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Guide For Submitting Unsolicited Proposals

Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey

Table of Contents


As the Federal Government's largest earth science research agency and the primary source of data on the Nation's mineral and water resources, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) encourages and supports the efforts of individuals and organizations in meeting the challenge of managing the Nation's resources. This support is based on both unsolicited and solicited proposals that result in the award of grants and cooperative agreements (assistance awards) and contracts.

This guide is designed to serve as a reference for submitting unsolicited proposals for both research and research-related awards. Hopefully, by clearly defining and simplifying submittal procedures, the USGS develop and continue strong, cooperative relationships.

The USGS currently sponsors several formally announced and competed assistance programs. These programs include the Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program, Water Resources and Research Act programs, Mineral Resources Program, and cooperative geologic mapping programs. Unsolicited proposals for projects that meet the objectives of these programs will not normally be considered for award outside the competitive funding process.


Unsolicited proposals are written proposals that are submitted on the initiative of the submitter for the purpose of obtaining an award with the Government and are not in response to a formal or informal request other than a general statement of needs publicized by the agency. Such proposals are a valuable means for the USGS to obtain innovative or unique methods or approaches to accomplishing its mission from sources outside the Government. When this is the case, a contract may be awarded. Proposals relating to scientific activities which do not directly accomplish a USGS mission but further earth science research may result in a grant or cooperative agreement award.

An unsolicited proposal must not be an advance proposal for a known agency requirement that could be filled by competitive methods nor a rejected proposal from a previous solicitation. In addition, proposals received for advertising material, offers to provide commercial products and services, contributions, or technical correspondence are not considered unsolicited proposals.

To be considered, the proposal must:

1. Be innovative and unique (rather than a logical next step in an ongoing research, development of information activity);

2. Be independently originated and developed by the offeror and prepared without Government supervision, and;

3. Include sufficient detail to permit a determination that Government support could be worthwhile and the proposed work could benefit the USGS's research and development or other mission responsibilities.


The USGS issues several types of awards in response to proposals as defined below:

Contracts: Contracts are legal instruments used whenever the principal purpose of the instrument is the acquisition of property or services for the direct benefit of the Federal Government. The term contract means a procurement instrument awarded under the Federal Acquisition Regulation. Unsolicited proposal coverage is found at FAR Subpart 15.6. Most contracts are awarded as a result of USGS solicitations.

Federal Assistance Awards: Two types of awards are categorized as assistance awards:

Cooperative agreements are legal instruments where the principal purpose is to transfer funds or property to the provide support or stimulation authorized by statute and where substantial involvement is expected between the USGS and the recipient when performing the activity. There is a participatory relationship thus establishing the USGS as a "partner" with shared performance responsibility.

Grants are legal instruments where the principal purpose is to transfer funds or property to the recipient in order to accomplish a public purpose of support or stimulation authorized by statute and where substantial involvement by the USGS is not required or anticipated. Although providing technical assistance to the awardee may be required, the USGS is essentially a "patron" of and contributor to the recipient.

The term “substantial involvement” is the criterion which distinguishes a grant relationship from a cooperative agreement relationship. Substantial involvement exists when (1) responsibility for the performance is shared with the awardee, or (2) it is desirable that the USGS monitor the conduct or management of the project activities for programmatic reasons.

Of the two types of financial assistance awards, USGS primarily awards cooperative agreements due to limited authority for grant awards.

Supported Activities

The USGS, through its contracting process, considers research proposals in support of any field of study that helps fulfill its mission objectives. These fields include, but are not limited to geology, hydrology, geography, cartography, biology, and remote sensing. Additionally, the USGS has limited authority to make assistance awards in support of the advancement of research in the earth sciences regardless of whether the proposal is directly related to our mission objectives. More information on USGS science programs can be found by exploring our website.

