Below are frequently asked questions regarding FY 2021 Implementation of the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System, NOAA-NOS-IOOS-2021-2006475, Notice of Federal Opportunity. Click on the + beside each category to see the questions and answers.

What is the IOOS Enterprise?

The U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS) is a globally linked and nationally coordinated federal and non-federal network of observations and data management, analyses and communications that systematically and efficiently delivers information on past, present, and future states of the coastal ocean. The IOOS “Enterprise” is intended to represent the full scale of partners who may be contributing to, or benefitting from, the integrated ocean observing system. This includes global to local participants in ocean observing, data management and prediction from federal, academic, non-profit, and private firms or organizations. The IOOS Enterprise represents the inclusive mission of U.S. IOOS as defined by the Integrated Coastal and Ocean Observation System (ICOOS) Act of 2009. Any entity contributing toward solutions or implementation of IOOS is welcomed as a part of the Enterprise.

What are the Project priorities for the Funding Opportunity?

The overarching purpose of the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS®) is to provide information describing the past, present, and future state of the coastal oceans and Great Lakes to local, regional, and national users. These users include decision makers, businesses, managers, and scientists addressing issues to:

  • Improve predictions of ocean and weather conditions, and their effects on coastal communities and the nation;
  • Improve the safety and efficiency of maritime operations;
  • More effectively mitigate the effects of natural and anthropogenic hazards;
  • Improve national and homeland security;
  • Reduce public health risks;
  • More effectively protect and restore healthy coastal ecosystems; and
  • Enable the sustained use of ocean and coastal resources.

Topic area 1 priorities: This announcement requests proposals for five-year awards that build upon progress made to date on the Implementation and Development of Regional Coastal Ocean Observing Systems.

Topic area 2 priorities: This announcement requests proposals for three-year awards on Advancing the National Data Management and Cyberinfrastructure (DMAC) System Architecture.  Advances in high performance computing, data science, and data modeling occur at a rapid pace. NOAA seeks recommendations for incorporating these advances into the National DMAC System Architecture while ensuring the regional data assembly centers continue to serve existing customers. NOAA is inviting proposals for up to three years of funding to evaluate the current state of DMAC and to make recommendations to guide progress in the area of DMAC system design. Deliverables and recommendations should build off of the existing DMAC system architecture while also suggesting enhancements or new directions for the future.

Who can apply?

Eligible funding applicants for this competition are institutions of higher education, nonprofit and for-profit organizations, and state, local and tribal governments. Federal agencies or institutions and foreign governments may not be the primary recipient of awards under this announcement, but are encouraged to partner with applicants when appropriate. If requesting funds under this award, Federal partners must identify the relevant statutory authorities that will allow for the receipt of funds. Because of the nature of this competition, the Economy Act (31 U.S.C. 1535) is not an appropriate authority.

As the implementing program for this competition, the U.S. IOOS Office expects lead grantees to use subcontracts or other appropriate mechanisms to provide funds to its non-Federal partner(s). If a partner is a NOAA office or laboratory, the U.S. IOOS Program office will transfer the funds internally.

Applicants should note that before an award will be issued, they must obtain written assurance (to include the specific legal citation) from the receiving Federal agency regarding its legal authority to take in the funds and to carry out the identified work.

What are important dates in the submission process?

Applications must be received by 11:59 PM Eastern Standard Time on December 31, 2020. 

The NOFO states that the start date can be the 1st day of any month between June 1, 2021 and September 1, 2021.  How will the new date be determined?  

The start date is determined when an applicant receives notification from NOAA’s Grants Management Division that they have been selected as the awardee. The date the applicant accepts the award becomes the official start date of the award. Start dates for all Topic area 1 awards are expected to be June 1, 2021.  

For Topic area 2 awards, we anticipate start dates anywhere between June 1, 2021 and September 1, 2021.

Should Regional Associations consider applying for both Topic area 1 and 2?   


Why is the IOOS Program office soliciting proposals under Topic area 2? How will projects selected under Topic area 2 relate to the data management efforts, including the certified data portals, that will be funded under Topic area 1? 

