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DRL Internet Freedom Annual Program Statement for Internet Freedom Technology


April 3, 2013

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Note: The deadline for this Request for Statements of Interest has passed.


U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
BUREAU OF DEMOCRACY, HUMAN RIGHTS AND LABOR

OPEN GRANTS PROGRAM

Funding Opportunity Title: DRL Internet Freedom Annual Program Statement for Internet Freedom Technology

Funding Opportunity Number: CFDA Number: 19.345

Federal Agency Contact: Global Programs Office: Internet Freedom

Email: DRLProgramInfo@state.gov

I. Funding Opportunity Description

The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) announces the availability of funding for programs that support Internet freedom under the “Governing Justly and Democratically” Foreign Assistance program objective. DRL invites organizations interested in potential funding to submit statements of interest (SOI) outlining program concepts and capacity to manage projects that will foster freedom of expression and the free flow of information on the Internet and other connection technologies around the world. This announcement does not constitute a formal Request for Proposals: DRL will invite select organizations that submit SOIs to expand on their ideas via full proposal separately. Please follow all instructions below.

PLEASE NOTE: DRL strongly urges applicants to register with www.grantsolutions.gov well in advance of submitting a SOI. For more information on registering, please see DRL’s Proposal Submission Instructions (PSI), as updated in November 2012, available at http://www.state.gov/j/drl/p/c12302.htm.

Background:

In past years, U.S. government-funded Internet freedom programs have contributed to the development and deployment of anti-censorship and secure communications technologies in countries where Internet use is heavily filtered and monitored; grantees have conducted digital safety trainings, ranging from tailored sessions for activists, bloggers, and journalists engaged in high-risk activities, to broad awareness and education campaigns reaching many thousands of Internet users; and NGOs and universities have greatly advanced research and understanding of the nature of threats to Internet freedom around the world, and ways to respond to such threats.

Despite these efforts, the technologies and practices that support Internet repression, monitoring, and control continue to spread. The need to advance Internet freedom remains great. In addition to continued work on fundamental technologies of anti-censorship and secure communications, detailed and basic training offerings, and real-time monitoring and analysis of Internet threats, new needs have arisen that call for new technologies and new programmatic approaches.

This solicitation is focused only on aspects of Internet freedom programming related to technology development. Statements of Interest related to the digital safety, advocacy or research will be accepted through a separate solicitation. Please see this link for more information: http://www.state.gov/j/drl/p/c12302.htm

Priority Regions and Countries:

Applications focused globally, or focused on any region or country will be considered.

Internet Freedom Strategic Goals related to Technology:

To advance greater Internet freedom strategy, statements of interest focused on technology should clearly address support for the free flow of information and for individuals, particularly digital activists and members of civil society organizations, in exercising their rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association, in acutely hostile Internet environments.

Internet Freedom Technology Themes:

Statements of interest should address one or more of the following potential program themes related to supporting the free flow of information and digital activists:

  • Technology Expanding Open and Uncensored Access to Information and Communications: Development and support of web and mobile anti-censorship technologies to expand open and uncensored access to information and communications, by enabling Internet users in acutely hostile Internet environments to communicate past technical filtering. These technologies include content and site management and support tools, alternative network infrastructures, and various forms of proxy and routing services, which may be referred to as circumvention technologies. Projects may include, but need not be limited to: deployments and expansions of proven anti-censorship technologies; improvements to existing tools (including but not limited to improvements in security, availability, discoverability, unblockability, usability, and localization); and/or development of new technologies. Projects may also include: methods to reintroduce content behind firewalls or similar services; targeted research on technology use, security, and/or effectiveness; and efforts to improve collaboration among developers. Preference will be given to anti-censorship technologies that also include functions, features, or capabilities to help protect the communications and identity of the client-side user from monitoring at network routers and gateways or other locations.
  • Secure Communication Technology: Development of technologies, techniques, and training to enhance the privacy and security of communications and information dissemination, particularly using mobile technologies. Projects may include components to: support secure communications, privacy protecting, or anonymizing technologies; provide secure online services, such as email and website hosting, with robust defenses against hacking; develop, deploy, adapt, and/or localize mobile security tools; develop hardened devices and secure operating systems that are less susceptible to intrusion or infection; improve usability and user interfaces to enable broader populations of users to adopt secure communications tools; and/or disguise encrypted communications as ordinary traffic without compromising security.

**For technology development proposals in either category, preference will be given to open source technologies and sustainable project activities. All new technologies will be expected to go through peer review processes. Technology projects should not be purely academic, and thus should include either practical deployment plans built on contextual awareness through direct experience or partnerships, or establishment of a clear path towards the development of such plans after the completion of implementation, testing, and any relevant localization for technologies, even if such deployment is not included within the proposed project period.