Awards for renewed support of existing or previously awarded contract or assistance projects may also be made. Requests of renewed support of awards are generally treated as being in competition with all other pending proposals and should contain the same information as any other proposal and a summary of progress to date. Such requests should include an estimate of funds, if any, that will remain at the scheduled expiration of the current award. When a proposal requesting renewal of support is approved, a new award will generally be issued. In such instances, it will be necessary for the awardee to meet reporting requirements specified in the award documents such as submitting a final fiscal report when the report can reflect a full accounting of all funds on the original award.

Who May Submit Proposals

Awards are made to those organizations and individuals whose proposals demonstrate the potential to advance earth science research to an exceptional degree. Proposals will stand a better chance for funding if they (1) demonstrate a close relationship to the USGS's research programs, and (2) are technically meritorious. Special consideration will be given when the proposal is of exceptional significance or when the institution or individual submitting the proposal has unique capabilities for performing the project's work. The USGS accepts unsolicited proposals from various organizations including:

Colleges and Universities Most proposals are submitted by universities and colleges on behalf of their research faculty. Minority serving institutions and Tribal entities are particularly encouraged to submit proposals in support of earth science research.

Nonprofit Institutions Awards are made to nonprofit institutions whose proposals demonstrate a close relationship to the USGS's research programs.

State and Local Governments Awards are made to state and local government agencies for research and other research-related projects of mutual interest, usually when the awardee has unique research capabilities or resources. Proposals submitted by State Geological Surveys are encouraged.

Private Organizations (For-Profit) In some instances, awards may be issued to a private for-profit organization. However, most awards to such organizations are contracts.

Foreign Concerns Awards are given to foreign institutions only in special circumstances such as possession of unique research capabilities or resources. Proposals should be discussed with USGS program officials before submission. Unaffiliated individuals scientists, engineers, or science educators who have no affiliations with organizations that could act as awardee institutions may receive support for meritorious research if they have the capability and access to facilities needed to perform the work.

Individuals Unsolicited proposals from individuals may only be considered for contract awards. USGS authority for noncompetitive financial assistance awards is limited to cooperative agreements to State or Local Governments, academic partners (43 USC 36d) or nonprofit organizations (43 USC 1457b).

What to Submit

Proposals are comprised of five basic parts:

1. Cover page;

2. Narrative of the proposed project;

3. Budget information;

4. Resumes of principal personnel proposed to work on the project;

5. Disclosure Submission Conditions Form

If the proposed activity would provide products, services, recommendations, data or other end results that would fill a USGS need, then the proposal should be submitted as a contract unsolicited proposal under the Federal Acquisition Regulation Subpart 15.6. If the proposal seeks sponsorship of an independent activity or project with little direct or immediate benefit to the USGS, it should be submitted through as an assistance application.

Cover Page

A cover page should contain, at a minimum, the following information:

1. Title of the proposed project. The title should be brief and descriptive.

2. Name, address, telephone number, and e-mail address of the applicant. This may be an organization or individual.

3. Name, title, address, telephone number, and e-mail address of the principal investigator(s).

4. Commencement and completion dates of the proposed project.

5. Total dollar amount requested from the USGS.

6. If the proposal is for the renewal of an award, provide the USGS identification number of the previous award and any estimated carryover balance.

7. Name, title, and telephone number of the official authorized to commit the applicant to the proposed project and to enter into negotiations with the USGS.

8. Signatures of principal investigator(s) and official authorized to commit the applicant to the proposed project. A paper proposal will not be considered complete if endorsement signatures are omitted.

Narrative of the Proposal

All applicants are required to prepare a narrative regarding the proposed project. This description of the project should include three basic elements: (1) an abstract; (2) a detailed statement of work; and (3) a summary of potential and current research support of the project.

The abstract should present a concise description and state the principal and subordinate objectives of the proposed project, and the nature of the scientific approach to be undertaken in pursuit of these objectives. It should be approximately 200 words in length.