Is the goal of Topic area 2 to consolidate the regional data systems?  

The IOOS Program office wants to ensure the Data Management and Cyberinfrastructure (DMAC) system keeps pace with advancing technology/techniques to continue to effectively serve existing customers and also potentially grow the user base of IOOS’ data products in new/emerging areas. The original DMAC system developed beginning in the mid-2000’s was designed with best practices and data management approaches of the time that in some aspects have been eclipsed by new and emerging technologies.  

In an effort to embrace opportunities to become more efficient and effective, leveraging new advances to improve the existing DMAC system, Topic area 2, is an exploration activity, where we are investigating approaches to modernize the existing system while retaining the core functionalities that have made the DMAC system successful over the years, including, but not limited to: regional customization, interchangeable software components, common service interfaces, etc. Regionalization is an irreplaceable strength of the system, and we are not attempting to eliminate that in this effort.

What do we hope to accomplish with those projects funded under Topic area 2?

We are interested in soliciting community recommendations based on a review and assessment of recent technologies that might meet the goal to evolve DMAC as described above. The results will inform subsequent discussions with the Regional Associations and other relevant IOOS partners on potential implementation. There is no commitment to act on those recommendations.  

We encourage proposals that bring new and novel perspectives, as well as external viewpoints. Groups external to the IOOS partners are encouraged to submit proposals and with these bring new viewpoints.   

At the same time, proposals should include and/or describe a process to gather input from some or all of the 11 IOOS Regional Associations. As the implementers of the DMAC guidelines, Regional Associations have unique perspective and experience in both contributing to the development of the existing DMAC system, as well as implementing nationally and regionally-tailored solutions that also meet national DMAC requirements, and supporting these in an ongoing operational capacity.  

The process to develop new recommendations should be iterative and involve both regional and national perspectives, provide opportunities for review and input, and have a thorough understanding of the current state of DMAC across the entire system. The end product of this effort will be successful only to the extent that it can be integrated into the current system.

For Topic area 2, what would a successful deliverable look like?

A series of recommendations and options for modernizing and optimizing the Data Management and Cyberinfrastructure (DMAC) system. The deliverables should be informed by the roles of NOAA partners and systems as these are integrated with the existing Regional Association systems.

Goals for the system would include: making more data public, providing higher quality data, allowing users to run computations and processes using data from multiple sources, making data easier to find and access, and suggesting possible cost efficiencies.

Regional observing systems have been specifically designed to address diverse local and regional stakeholder needs, as the outcome of extensive stakeholder engagements. Will Topic area 2 change RA products and services that were created to address those regional needs?

The IOOS Program office recognizes and appreciates that the products and services designed by IOOS Regional Associations are targeted and designed for regional stakeholder needs. This close connection between the RAs and their stakeholders is foundational to the IOOS Regional observing system. Topic area 2 is an exploration activity that will result in recommendations for how the IOOS DMAC system can modernize, and incorporate new and exciting advancements in data management that RAs can adopt to improve data quality, access and usage, not hinder. The intent is not to disrupt regional stakeholder access to the information they need.

If a question in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approved Environmental Compliance NOAA Grants Questionnaire is required under this NOFO, yet is not applicable to the applicant’s proposed activity, what is the level of detail the applicant should provide to explain why the requested information is not relevant?

Applicants should answer the questions to the best of their ability with as much detail as possible. Applicants are only required to provide information that is specifically requested in the NOFO. If the response is “no” we at IOOS are requesting that the applicant does not elaborate on their answer, and simply indicate "not applicable.” This will not result in your application being considered incomplete as stated in the Environmental Compliance NOAA Grants Questionnaire.

Are applicants that fund several universities, colleges, and/or institutions required to fill out an Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approved Environmental Compliance NOAA Grants Questionnaire for each funded entity?

No, if possible please complete one questionnaire per applicant. Please make sure to provide details of the proposed activity that will occur in different locations and/or multiple phases.

