Send Applications Early To Avoid Electronic Submission Errors

Funding News Edition: November 17, 2021
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Applicants submitting electronic grant applications need to successfully pass two automated systems validations: Grants.gov and eRA Commons. As your application undergoes the validation processes, keep in mind that there are two worst-case scenarios that can potentially derail your application. Above all, timing matters. Submitting your application well in advance of its receipt date will allow you ample time to validate the upload and correct any content-related upload errors.

When You Build Your Application

As you write your application, keep in mind that eRA makes business rule validations available to system-to-system (S2S) providers and Grants.gov users. Since the Application Submission System & Interface for Submission Tracking (ASSIST), Grants.gov Workspace, and S2S providers all have access to validation services, you can test against automated submission rules and correct any errors before submitting the application. In addition, eRA provides options to preview the grant image so you can correct any white space issues before submission.

Generally, when you run a validation to check for errors, the errors you receive will identify precisely which form or entry field is missing or incorrect (e.g., an address in Canada should list a province or territory, not a state). However, you may encounter formatting errors which indicate missing or incorrect data generally, like the example below:

The format of the application does not match the format of the Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA). Please contact the Help Desk for assistance. cvc-complex-type.2.4.a: Invalid content was found starting with element 'RR_Budget_1_4:BudgetType'. One of '{"http://apply.grants.gov/forms/RR_Budget_1_4-V1.4":DUNSID}' is expected. (000.6)

If you aren’t sure what’s causing a formatting error during a validation check, contact the eRA Service Desk.

You also need to validate the files attached to your application. Help yourself from the outset by following the Format Attachment guidelines. Often, users fail to flatten PDF attachments, meaning the files contain electronic signatures, fillable fields, or active hyperlinks (flattening a PDF file merges those interactive fields into a single, static image). Routinely, users must call eRA for help locating and replacing a corrupted or unflattened file before submission.

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

Upon submission, if your application did not pass the automated validations (error checking), you should immediately resolve any errors and work with your authorized organization representative (AOR) to submit the corrected 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's not being reviewed at all. In addition, certain errors found during validation, such as a missing Multiple PI Leadership Plan, may take some time to resolve.

NIH’s late application policy does not allow you to correct errors and address automated warnings after an application deadline if your application is the source of the issue. Problems caused by our electronic systems are a separate matter – we will accept late applications if the eRA Service Desk confirms a federal computer system issue, and you are able to provide documentation that you contacted the Service Desk before the submission deadline.

eRA provided us with the following table, which shows application validation error data for 2021 (through November 1):

Likeliest Sources of eRA Application Validation Errors

2021 Count

PDF-Related

981

Human Subjects or Clinical Trials

568

Budget Errors

487

Commons ID

402

DUNS-Related

222

Specific Aims

132

Zip Code

113

Format or Validity of FedID

102

Biosketch-Related

98

Duplicate Submission

94

Project Period

94

Project Start and End Dates

87

Lately, eRA has seen an increase in AOR credentials errors (“The credentials entered do not match those in Grants.gov”). If you are an AOR submitting through ASSIST, do not confuse your Grants.gov credentials with your eRA Commons credentials. Verify your Grants.gov account holds the AOR role necessary for submission and your password has not expired. If your Grants.gov account is the source of the error, you will need to work with Grants.gov to resolve the issue before submitting the application.

To bypass potential problems, plan ahead and submit early. You should be early on the calendar rather than the clock. See Encountering Error Messages for explanations of common error messages that you might experience when submitting your application.

Scenario 2: Your Application Passed Validations With Unflagged Content Errors

Take advantage of the two-day viewing window that follows eRA Commons validation to manually verify that your application is free of blank, missing, duplicated, or corrupted uploads. If you find an error, your AOR must submit a changed/corrected application on or before the due date. Fail to do so and reviewers will score your application based on the information they can see.

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

Because the automated validations aren’t perfect. They check for technically defined parameters of FOAs and the SF 424 (R&R) 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.

To clarify, this is not a “correction window.” You cannot make further edits to your uploaded application. Instead, your AOR should first reject the initial submission and then upload your application as a changed/corrected application. Then, the changed/corrected submission will overwrite the initial application. If that later version is submitted after the due date, we will consider your submission late and withdraw it from the review process.

So once again, timing matters. Your application needs a Grants.gov timestamp by 5 p.m. local time on the due date to be considered on time. If your AOR submits 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

Although the NIH deadline is important to keep in mind, your true due date is your institution’s internal deadline for an investigator to send an application to the business offices before submission. You want to apply ahead of that due date to give yourself enough time to verify that your application has passed the validation process and is free of content errors. NIH will not accept delays caused by an institution’s business office as a reason for late application submission.

In addition, if you have technical problems that are due to connectivity at your institution or a local submission system (e.g., S2S 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.

Your institution will typically submit your application at least one week before the corresponding due date, which should give you enough time to correct failed validations or content-related upload errors.

Carefully Read All Instructions and Submission Materials

While this article focuses on electronic errors, far more applications are derailed because the applicant overlooks a requirement listed in the application instructions (SF 424, FOA, notice of special interest, or Guide policy notices). Begin reviewing the relevant materials well in advance of putting together your application. If you don’t, you risk missing important information.

For example, NIH applications will soon require an eRA Commons ID for all senior/key personnel listed on the R&R Senior/Key Person Profile (Expanded) Form, as announced in the April 20, 2021 Guide notice. Applicants will encounter an eRA system validation issue if the “Credential, e.g., agency login” field is blank or does not contain a valid eRA Commons ID and must correct the error before submitting the application.

Resources

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.

For more information, read the Pass Electronic Validations section of Submit an Application.

Contact Us

Email us at deaweb@niaid.nih.gov for help navigating NIAID’s grant and contract policies and procedures.

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