The project description should describe the scientific issue to be pursued and thesis to be tested and how the will be work will be conducted, including a milestone plan. The results and benefits to be derived from the project should be identified in relation to the objectives, including a plan for measuring the project and performance against specific milestones or agreed objectives. Also to be included are the facilities and major equipment to be utilized, a broad schedule of major events and specific tasks, and a list of deliverable items. The proposal should also indicate the anticipated percentage of time to be devoted to the project by the principal investigator(s) and any faculty associates.

The proposal must summarize all current and potential research support for the project. This information should include the titles and dates of current contracts or assistance awards, the source of funds, annual budget amounts, and the fraction of effort devoted to each project by each of the senior personnel. The proposal must also provide similar information for any proposals (including the proposal being submitted) which are being considered by, or which will be submitted in the near future to, other possible sponsors. Concurrent submission of a proposal to other organizations will not prejudice its review by the USGS.

Appraisal of the scientific merit of the proposed project is based primarily on this information. A more complete and detailed statement of work requires less time in review and negotiation than a less comprehensive proposal. Every effort should be made to present a carefully prepared and complete document.

Budget Information

A budget for each proposal must be submitted showing the estimated total cost of the project. The cost data must be accurate, complete and current. The judgmental factors used in projecting the estimates must be stated in sufficient detail to support the fact that the project has been well planned and budgeted to assure realistic estimates. If available, a copy of the current negotiation agreement of direct and indirect cost rates as negotiated by the cognizant audit agency should be provided. Appendix I is a sample budget that outlines the basic minimum information that must be presented. Budget information is to be categorized as follows:

Salaries and Wages. Identify individuals by name and position, estimated hours or percent of time, and the rate of compensation provided. Include an explanation of the amounts included for projected increases if the rate of pay shown is higher than the current rate of pay. Identify each person with a task in the project.

Fringe Benefits. Indicate the rates/amounts in conformance with normal accounting procedures. Explain what costs are covered in this category and the basis of the rate computations. Indicate whether rates are used for proposal purposes only or whether they are also fixed or provisional rates for billing purposes.

Equipment. Show the cost of all special-purpose equipment necessary for achieving the objectives of the project. "Special-purpose equipment" means scientific equipment having a useful life of more than 1 year and having an acquisition cost of $5,000 or more per item. Each item should be itemized and include a full justification and a dealer or manufacturer quote, if available. General-purpose equipment must be purchased from the applicant's operating funds. Title to non-expendable personal property shall be vested solely with the Recipient. Under no circumstances shall property title be vested in a sub-tier recipient.

Supplies. Enter the cost for all tangible property. Include the cost of office, laboratory, computing, and field supplies separately. Provide detail on any specific item that represents a significant portion of the proposed amount. If fabrication of equipment is proposed, list parts and materials required for each and show costs separately from the other items.

Services or Consultants. Identify the tasks or problems for which such services would be used. List the contemplated sub-recipients by name (including consultants), the estimated amount of time required, and the quoted rate per day or hour. If known, state whether the consultant's rate is the same as she/he has received for similar services or under Government contracts or assistance awards.

Travel. State the purpose of the trip and itemize the estimated travel costs to show the number of trips required, destinations, number of people traveling, per diem rates, cost of transportation, and any miscellaneous expenses for each trip. For travel requested to meetings or conferences, include a description of the benefit to the proposed project. Failure to provide this information may result in a determination of the cost as unallowable. Calculations of other special transportation costs (such as charges for use of applicant-owned vehicles or vehicle rental costs) should also be shown.

If foreign travel is planned, the proposal must include relevant information (including itinerary) and justification in detail. The use of Government funds for foreign travel requires special approval well in advance of the contemplated departure date.

Publication Costs. Show the estimated cost of publishing the results of the research. Include costs of drafting or graphics, reproduction, page or illustration charges.