Many of the applicants currently have deployed assets, stations and technologies which have gone through the Environmental Compliance (EC) process and will be included in the 2021-2026 proposal. Should applicants provide a list of these stations noting that they have previously been approved? 

Yes, please include previous actions that have gone through an existing environmental analysis. The IOOS Office will use existing environmental analyses to analyze effects associated with a previously approved proposed action. Please refer to Section 5, part A, of the Companion Manual for NOAA Administrative Order 216-6A. 

When identifying previously approved assets, stations and technologies, please consider the following to determine whether those analyses adequately cover a new proposed action under consideration:

A.Is the new proposed action similar to the prior proposed action analyzed in the existing NEPA document?

B.Is the project within the same analysis area, or if the project location is different, are the geographic and resource conditions sufficiently similar to those analyzed in the existing NEPA document?

C.If there are differences, can the applicant explain why those differences are not substantial? 

If the answers to all of these questions are yes, additional NEPA analyses may not be necessary.

Furthermore, please use the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approved Environmental Compliance NOAA Grants Questionnaire, to describe all NEW assets, stations, or technologies that have not had an official NEPA review.

How should we make contact with an IOOS Regional Association to be a partner in a proposal?

See this page for links to all the IOOS Regional Associations.  A good place to start is by contacting the Executive Director of the Regional Association.

The NOFO states that, “Applicants are encouraged to assemble project teams that span a broad cross-section of IOOS stakeholders to capture multiple regional and national perspectives., “ does that mean my company should act as the prime vendor with some project work and the associated cost covered by other IOOS stakeholders?  Or should we seek to participate as a subcontractor to another IOOS stakeholder?

Either of those options would be acceptable. In the first case, the other IOOS stakeholders' costs should be included as part of your budget. 

Is there a desired number or a limit for letters of support?

This NOFO does not require letters of support. Any letter of support will be accepted as part of the application package. Letters of support will not form the basis for prioritizing proposals during the review process. 

What would an ideal project team look like?

An ideal project team would include connections with multiple Regional Associations, have a focus on innovation and new perspectives, and include international connections.

Our policy stipulates in no circumstances would we ever share any indirect rates to anyone outside of the US Government.  In the past we sent a version to the prime with the backup with indirect and fringe rates directly to the US Government – in this instance, NOAA.

Yes. You can send a version to the prime with the backup with indirect and fringe rates sent directly to NOAA.

Clarification on budget information.

Include a detailed budget narrative and a justification to support all proposed budget categories for each fiscal year. Provide separate budgets for each subaward and contractor regardless of the dollar value and indicate the basis for the cost estimates. Subaward costs should be listed in the "Other" section and not the contractual section. Describe products/services to be obtained and indicate the applicability or necessity of each to the project. See guidance here (PDF).

Also see Grants Management Division (GMD) budget narrative guidance

What's the difference between a "budget description" and a "brief narrative justification"?

Budget description and a brief budget narrative are the same. The budget narrative/brief budget description explains in a clear and concise manner the costs in each category, and which items will be covered by the cooperative agreement.

Can we include federal salaries in our budget?

In most circumstances no salary or fringe benefit payments may be made from NOAA grant funds to support Federal employees. While the level of effort required for the research project must be allowed by the employing agency as part of the individuals' official duties, salary and fringe benefit costs associated with an individual participating in an official capacity as a career, career-conditional, or other Federal employees (civilian or uniformed services) are not allowable. 

What may be included in the appendix? (Detailed Budget Information)

  • SF424A for each year of the award (required)
  • Budget Justification/Narratives (required)
  • Itemized Budget Tables (required)
  • Documentation showing proof of non-profit status (if applicable)(required)
  • Resumes of Curriculum Vitae (CV) of key staff and personnel (required)
  • Letters of endorsement, support or collaboration
  • Other visuals, graphs, or maps necessary to the application

Where can I find more information?

More information can be found here.

How much funding is available and what is the limit for a proposal?

Total anticipated funding for all awards is subject to appropriations and the availability of funds from other NOAA programs, federal and/or non-federal entities. 

