

NIJ then uses these scores and comments to conduct its own internal review of the applications. The internal review comprises a team of science staff and leadership at NIJ, in addition to any other relevant experts who may be able to weigh in on the merits of the application, like federal government partners, for example. After reviewing the applications themselves and taking into consideration the scores and comments provided by the external peer review panels, as well as the budget, NIJ science staff then make funding recommendations to present to the NIJ Director. The NIJ Director then decides which applications will be awarded funding. And it should be noted that all final funding decisions are made at the discretion of the NIJ Director. 

Overall, I think one of the key takeaways from critiques raised in the past is that reviewers and NIJ want to see research projects that are well-written, feasible, impactful, timely, and innovative, and clear. So projects should have an understanding of what the current extremist threat is, the existing literature, and the work that NIJ has already funded. The application itself should be easy to read and explicit, so there shouldn't be any mystery around what is being proposed or how it will be achieved. The design and strategy to execute the task should be backed with demonstrated relationships or letters of support that will make it attainable. Secondary mitigation plans should be in place and articulated. The application should also articulate the extent and importance of the COE's impact on and advancement of the field. 

What will not be funded? Applications that are not responsive to this specific solicitation will not be funded. Applications whose primary purpose is to just purchase equipment or materials or supplies. A budget may include these items if they're necessary to conduct the research development, demonstration, or evaluation or analysis projects, but not solely just to purchase equipment, material, or supplies. Applications whose work is funded under another federal award or have ongoing work or similar projects will not be funded. Training and supportive programs or direct services unrelated to or associated with the proposed project will not be funded. Programs or services unrelated to the scope of the project or existing programs or services being evaluated will not be funded. Privacy and anonymized data are also big concerns that we want to emphasize. So NIJ will not be funding applications that do not include an explicit plan to anonymize data and personally identifiable information, applications that employ deceptive or non-privatized data collection practices, and applications that provide identifiable research data to law enforcement or to investigative agencies. 

To reiterate here, NIJ will not fund research, under Core Function Number 1 of this solicitation, that solely examines the conventional political views of individuals or groups, including their participation in non-violent forms of political activism. NIJ has serious concerns with intentionally exposing research participants to extremist materials and propaganda. NIJ will not award funding to applications that introduce, expose, or disseminate extremist materials and propaganda to study participants. As always, please see the solicitation for more information on what will not be funded. 

Additionally, there are several issues that have come to NIJ's attention related specifically to the domestic radicalization and terrorism research portfolio as seen in applications and existing awards that need to be addressed and can really impact the success or failure of the project. The first is letters of support. So letters of support should demonstrate how the partnering organizations will be able to help the applicants achieve their goals. Without these critical letters, applicants are unable to fully demonstrate how they will attain and maintain the sufficient relationships needed to execute this task. Another one is, again, about politics and extremism. Lately, especially as the terrorist threat landscape has changed in the U.S., we've received many applications that conflate political views with extremist views. Although applicants may propose projects focused on one or more particular form of grievance or ideology, NIJ's purpose is to build knowledge about terrorism and radicalization regardless of specific grievance or ideology. So applicants should include clearly-stated definitions of key terms and concepts of the radicalization and terrorism-related phenomena that they are proposing to study. It should be noted that NIJ will not fund research that solely examines, again, the conventional political views of individuals or groups, including their participation in non-violent forms of political activism. 

Exposing participants to extremist recruitment material. So NIJ recognizes that extremists’ use of online platforms can be a vital mechanism for communication and recruitment to radicalization, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and afterward. While applicants may propose research to understand, prevent receptiveness, or to build resistance to extremist recruitment material in both the on and offline spaces, NIJ has serious concerns with intentionally exposing research participants to extremist materials and propaganda. NIJ will not award funding to the applications that come in under Core Function Number 1 or any function for that matter that introduce, expose, or disseminate extremist materials and propaganda to study participants. 

Some of the most frequently asked questions we receive for this solicitation stem from kind of the award amounts and periods of performance. Under this solicitation, we'll be awarding up to $7 million to one awardee for a Center of Excellence, which will be funded as a cooperative agreement for no more than five years, and this work would begin on July 1 of 2024 [On January 18, 2024, NIJ changed this date to January 1, 2025]. While NIJ may provide additional funding in future years, again, it's not guaranteed as it depends on many factors like congressional appropriations and NIJ priorities. 