Other Direct Costs. Itemize the different types of costs not included elsewhere, such as shipping, telemetry, computing, and equipment-use charges not specifically identified for other budget sections. Provide breakdowns showing how the cost was estimated; for example, computer time should show the type of computer, estimated time of use, and the established rates.

Indirect Costs. Indirect or general and administrative (G&A) costs are costs that cannot be traced specifically to a unit of output under the project. Examples of these costs may include executive officers' salaries, indirect materials and shop costs. Such costs are accumulated in overhead categories normally maintained by the awardee's accounting system. Application of overhead rates is subject to government audit. Applicants must provide a copy of their Federally negotiated rate agreement. In the absence of a negotiated rate agreement, indirect costs are limited to 10% of the modified total direct costs.

Certain programs supported by the USGS require by law a minimum percentage amount of cost sharing. While cost sharing is not required for all programs, it is encouraged for all unsolicited proposals. The budget should contain the percentage amount the applicant is willing to assume. Applicants should inquire during preliminary contacts with the USGS as to what level of cost sharing is required for their

proposed project. Cost sharing does not affect the Government's technical evaluation or mission priorities.

Applicants submitting proposals must be prepared to discuss budget items in detail with the contracting officer who is responsible for negotiating and determining that costs agreed to are reasonable, allocable, and allowable in conformance with Government cost principles. During negotiations, applicants should be prepared to explain the rationale for project planning and the basis for budget estimates. As determined by the Contracting Officer, proposals may be audited prior to negotiations, during award performance, and/or generally within 3 years after final payment.

Resumes of Personnel

The proposal should contain resumes of the principal investigator(s) responsible for direct supervision of the program and of principal senior personnel who will participate in the program. Short biographical sketches and lists of principal publications during the past 5 years should be included in the resumes. Similar biographical information should be supplied for other senior personnel.

Disclosure Submission Conditions Form

As part of the proposal package, a signed Disclosure Submission Conditions Form (Appendix II) should be included. The proposal package will not be considered complete without this form and proposal review will be delayed until it is received. This form describes the USGS's and the applicant's responsibilities and rights as to the disclosure of information contained in the proposal. The Disclosure Submission Conditions Form should be signed by the official authorized to commit the applicant to the proposed project.

When to Submit Proposals

Proposals may be submitted for consideration any time during the year. However, proposals submitted at the beginning or end of the Federal Government's fiscal year may be delayed pending Congressional budget activities and funding decisions. Organizations may contact USGS program officials to determine potential interests before expending significant effort developing the unsolicited proposal. In addition to potentially saving resources in developing a proposal, organizations will ensure a greater opportunity of meeting the needs of the program.

These preliminary contacts should include inquiries with technical personnel for obtaining an understanding of the USGS mission and the general requirement relative to the organization's contemplated effort. However, such contacts are not opportunities for negotiations, nor can they result in any binding commitments. Negotiations are conducted only by the USGS Contracting Officer after review of the proposal by the Technical Officer.

Requests for support generally should be submitted well in advance of the anticipated commencement of work. Preliminary contacts with the USGS will provide insight as to the feasibility of USGS support. Discussions should not be considered a commitment by the USGS to accept the proposal.

Where to Submit Proposals Unsolicited proposals should be emailed to Please include 'Unsolicited Proposal (Name of Project)' in the email title. Questions about the submission of unsolicited proposals can also be sent to

USGS Review / Award Process

Program officials and scientists within the USGS review and evaluate all submitted proposals. To aid their evaluations, they occasionally obtain the advice of other scientists who are specialists in the fields covered in the proposals. Proposals must contain pertinent information in sufficient detail to define the nature and merit of the proposed project.

Meritorious proposals will be supported in order of priority to the extent permitted by available funds.

If a proposal results in an award, it may be made available to interested individuals upon specific request. However, information or material that the USGS determines to be of a privileged nature will be held in confidence to the extent permitted by law.