For Topic area 1, NOAA expects to fund eleven awards in amounts up to $6,000,000 per award per year. The eleven awards will be selected as one award for each of the eleven geographic regions that make up the regional component of the U.S. IOOS enterprise.

For Topic area 2, NOAA expects to fund a total of two to three awards in amounts up to $300,000 per award per year for three years, contingent on availability of funds each year.

For Topic area 1, the NOFO states: "To streamline the process of prioritizing project activities, proposals should identify priority tasks to be completed at an annual funding level of $3,000,000." 

The proposal should describe the full range of the work being requested at the fully requested funding amount. Applicants to Topic area 1 are requested to identify their priority tasks at an annual funded level of $3,000,000. Our intent in asking for this is to have applicants identify the highest priority tasks. This information can be provided as a written narrative, table, or another simple format. Please do not include multiple budgets.  

How much detail is required?  

Please refer to the Code of Regulations, Title 2 Grants and Agreements, §200.8 (Budget). Budget means the financial plan for the project or program that the Federal awarding agency or pass-through entity approves during the Federal award process or in subsequent amendments to the Federal award. It may include the Federal and non-Federal share or only the Federal share, as determined by the Federal awarding agency or pass-through entity. 

It is important that the budget information provided on the SF-424 and SF-424A be consistent with the brief budget information presented in the project narrative and with detailed budget information (financial plan) provided in a budget appendix. Detailed budget information presented in an appendix should, at a minimum, expand on and further explain the information presented on form SF-424A. For further information refer to the Budget Narrative Guidance.

The data sharing plan is limited to 2 pages. Can the certified regional data management plans be referenced in the proposal to provide more details?


The NOFO states that the proposals should address the IOOS core variables.  Do proposals need to specifically address all variables, noting what is supported and what is not?    

Proposals should address only core variables that they support. There is no need for a proposal to explain core variables that are not supported. 

What type of information is needed to address the IOOS core variable, would a chart or table suffice?   

The proposal may address the IOOS core variable in a number of ways, including via text, a chart, or a table. 

What if IOOS isn’t paying for the observation but ingests the data through its data portal? 

Observations are a key component of IOOS. If you believe this is important to highlight to address a core variable, please include in your proposal. 

For Topic area 1, how will the recent investments from the Fill the Gaps Campaign be considered in the review process?

Investments from the Fill the Gaps Campaign will not be considered in the review process. 

For Topic area 1, should submissions assume the current level of IOOS funding or is there an anticipated increase in funding? 

Total anticipated funding for all awards is subject to appropriations and the availability of funds from other NOAA programs, federal and/or non-federal entities. 

Submissions should assume the current level of funding.  The envisioned system should be roughly of similar scope and cost to the existing system and should support the essential IOOS mission

The NOFO asks for deployment costs for new and existing observing assets by asset class.  Is there a definition of asset class?

Capital assets are property, plant, and equipment that are physical or tangible long-term assets that typically have a life of more than one year. Examples of asset class include: buildings, machinery, and land, and equipment, furniture, vehicles, observing instruments (sonars, high frequency radars, data buoys, gliders etc.), and computer infrastructure over $5,000. The intent is to capture the existing scope and understand what the applicant intends to accomplish beyond the existing scope. Please limit descriptions to half a page.

Under Section 3. Project Description and Narrative (not to exceed 20 pages), sub-section f. Project Budget the NOFO requests that applicants Provide a budget for the overall project that follows the cost categories and formats in the SF-424A form, identifies all award recipients (including sub- award recipients), their requested funding amount broken down by the cost categories found in the SF-424A form, and a brief description of their work tasks. The applicant should demonstrate the ability to manage sub-awards.

The intent is to be able to quickly capture a snapshot of the budget. Details should be included in the appendices section. A table, organized in a way that includes a breakout by year and cost categories is one example of how to portray the information. Realizing that applicants may have a large number of subawards, applicants can provide total class category information in this section and provide further details as to the break out of class categories in the appendices section.