The second sort of general FAQ is notifications of award and non-award. So award announcements are usually made first and non-award announcements usually follow shortly thereafter. We don't have an established date or time for them yet, especially because this is an off-cycle solicitation. And it should be noted that non-award applicants are sent their peer-reviewed comments. And the third is “Are Ph.D. students eligible to serve as PIs or co-PIs?” There is no specific degree requirement to serve as PI or co-PI, but applicants should review the solicitation merit criteria, which weighs capabilities and competencies as 15% of the peer review score. 

Another question that we get is “Can we submit a proposal if our research team consists of professors and PhD candidates from different US institutions?” Yes. That is allowed. “Are there any limits on the use of grant funds for overhead costs?” For this, we'd ask you to please refer to OJP's Grant Application Resource Guide and guidance around indirect costs. We don't make any decisions on how an organization sets their overhead costs. The one thing that is clear though is that indirect cost charges cannot exceed the federally approved indirect cost rate agreement that your university or organization has received. You can also reference the Code of Federal Regulations, the section on indirect F&A costs. 

Lastly, we also receive a lot more general questions about kind of submitting forms and what constitutes a new investigator and other questions related to kind of privacy and human subjects concerns. And for all of those, I'd encourage you to please submit the questions through the NCJRS method listed on the solicitation. Your questions will be routed to the most appropriate person who can answer the question. 

Some of the more specific questions that we've received for this solicitation are “Does the infrastructure of the COE need to be in place prior to competing for the grant or within a timeframe of the grant if awarded?” Like I said earlier, this solicitation is to establish a research Center of Excellence, so we don't expect that everything will be in place before the award is made. However, we do encourage applicants to, as much as possible, utilize existing infrastructure to carry out these tasks. 

Another question that we got was, “This solicitation involves a number of components for overall COE structure, the function areas, and the research projects within it, yet the proposal is limited to 30 double-spaced pages. What would you recommend in terms of scope and detail provided on the research projects under function one?” So the detail and scope provided by applicants should be aligned with and supportive of the argument presented in their proposal as to why they are best positioned to carry out the core functions of the center. 

“The solicitation states the applicant is expected to conduct a majority of the work proposed, which is largely focused on research, yet Priority 1B states priority consideration will be given to proposals where at least one proposed subrecipient that will receive, at least, 40% of the requested award funding for implementation. How do you recommend proposals address these two considerations?” So, again, the applicant's approach to balancing these considerations should be aligned with and supportive of the argument presented in their proposal as to why they're best positioned to carry out the core functions of the center. The follow-up question to that was, “Can that 40% be split among multiple subrecipients?” And the answer is yes. And another sub-question was, “Do MSIs, minority serving institutions, count in the category of subrecipients for this 40%?” And the answer to that is also yes. 

One of the last questions that we received was, “Page 7 of the solicitation states, ‘Special consideration will be given to proposals that dedicate, at least, 15% of the requested project award funding toward implementing such strategies.’ Is this referring to 15% of the budget for each research project under Function 1 or 15% of the overall COE budget?” The answer to that is each research project under Function 1. 

Again, I just want to share the information for NCJRS for further questions here and some of the helpdesks and response centers provided. This is also, again, in the solicitation. 

To ensure costs are allowable, we strongly encourage applicants to review the Funding Resource Center for additional information and helpful guidance. We also encourage applicants to review the department's Grant Financial Guide and take the online training, which is a requirement of all funded grantees. Finally, project descriptions and an overview of the portfolio are available on the NIJ website. You can review this information for an idea of the types of projects and awardees that NIJ has funded in the past, if that's helpful. 

One last thing that I want to reiterate is that this solicitation is competitive, so, therefore, NIJ staff cannot have individual conversations with prospective applicants or discuss particulars of an application or proposed project. Any questions concerning the solicitation should be submitted to NCJRS as I just mentioned. We strongly encourage you to utilize the resources I just mentioned. If you have any questions at all, they will be triaged and sent to the appropriate persons for a response. That is all I have for today. I want to thank you all for joining. I think I'm going to turn it over to Monica to field any questions that may have popped up in the Q&A during the webinar. Thank you so much and I'll turn it over to Monica.

DR. MONICA MEAN: Great. Thanks, Aisha. We did get a handful of questions during the presentation here. The first one, “Is NIJ expecting the Center of Excellence to comprise projects that have not been previously funded by NIJ, DHS, or DOD or is there a preference to continue to fund projects and investigators with track records?”

AISHA QURESHI: We would want to fund new research and I think that would be the kind of natural answer there. And I'm assuming that this question is related to Core Function 1. We have outlined some areas of interest that we have, but we also added that kind of fifth section under Core Function 1 of investigator-initiated research that we welcome new topics, new ideas as it relates to that.