The processes outlined below are normally required once a proposal is received by the Office of Acquisition and Grants. Time frames for processing and issuing awards will vary dependent upon individual circumstances (i.e., determination of type of award, time of fiscal year, complexity of the proposal, total cost, and audit requirements). Given these circumstances, the time frame for the entire process from initial submission to award normally should take from 2 to 4 months for assistance awards and from 3 to 6 months for contract awards. Proposals reviewed by scientists outside the USGS may take longer to evaluate and award.

1. Initial administrative processing of an unsolicited proposal includes logging in the proposal, providing the submitter a required disclosure form if not already submitted, screening of the proposal by administrative and program officials, and forwarding it to the appropriate technical office for evaluation by the scientific staff.

2. Technical evaluation and disposition includes a review and evaluation of the technical merit of the proposed project. On receipt of the written technical evaluation findings and recommendations, the Office of Acquisition and Grants will advise the applicant in writing of the acceptance, rejection or other disposition of the proposal.

It should be noted that even though a proposal may receive a meritorious technical review, this fact does not solely justify making a noncompetitive award. Additionally, should a contract be selected as the most appropriate award instrument, certain other requirements may be necessary such as announcing a procurement action in Only proposals offering genuinely unique or proprietary innovative solutions can be accepted for a noncompetitive contract award. If financial assistance is selected as the most appropriate award instrument, the applicant will be directed to resubmit the application through

3. Procurement procedures include assignment of the proposal to a Contracting Officer. The Contracting Officer makes the final determination of the type of award to be made, whether a cooperative agreement, grant, or contract award. Proposals submitted as assistance applications may, upon further review, be determined to have an acquisition purpose. Unsolicited proposals selected for a noncompetitive contract award must qualify for an exception to the Competition in Contracting Act (CICA).

For both acquisition and financial assistance awards, a cost analysis (or budget review) is performed, negotiations are completed, the award document prepared, and appropriate reviews and approvals are obtained. The Contracting Officer is the only official authorized to prepare and sign contract, grant, and cooperative agreement awards on behalf of the USGS.

Administration of Awards

The administration of all awards is governed by the provisions of the contract, grant or cooperative agreement document. The provisions provided in the award are set by law or Federal regulations. These

laws and regulations are very different for contracts and financial assistance awards. Guidance for administering contracts is contained in the Federal Acquisition Regulation. Guidance for administering financial assistance awards is contained in 2 CFR 200, Uniform Administrative Requirements, Cost Principles, and Audit Requirements for Federal Awards.

Since the administration of an award is so dependent on the type of document awarded and the specific clauses provided in that document, it is very difficult to generalize the administration process of an award. The following paragraphs attempt to address broad issues of award administration.

Notification of Award

Notification of an award is by a contract, grant or cooperative agreement document signed by a Contracting Officer and addressed to the organization to which the award is made. The award incorporates by attachment or reference certain documents that will establish binding terms and conditions upon the awardee. Prior to award, the awardee will be provided the opportunity to review these terms and conditions. The conditions state the conduct relating to the general nature and scope of the award, termination of the award, return of unused funds, budget, summary, patent rights, status reports, etc.

Award Period

The period begins on the date of the award unless otherwise specified and runs for the length of time indicated in the award. When progress under the award is delayed, an extension of the award period, without additional funds, may be necessary. If a time extension is required, a written request for extension must be submitted to the Contracting Officer. Such requests should include a justification for the requested extension. Only in exceptional cases will more than one extension be granted.

Adherence to Original Estimates

The contractor or recipient bears the primary responsibility for fiscal accountability. Unless previously agreed to by the parties and spelled out in the award document, expenditures incurred before the effective date of the award may not normally be charged under the award. In addition, commitments may not be incurred after the expiration date of the award. Accordingly, while the principal investigator is free to alter the direction of research when changes seem scientifically advantageous, the awardee must give full consideration to the effects of budget reallocations on the cost-sharing and indirect cost portions of the budget. The awardee must remember that it may not exceed the amount of funds obligated on the award. Likewise, items not included in the approved award budget will not be charged to the award unless approved by the contracting officer.

Adherence to Research Objectives

The USGS believes that the principal investigator, operating within the established policies of his or her institution, should feel free to pursue interesting and important leads which may arise during the conduct of the research. The principal investigator may discontinue or materially modify unpromising lines of inquiry, without jeopardizing continuation of support for the remainder of the award period, when it appears from a scientific standpoint that the inquiry as originally contemplated will no longer be fruitful or that a related line of inquiry will be more promising. However, when new and promising leads or potential lines of inquiry do arise leading to possible major deviations from original research objectives, approval by the Contracting Officer is required and award modification must be initiated. Additionally, proposed changes such as additions, deletions or substitutions to permanent equipment must be approved by the Contracting Officer in advance.

Research Integrity USGS requires that all contractors or recipients adhere to the Federal Policy on Research Misconduct. The Federal Policy on Research Misconduct outlines requirements for addressing allegations of research misconduct, including the investigation, adjudication, and appeal of allegations of research misconduct and the implementation of appropriate administrative actions.


Equipment purchased under the award will be used for the originally authorized purpose for which it was acquired. Equipment that is no longer needed for the program or any other Federally supported program with a fair market value of less $5,000 in value may be vested with the recipient or reserved by the Government, as provided in the award document. USGS does not have authority to vest title in recipients other than educational institutions and nonprofit research organizations.

Patents and Inventions

The USGS encourages the development and use of inventions in performing work relative to contract and assistance awards. Each award is subject to a patent and invention clause governing the disposition of inventions in a manner calculated to protect the public interest and the equities of the contractor or assistance recipient.

Changes in Personnel

The USGS must approve changes involving the participation of key personnel in a project. When the change is not permanent, as when a principal investigator is on leave, the technical officer should be informed of the arrangements made for supervision and management of the award during the interim.

Transfer of Awards

An award is not automatically transferable from one institution to another. In the event that a principal investigator changes his/her organizational affiliation, a new proposal through the new institution may be initiated. Alternatively, the original awardee institution may propose a substitute principal investigator. It is the USGS's decision whether to keep the award with the original institution or transfer it to the new institution.


An appropriate acknowledgement of USGS support should be made in connection with publication of any material based on research aided by the USGS. Also, a standard disclaimer, as provided in the award, is to be included in such publications.


Normally, investigators will not need access to sensitive/protected information in performing research supported by the USGS. If it appears that access to such information is desirable, investigators should advise the USGS. When the principal investigator determines that information developed under the award should be protected from disclosure, he/she must notify the contracting officer immediately.

Safety Precautions

The USGS cannot assume liability with respect to accidents, illnesses, or claims arising while performing work under the awards. The awardee is advised to insure or protect itself as necessary.

Status Reports

Dependent on the award document, certain reports must be submitted in connection with award activities. Each award will detail reporting requirements. The types and number of copies of reports will be specified in the award.


Accounting and Audit Procedures

The financial management systems of contractors and recipients of Federal funding is required to accurately disclose current and complete financial results of each award. Such records must identify the source and application of funds for financially-supported activities and maintain control over and accountability for property and other related assets.

Examinations in the form of audits may be required in order to test fiscal integrity of the awardee's financial system.


Reference Documents

The documents listed below provide guidance regarding the awarding and administering of contract and assistance awards.

1. Public Law 95-224, Federal Grant and Cooperative Agreement Act of 1977, codified at 31 U.S.C. Chapter 63 (§ 6301 et seq.)

2. Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) Subpart 15.6 - Unsolicited Proposals

3. FAR Part 31 - Contract Cost Principles and Procedures

4. 2 CFR 200 - Uniform Administrative Requirements, Cost Principles, and Audit Requirements for Federal Awards

5. Department of the Interior Financial Assistance Policy and Regulations