Apply Early To Guard Against Electronic Submission Errors

Funding News Edition: October 16, 2019
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Use the two-day viewing window that follows eRA Commons validation to manually verify that none of your images are blank or missing. Fail to do so and reviewers will score your application with only the incomplete information they can see.

Credit: NIAID

To successfully submit an electronic grant application, you need to pass two automated systems validations: and eRA Commons. As your application undergoes the validations, keep in mind that there exist two worst-case scenarios capable of derailing your application.

In both cases, waiting until the last minute to apply will limit your ability to resolve any problems that may arise.

Scenario 1: You Need To Address an Error Found During Validation

If your application does not pass the automated validations (error checking), you should immediately correct any errors and work with your authorized organizational representative (AOR) to resubmit the application.

However, being able to do so hinges on timing. You must submit the corrected application before 5 p.m. local time on the application’s due date. If you are late, you are out of luck and risk your application not being reviewed at all.

Here’s where the problem lies: While validation typically takes only minutes, during a busy period the process can take hours. Likewise, eRA Commons validation may take several hours to complete. In addition, certain errors found during validation, such as a missing Multiple PI Leadership Plan, may take some time to resolve.

In 2014, NIH observed that about 40 percent of grant applications arrived on the deadline day. That constitutes a busy period. If any of those applicants discovered a failed validation the next day, they would have already missed their opportunity to submit a corrected application.

Remember, NIH’s late application policy does not allow you to correct errors and address warnings after an application deadline if your application is the source of the problem, as explained in the December 17, 2014 Guide notice. Problems caused by our electronic systems are a separate matter—we will accept late applications only if the eRA Service Desk confirms a federal computer system issue and you are able to provide documentation that you contacted the Help Desk before the submission deadline.

Scenario 2: Your Application Passed Validations With Unflagged Content Errors

Always use the two-day viewing window that follows eRA Commons validation to manually verify that none of your uploads are blank, missing, duplicated, or corrupted. Correct and resubmit your application on or before the due date if you find an error. Fail to do so and reviewers will score your application with only the incomplete information they can see.

To clarify, this is not a “correction window.” You cannot make further edits to your uploaded application. Instead, you are withdrawing the application and submitting a new application that corrects the errors you found.

Why is this necessary if you’ve already passed validations?

Because the automated validations aren’t perfect. They check for technically defined parameters of funding opportunity announcements (FOAs) and the SF 424 Application Guide, such as page length, but they do not flag content issues, such as a missing data table in the Research Plan, a blank attachment, or a corrupted image. Read How We Check for Completeness for a full explanation.

Once again, timing matters. Your application needs a timestamp by 5 p.m. on the due date to be considered on time. If you submit your application on the day of the deadline, the two-day viewing window becomes irrelevant.

To be clear, it is the applicant's responsibility to submit the complete application on or before the due date. NIAID cannot correct an error spotted in your application after the receipt deadline on your behalf, even if an overlooked content error would render your application nonresponsive to a FOA’s requirements. Furthermore, if the errant application proceeds to peer review and scores poorly because of an unflagged content error, we will not accept appeals.

Best Practices

The NIH deadline isn’t the only one you should keep in mind. Most institutions have internal deadlines for investigators to send applications to their business offices before submission. Try to beat that deadline. The more time you have to verify that your application has passed validations and is free of content errors, the better. As noted on Late Applications & Post-Submission Materials, NIH's Center for Scientific Review rejects delays caused by an institution's business office as a reason for late submission.

Likewise, if your technical problems are due to connectivity at your institution or a local submission system (e.g., a system-to-system solution) issue, then you must work that out with your institution’s technical support staff and send the application when the issue is resolved. NIH is under no obligation to accept applications that are late for these reasons.

Ideally your institution will submit your application at least one week before the corresponding due date, which should provide you with more than enough time to make corrections stemming from failed validations or content-related upload errors.

If you run into trouble, follow the NIH Office of Extramural Research’s guidance on Dealing With System Issues and take the following actions:

  • Go to Need Help? to find the appropriate Help Desk and contact information. Get in touch with the appropriate Help Desk immediately, over the phone and in writing.
  • Maintain a record of the steps you take to resolve the problem.
  • Once the issue is resolved, make note of it in your application’s cover letter. Include the confirmed system issues, Help Desk ticket numbers, and the steps taken to resolve the issues.

Notifying your program officer or scientific review officer is not a substitute for contacting the appropriate Help Desk.

To learn more about electronic submission, read the Pass Electronic Validations section of Submit an Application.

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