DR. NANCY LA VIGNE: If I can chime in to add to Aisha's answer, we definitely don't want to be funding research that duplicates efforts. So we'll be inviting the Center of Excellence to really have a comprehensive understanding of these various federal and even non-federal investments in research so that we're using the money very wisely to close new gaps in research. That said, there could be existing research that could benefit from further exploration and that would certainly be fair game.

DR. MONICA MEAN: Great. We had a couple of questions on eligibility. “Are non-US citizens able to apply to this solicitation?” 

AISHA QURESHI: I think this question came up last year. So, generally speaking, a U.S. citizen who's not otherwise debarred or suspended from participating under a federal award, speaking as a general matter, could be funded under the award even if working outside the U.S. However, more information about the work being done, by whom, and in what capacity is unique to every situation, so if you have a specific question, I would submit it through the NCJRS system so it can be routed to the appropriate person.

[NIJ supplemented the answer to this question with the following on January 18, 2024] Foreign governments, foreign organizations, and foreign colleges and universities are not eligible to apply to this solicitation. As a general matter, the citizenship of the PI is not necessarily a disqualifying factor when the applicant is eligible to apply (please see p.4 of the solicitation for a list of eligible entities). While non-U.S. entities are not eligible awards, a U.S. applicant may subcontract with a non-US institution or individual for work necessary to complete the project tasks (please see question #6 of Frequently Asked Questions About Applying for Grants and Cooperative Agreements ). Prospective eligible applicants with questions in this regard should submit those questions with the specific circumstances of concern to the OJP Response Center using the contact information provided on p. 4 of the solicitation.

DR. MONICA MEAN: We have another question here. “Will NIJ be providing funds annually to the Center of Excellence to make competitive research grant awards?”

AISHA QURESHI: I'm going to have to stick with my answer that I shared and that is this is an initial investment of up to $7 million for up to five years. Any further funding is at the discretion of congressional appropriations and NIJ's priorities.

DR. MONICA MEAN: And sticking kind of with the budget theme here, “Is there any guidance on how the budget should be spread across the four functions? If so, how is NIJ anticipating that the funds be split across the functions?”

AISHA QURESHI: We don't have any specific guidance related to that and we're not being sort of prescriptive as to how the budget should be laid out. I think familiarizing yourselves with NIJ's research portfolio and the work that we've done and the projects that we've funded out of that and also your own capabilities and the partnerships and subawards that you decide to execute for the other three core functions will really be telling of that in your budget.

DR. MONICA MEAN: “Does the grant pay for personnel salaries, research staff, et cetera?”

AISHA QURESHI: To the extent that that's allowed under our previous solicitations, yes, but that's something that I might have to get back to you on with a solidified answer in writing.

Follow-up answer:Salaries and wages are allowed to be included in the budget, but applicants should refer to 2 C.F.R. 200.430 for rules and regulations surrounding these items.

DR. MONICA MEAN: Aisha, what are the first three to five milestones look like for the COE?” 

AISHA QURESHI: I think that is really at the discretion of the applicant, the way in which they will set it up, the kinds of partnerships that they will establish, if there is existing infrastructure that they're relying on or if they're kind of building things from scratch or building capabilities from scratch. But like Nancy said this is going to be a cooperative agreement, so it is very much going to be a partnership and all of those discussions and kickoff meetings and such will be happening in close coordination with the NIJ.

DR. MONICA MEAN: Thank you. We have a question here. “Does the Center of Excellence sit at NIJ or in partnership with academic institutions?” I think that has to do a little bit with the cooperative agreement there, if you want to answer that.

AISHA QURESHI: Maybe Nancy can answer that a bit better than me, but it is going to be an NIJ Center of Excellence housed at X, Y, Z, whether that's a university, an organization, or another entity.

DR. NANCY LA VIGNE: You did it great.

DR. MONICA MEAN: We have a clarification question here. This person missed the part about 15% and if we can review that again.

AISHA QURESHI: The statement of the problem and capabilities and competencies are 15%. The statement of the problem we're looking to see whether the applicant understands the problem, the kinds of research questions that are at play, and awareness of the current state of the research. And under capabilities and competencies, we're looking for the applicant to demonstrate productivity and experience of not only the applicant but also the applicant organization and any proposed project staff. We're looking at the relationship between the capabilities and competencies of the proposed project staff and the scope and strategies of the project.

