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Understanding Overlap on Grant Applications and Awards

Scientific overlap, budget overlap, and commitment overlap are significant issues that may affect current grant awards and pending awards. Understanding the issues that may occur at either the pre-award stage or post-award stage is imperative for Principal Investigators.

Many federal sponsors require a listing of all current awards and pending proposals (commonly called Current and Pending support) for the PI and key personnel listed on grant proposals either at the proposal submission stage or prior to issuing an award. The National Science Foundation (NSF) requires that a listing of Current and Pending support be provided for the PI and all Senior Personnel at the time the proposal is submitted. The National Institutes of Health (NIH), however, requires the submission of “other support” for the PI and Key Personnel during Just-in-Time (JIT), the period in which an award appears likely and the agency seeks to ensure all compliance actions are in place.

Federal sponsors request the Current and Pending information in order to address overlap issues at the pre-award stage. The three areas listed below are based on definitions put forth by the NIH and these are the areas of overlap that are monitored:

  1. Scientific Overlap: Scientific overlap occurs when substantially the same research is proposed in more than one application; or is submitted to two or more different funding sources for review and funding consideration; or a specific research objective and the experimental design for accomplishing that objective are the same or closely related in two or more pending applications or awards, regardless of funding source.

  2. Budget Overlap: Budgetary overlap occurs when duplicate or equivalent budgetary items (e.g., equipment, salary) are requested in an application but are already funded by another source.

  3. Commitment Overlap: Commitment overlap occurs when any project-supported personnel has time commitments (i.e., percent effort) exceeding 100 percent, regardless of how the effort/salary is being supported or funded.

Situations may occur when a PI has similar proposals pending with different agencies that, if all funded, will present overlap issues. If an overlap occurs, it must be addressed with the agency before the new award can be accepted. If the overlap cannot be eliminated, the PI will not be able to accept the new award.

Addressing overlap often involves adjusting the scope of work, revising the project budget and/or modifying time commitments. These adjustments may take place at the pre-award stage or the post-award stage. At the post-award stage, changes in a PI's funding portfolio can impact existing awards. Most agencies monitor overlap for existing awards by asking that PIs discuss project changes as part of the annual progress reporting process.

While most overlap issues can be resolved, there are many nuances surrounding overlap and agencies handle it differently. As such, PIs should always discuss overlap concerns with OSP before contacting the funding agency. These discussions are especially important during the proposal submission and award acceptance stages. While it is tempting to submit the same proposal to multiple funders in hopes that at least one will be receiving funding, a more appropriate approach is often to figure out how to divide the work into smaller components and pursue funding for these discreet portions of work from each sponsor.

Principal Investigators may also find these resources useful to navigate overlap issues: