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Cooperative Agreements (U)

A cooperative agreement (U) is a support mechanism we frequently use for high-priority research areas that require substantial involvement from NIH program or scientific staff.

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NIH Staff Role in Cooperative Agreements

For U-series awards, NIH staff provide oversight, coordination, or facilitation that goes substantially beyond what would normally be needed for a R-series grant.

Find examples of normal and substantial involvement at Determining When To Use a Cooperative Agreement. (Normal staff involvement does not necessitate a cooperative agreement.)

Working jointly with U awardees, NIH staff act as partners to support and stimulate the research. However, NIH staff are not meant to play a dominant role nor assume direction or primary responsibility for awardee activities.

NIAID staff should refer to the Cooperative Agreements Staff Portal (staff-only link).

Two Ways To Get a Cooperative Agreement

You may apply for a U or, in rare cases, NIAID staff may convert your grant to a U.

Application. As you can see on our List of NIAID Cooperative Agreement Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOAs), we publish most U FOAs as requests for applications (RFAs).

Conversion. Occasionally, NIAID program staff identify a grant application or award that would be more suited to a cooperative agreement. We may convert the grant to a U award as described in the Conversion of Grants to Cooperative Agreements SOP.

Applying for a Cooperative Agreement

Before you apply for an NIAID-supported U, learn about on the implications of the cooperative agreement, check key parts of the FOA, get advice, and know what happens next.

If you’re considering a multiproject type of U (e.g., U19, U54, UM2), also check our detailed Multiproject Research (P, U) Applications guide.

Why a Cooperative Agreement?

Consider why NIAID is using a cooperative agreement rather than an R-series grant. What that will entail for you as the project director/principal investigator (PD/PI)?

For instance, we sometimes use the U mechanism to form a study group or collaborative network centered on a particular topic. In such a case, the day-to-day feel of the project won’t differ much from a typical R grant.

However, when we use a cooperative agreement for clinical trials, the PD/PI and our staff will be working very closely together several hours a week to develop and execute a trial and associated studies.

Check the FOA Carefully

Since we usually use a U award for complex or targeted projects that require the close coordination of multiple grants or resources, you should go through the FOA thoroughly. Take into account the experience, intensity, and level of collaboration required to manage the cooperative agreement.

Though you should read all the FOA’s instructions and requirements carefully, we suggest that you pay special attention to Part 2. Full Text of Announcement for any unique points. Here are a few highlights to watch for:

  • Section I. Funding Opportunity Description—tells you the purpose, scientific scope, and required activities. As examples of the latter, a U FOA might require access to or sharing of resources, certifications, definitions, milestones, workshops, and other special considerations. 
  • Section V. Application Review Information—includes any special or additional review considerations. These focus reviewer attention on the critical aspects needed for cooperative agreement project success. Make sure your application addresses these considerations well.
  • Section VI. Award Administration Information—covers standard and FOA-specific terms and conditions of award. It also defines the responsibilities of the PD/PI and NIH staff. Be sure you can abide by the provided framework since this will be part of your legally-binding Notice of Award later.

Seek Advice Before You Apply

Though the FOA will give you essential information, you should talk to the scientific/research contact listed in the announcement before you apply. That conversation may give you more insight on why we chose to use a cooperative agreement and what we expect of the PD/PI.

Given the complex requirements of a cooperative agreement, you'll likely spend more time than usual preparing for and writing your application. Find more general advice at NIAID’s Apply for a Grant.

If you choose a multiproject type of U (e.g., U19, U54, UM2), follow our Multiproject Research (P, U) Applications guide.

Peer Review and Funding

As usual for RFA applications, a special emphasis panel will review the applications using the criteria described in the FOA. Reviewers will be aware of the need for NIAID staff involvement. Like other RFAs, your application will not be assigned a percentile. 

We will fund applications based on a pay plan, not a published payline. A pay plan is the list of meritorious applications that were scored in peer review and that program officials have selected for funding.

The number of grants we award depends on the total funds set aside for the RFA.

During Your Award

Given the nature of cooperative agreements, you can expect NIAID staff to work more closely with you and schedule more frequent communications than they would for a PD/PI on a research project grant. You may also need to get their approval to initiate or continue stages of work.

Although NIAID’s Manage Your Award section provides good general information, you may notice that how we administer U-series awards differs slightly from R-series grants. For example, carryover of unobligated funds in cooperative agreements is not automatic and must be requested and justified.

Your Next Award

As you near the end of your project period, you may wonder about submitting a renewal application to continue the funding of your research. Your FOA will specify whether renewals are permitted.

Since U awards are generally used to target and support high-priority areas of science, the option to Apply for a Renewal depends on NIAID's continued interest and funding availability.

Therefore, we advise you not to count on the same program being continued in five years. In most cases, applicants will submit a new application to a different FOA.

To avoid breaks in funding, check our advice at Approaches for Staying Funded.

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