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Finding Research Funding

Potential Federal Funding Sources and Pointers on Successful Grant-Seeking for Research

Grants and Cooperative Agreements

Grants and cooperative agreements are two sources of federal funding. The distinguishing characteristics of cooperative agreements, compared to grants, are:

  • the level of involvement by the awarding agency is higher than in grants (more like contracts)
  • the amount of the award is usually higher than for grant awards

Grant programs are created by legislation and the money for grants is provided through the appropriations process. Grant programs are administered by the responsible federal agency that sets priorities to administer them.

In issuing notices of final priorities and/or grant notices, the Department of Education, for example, will tell potential grantees the priorities that govern the Department's consideration of applications. There are three types of priorities governing these grant programs.

Absolute Priority

Under an absolute priority the Department considers only applications that meet the priority.

Competitive Preference Priority

Under a competitive preference priority the Department gives competitive preference to an application by either

  1. awarding additional points, depending on how well or the extent to which the application meets the competitive priority; or

  2. selecting an application that meets the competitive priority over an application of comparable merit that does not meet the priority.

Invitational Priority

Under an invitational priority the Department is particularly interested in applications that meet the invitational priority. However, they do not give an application that meets the invitational priority a competitive or absolute preference over other applications.

The process of setting priorities for grant programs usually provides the public with an opportunity for input.

The agency publishes a notice of proposed priorities to solicit public input. This gives the public a chance to suggest additions, deletions, or changes in the priorities. For example, the agency proposes a priority concerning literacy for employment programs. AFB might suggest that literacy include braille literacy for individuals who are blind or visually impaired.

After processing the comments received, the agency issues a notice of final priorities, discussing the comments received and their justification for making or not making the changes suggested. These priorities will then be used in considering applications for grants.

Either with the publication of the final priorities or shortly thereafter, the agency publishes a notice announcing the availability of grant funds, often called a solicitation or a request for proposals (RFP). This notice will contain or refer to the priorities that must be met by the successful applicant.

Anatomy of a Grant Notice

Grant notices do not follow a rigid format. The format may differ from the example used here.

The notice, published in the Federal Register will tell you the date of publication and the page number on which the notice appears and the Federal Register.

It will also tell you the issuing department and/or agency and the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA) numbers for the grant programs and the type of notice being published.

It will give you a summary of the notice, the applicable regulations and the priorities that govern the solicitation.

It will list the deadline for submissions of applications, the amount of the awards, etc.

National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research Application Notice for FY 2004

CFDA no.: 84.133G
Program name: Field Initiated Projects
Applications available: Sept. 25, 2003
Deadline for transmittal of applications: Dec. 9, 2003
Estimated available funds: $4,500,000
Maximum award amount (per year): $150,000
Estimated number of awards: 30
Project period (months): 36

CFDA no.: 84.133P
Program name: Advanced Rehabilitation Research
Applications available: Sept. 25, 2003
Deadline for transmittal of applications: Nov. 24, 2003
Estimated available funds: $750,000
Maximum award amount (per year): $150,000
Estimated number of awards: 3-5
Project period (months): 60

The notice will also

  • give you any supplementary information you need and any selection criteria the Department will be using

  • give you information about the grant program, the priorities, and what the Department is seeking from a grantee.

  • tell you what the application procedures are and who (i.e., what type of organization) is eligible to apply for the grant.

  • give the name, phone number, and possibly the e-mail address of a staff member for further information

Peer Review in the Selection Procedure

At the heart of the selection procedure is peer review. Although the size and other circumstances of the peer review operation vary greatly, even within one agency, the essence is consistent: a group of experts in the topic for which funding is sought, reviews each proposal using criteria that are published as part of the application package. Usually, reviewers meet in Washington, D.C., having read and rated the proposals in advance. (It is the federal agency's responsibility to provide an accessible version for a reviewer who cannot read ordinary print.) Sometimes reviews are done by teleconference with a group, or even as individual written submissions, without any group meeting.

In a typical meeting, a federal agency staffer is present, but the reviewers rotate the task of leading discussion, during which anyone may modify his/her views; then a group summary of the proposal's strengths and weaknesses is prepared. Reviewers of grant proposals do know who the individual and organizational applicants are (unlike reviewers of papers submitted to scientific journals); however, the reviewers are never identified to the applicants. Whether approved for funding or not, applicants are subsequently mailed anonymous copies of each reviewer's comments and scores.

Federal agencies welcome learning of individuals interested in becoming a peer reviewer. Reviewers are selected on the basis of expertise, which may stem from formal education and professional work, but also from "life experience", such as ethnic minority or disability status, if the funding source is focused on those topics.


The Federal Register

Published by the Office of the Federal Register, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), the Federal Register is the official daily publication for rules, proposed rules, and notices of Federal agencies and organizations, as well as executive orders and other presidential documents. It is published daily except for federal holidays.

Search the Federal Register by keyword or phrase, page number, type of notice, or issue date:

Browse the Federal Register by date:

The Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA)

Descriptions of and requirements for federal programs. The database is updated weekly:

A numerical list of all CFDA programs can be found at

Electronic storefront for Federal grants.

The single government point-of-entry (GPE) for Federal government procurement opportunities over $25,000. Government buyers are able to publicize their business opportunities by posting information directly to FedBizOpps via the Internet. Through one portal—FedBizOpps (FBO)—commercial vendors seeking Federal markets for their products and services can search, monitor and retrieve opportunities solicited by the entire Federal contracting community.

Department of Commerce TOP (Technology Opportunities Program)

An overview of TOP; overview of the Fiscal Year 2003 Grant Round; searchable database of FY2003; list of awards for FY2003; searchable grants database, with information on all awards made since 1994:

Information and links to useful resources for those seeking to learn more about the benefits of using network technologies, as well as those looking for support and blueprints to help in developing their projects:

Department of Education

FY 2004 grant opportunities:

FY 2002-2003 discretionary grant application packages for which closing date has passed:

Forecast of Funding Opportunities Under the Department of Education Discretionary Grant Programs for Fiscal Year (FY) 2003:

Department of Health and Human Services

Funding opportunities:

Search for funding opportunities:

Administration on Aging

Previous Funding Opportunities/Grant Announcements:

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ)

Searchable Grants On-Line Database (GOLD); link to grant abstracts:

National Institutes of Health Office of Extramural Research


National Center for Medical Rehabilitation Research (NCMRR)

Funding Opportunities:

National Eye Institute

Grants and Funding Opportunities:

National Institute on Aging

Funding and Training; link to current funding opportunities:

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communications Disorders (NIDCD)

Funding for research:

Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs

Funding opportunities at OJP:

Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration

Solicitation for grant applications (SGA) 2003; links to solicitations back through 1997:

Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP)

The Office of Disability Employment Policy annually awards competitive grants and contracts to further its mission to increase employment opportunities for adults and youth with disabilities. To date, ODEP has awarded more than $24 million in grants and contracts. Solicitations for new grant proposals are published in the Federal Register and announced on this website. Grant opportunities for 2003, 2002, 2001 can be found at:

National Science Foundation (NSF)

Overview of grants and awards:

Search for funding opportunities:

Search for awards:

Materials prepared by Barbara LeMoine.

For additional information, contact:
Corinne Kirchner
Director, Policy Research & Program Evaluation
American Foundation for the Blind

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