USDA NIFA needs input on Centers of Excellence

Based on language in the 2014 Farm Bill (Section 7214), we are seeking input from the public and applicants to any of NIFA’s competitive grant programs on how NIFA will provide priority to Centers of Excellence in the receipt of funding from its competitive research or extension grant programs.  NIFA will be holding web-based listening sessions to gather input that will be used in developing a process for consistently providing priority consideration to these Centers of Excellence.  Stakeholder input is welcome at any time, but to be incorporated into planning for the 2015 cycle, it should be received by July 31, 2014, via email to vbest@nifa.usda.gov (please put “comments” in the subject line) or via fax to 202/690-1260 addressed to Centers of Excellence Implementation Team.

NIFA is particularly interested in input on how best to define the scope of a Center of Excellence, whether there are models being used by other federal agencies that might be useful to examine, and at what point in the review/selection process “priority” should be given to applications submitted by Centers of Excellence.

Centers for Excellence Stakeholder Announcement – FINAL

We invite written input as noted above, or oral input via stakeholder input webinars from 1-3pm ET on Thursday, July 17, 2014 and Thursday, July 31, 2014. On July 17 and July 31, please access the following website http://nifa-connect.nifa.usda.gov/frnce/.In addition, audio conference call capabilities can be accessed by dialing 888-844-9904, participant code 3702409#.  Stakeholders can reserve in advance a five-minute time slot to provide oral comments (first-come, first-served), by contacting Valeria Best at vbest@nifa.usda.gov or 202/720-8540 prior to the webinar in which you wish to reserve time.  Once all those who have reserved time have spoken, if time remains, comments of up to 5 minutes each will then be invited from those without reserved times.

Background for stakeholders providing input:

Beginning in October of 2014, the new Farm Bill requires that NIFA prioritize Centers of Excellence established for purposes of food and agricultural research, extension, and education activities when selecting recipients of grants from any of the Agency’s research or extension competitive grant programs. While the Farm Bill delineates criteria for being recognized as a Center of Excellence, such as coordination and cost effectiveness, the leveraging of resources using public-private partnerships, and the ability to increase economic returns to rural communities, it will be important that NIFA hear from the community about what the scope of a Center of Excellence should be, and what our stakeholders believe are the strengths and weaknesses of some of the models that are used by other federal agencies.

The Agency is considering different ways to implement the “priority” consideration of grant proposals from Centers of Excellence, including using the Center of Excellence distinction as a tie-breaker, should proposals be equally ranked for funding during our peer review process, or providing additional points to Center of Excellence proposals as part of applying evaluation criteria during the peer review process.

A Center of Excellence is composed of 1 or more of the following entities that provide financial or in-kind support to the Center of Excellence:  State agricultural experiment stations; colleges and universities; university research foundations; other research institutions and organizations; Federal agencies; national laboratories; private organizations or corporations; and individuals.

The criteria for Centers of Excellence include efforts: to ensure coordination and cost effectiveness by reducing unnecessarily duplicative efforts regarding research, teaching, and extension; to leverage available resources by using public-private partnerships among agricultural industry groups, institutions of higher education, and the Federal Government; to implement teaching initiatives to increase awareness and effectively disseminate solutions to target audiences through extension activities; and to increase the economic returns to rural communities by identifying, attracting, and directing funds to high-priority agricultural issues. Where practicable, the criteria for recognition as a center of excellence shall also include efforts to improve teaching capacity and infrastructure at colleges and universities (including land-grant colleges and universities, cooperating forestry schools, Non Land Grant Colleges of Agriculture, and Schools of Veterinary Medicine).

NIFA is considering using a process where an applicant could self-identify as a Center of Excellence in an area of science as part of a particular grant application (using the legislative criteria described above), and the applicant’s justification would be evaluated as part of the peer review process, or using a process separate from the grant application process, where an applicant could request designation as a Center of Excellence, and should the Agency grant such a designation, it would potentially be applicable to multiple grant competitions where proposed work fell within a particular area of science.

See http://www.nifa.usda.gov/about/offices/legis/farm_bill_2014_ex_prov.html for the Centers of Excellence language included in Section of the 2014 Farm Bill.

Deadline for written input: July 31, 2014

Sign up now to provide oral input during the July 17 or July 31, 2014 webinars

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