DR. MONICA MEAN: I have a question here. “It's clear that five years is the maximum period of performance. Is there a minimum period of performance for this initial award and the $7 million?”

AISHA QURESHI: We have not outlined that and we’re kind of leaving that open-ended.

DR. MONICA MEAN: “Can funds be reserved in the budget for unnamed subawardees to allow for the holding of a competitive process following the establishment of the center?”

AISHA QURESHI: I think that is a question we will have to get back to in writing.

Follow-up answer: Yes. The applicant will be expected to explain how those funds will be used and include the plan for using them in their program plan and timelines. A simple “TBD” in the proposal as to how and when the funds are intended to be used would not be acceptable. Applicants should discuss a plan for decision making around subawards (e.g., request for proposals (RFP) processes).

DR. MONICA MEAN: “Could basic abstracts be vetted prior to full response?”

AISHA QURESHI: No. We can't receive any abstracts to vet them before you submit your application.

DR. MONICA MEAN: I think you somewhat answered it already. “Are international partners accepted together with the US institution?”

AISHA QURESHI: Again, this question comes up a lot and I think it's because of the nature of this portfolio perhaps. Our solicitation does state that foreign governments, foreign organizations, and foreign colleges and universities are not eligible to apply, but the situation with subrecipients and subawards may be different. We can get into subawards in a minute, but, first, for the initial question, we encourage everyone to review the Code of Federal Regulations, particularly 2 CFR Part 200, which covers various matters regarding foreign organizations or entities, costs incurred in foreign countries, and several other matters that may arise in connection with sort of non-US-based entities or individuals that may be funded under a federal grant award. 

The DOJ Grants Financial Guide also covers policies with regard to foreign travel costs under an award. Generally speaking, a U.S. citizen who's not otherwise debarred or suspended from participating under a federal award, speaking as a general matter, could be funded under the award even if working outside of the US, but more information about the work being done, by whom, and in what capacity is unique to every situation. So that's a very specific question that will likely have to be routed through the NCJRS system so it can be sent to the appropriate person.

DR. MONICA MEAN: Great. Thanks, Aisha. I had someone ask here about a particular point in our presentation, about what applicants will be encouraged to highlight. I want to remind everybody that we will have transcripts of this presentation that will be posted. So that can be reviewed when that is released. 

We had a question just come in. “Is the goal of the project to develop a methodology and process to assess and implement identification or de-escalation of domestic radicalization and violent extremism? Are there existing partnerships that NIJ has in mind in regard to this project?”

AISHA QURESHI: I'm not sure I understand the first part of that question. NIJ does not have existing partnerships in place that we are being prescriptive about or encouraging.

DR. NANCY LA VIGNE: What I heard the question is asking is if we're supporting actual implementation of strategies on the ground, and I would say we want to support translation of research evidence that would then support those interventions. But this isn't a training and technical assistance program for, say, law enforcement in the field. This is more a Center of Excellence around building the research base and making sure it's filling essential gaps, and also that the research that is already in hand and developed is packaged and translated and delivered to the field in ways that they can use it.

AISHA QURESHI: Thank you, Nancy.

DR. MONICA MEAN: We have a couple more questions here that I think might be best answered via written response. “How might a successful applicant deconflict with NCITE, the other center from DHS, and whether that deconfliction would begin prior to submission?”

AISHA QURESHI: That's something that we also discussed at length. I think understanding the mission of NCITE and that Homeland Security and counterterrorism and threat assessment nexus that DHS has with NCITE is really important in understanding. Like we've stated in our solicitation, applying a justice lens, ensuring that justice practitioners and those whom they work closely with are the primary beneficiaries of this work is really important. I think, yes, in the sense that if someone is putting together an application, deconflicting that before the application is submitted would be advisable.

DR. MONICA MEAN: We have a question about the international. I think we've answered that. Again, if you have specific questions on that, please feel free to submit your specific case that you'd like to ask about.

AISHA QURESHI: Yeah. It seems like we're getting a lot of questions about that. So if you have a particular entity or, again, a very specific question related to a foreign partner or a foreign organization that you're trying to partner with, please submit that through NCJRS with as much information as possible so we can get it routed and get the appropriate response to you.

DR. MONICA MEAN: Great. I know we're just about time here. Again, if there's any lingering questions or we didn't get to your question, please feel free to submit that and we can get a response to you as soon as possible.

AISHA QURESHI: Thank you so much. Thank you, Monica and Nancy.

STACY LEE: On behalf of the National Institute of Justice, thank you for joining today's webinar. This will end today's presentation.

Date Published: January 9, 2024