Activities that are typically given serious consideration for funding include, but are by no means limited to:

  • High-risk, high-reward technology development for original, not yet in use anti-censorship and secure communications tools, built on and suitable for a realistic threat model, including a clear path towards full development and initial pilot deployments, with eventual widespread deployment;
  • Expansions of functionality, improvements in usability, or localization for existing, tested Internet freedom-advancing software tools, along with training and support efforts for use of such tools in environments with significant Internet surveillance and/or repression;
  • Comprehensive solutions incorporating and merging new, modified, and existing technologies to address specific unsolved or under-solved real-world Internet freedom challenges, where project activity includes partnerships with civil society organizations in the field along with customizations and packaging to target precise, local needs.

Activities that are not typically funded include, but are not limited to:

  • Purchases of bulk hardware or bulk licenses for commercial encryption or technology products;
  • Technology development without a clear use case in an Internet repressive environment, or without a clear threat model and understanding of adversarial efforts;
  • Activities that go beyond an organization’s demonstrated competence, or without clear evidence of the ability of the applicant to achieve the stated impact;
  • Purely theoretical exploration of technology and/or security issues; and
  • Technology not sufficiently connected to real-world impact of improving Internet freedom environments in any country or region.

Background Information on general DRL funding:

DRL supports programs that uphold democratic principles, support and strengthen democratic institutions, promote human rights, and build civil society around the world. Funds are available to support projects that have the potential to have an immediate impact leading to long-term sustainable reforms. Projects should have potential for continued funding beyond DRL resources. Projects must not duplicate or simply add to efforts by other entities.

DRL will not consider projects that reflect any type of support for any member, affiliate, or representative of a designated terrorist organization, whether or not elected members of government. Organizations that are invited to submit proposals and subsequently approved for an award may be required to submit additional information on the organization and key individuals for vetting. In such cases, issuance of an award is contingent on the timely receipt of the information requested and the successful completion of the vetting process.

II. Award Information

Funding Instrument Type: Grant or Cooperative Agreement

Estimated Total Program Funding: $8,000,000

Estimated Floor of Individual Award Amounts: $500,000

Estimated Ceiling of Individual Award Amounts: $2,500,000

We anticipate that approximately $8 million in Internet freedom funds will be available for use in this solicitation. Additional country and regional resources may be available to support Internet freedom efforts. DRL reserves the right to award less or more than the funds described, including estimated individual award floor and ceiling amounts, under such circumstances as it may deem to be in the best interest of the U.S. government. In practice, awards in excess of $1,500,000 are uncommon. SOIs that request more than the award ceiling or less than the award floor may be deemed technically ineligible.

Project and Budget Periods:

DRL grants generally must be completed in one to three years. DRL may consider applications for continuation for current grants beyond the initial project period on a noncompetitive basis. Any such decision will be subject to availability of funds, satisfactory progress of the applicants, and a determination that continued funding would be in the best interest of the Department of State.

III. Eligibility Information:

Organizations submitting SOIs must meet the following criteria:

  • Be a non-profit organization/non-government organization, including U.S.-based NGO, PIO, or foreign NGO; or
  • Be a non-profit university or research institution; or
  • Be a for-profit organization or business, although there are restrictions on payment of fees and/or profits to the prime recipient under grants and cooperative agreements; and
  • Have demonstrated experience administering successful projects, preferably targeting the requested program area, or similarly challenging program environments. DRL reserves the right to request additional background information on organizations that do not have previous experience administering federal grant awards. These applicants may be subject to limited funding on a pilot basis; and
  • Have existing, or the capacity to develop, active partnerships with organization(s) in target countries and/or regions, where applicable.
  • Organizations are invited to form consortia and to submit a combined SOI. One organization should be designated as the lead applicant.

IV. Application Requirements, Submission and Deadline

An organization may submit no more than two (2) SOIs per quarter of no more than three (3) pages each. SOIs that do not meet the requirements of the announcement may not be considered.

For all application documents, please ensure:

  • Standard form 424 is completed in the online application.
  • All pages are numbered,
  • All documents are formatted to 8 ½ x 11 paper, and
  • All documents are single-spaced, 12 point Times New Roman font, with a minimum of 1-inch margins.
  • Documents may be submitted in either Microsoft Word or Adobe PDF formats.

SOIs must include:

1) Brief description of the organization, including the organization’s mission statement and previous work in the area of Internet freedom, particularly in acutely hostile Internet environments. Due to page limitations, a general organizational history is not recommended. Information should clearly demonstrate an institution’s record and capacity and may include previous grant management experience, whether funded through private or United States Government resources.

2) Description of how the project is innovative, sustainable, generates positive, lasting impact, and does not duplicate current efforts. See “Additional Information” below.

3) Project description, including estimated project duration and objectives. Outputs and outcomes should also be provided. Outputs and outcomes should clearly link to project objectives and include target benchmarks. Please include the program area(s) and element(s) to be addressed. For more information on program design, please see DRL’s Monitoring and Evaluation Primer (http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/138430.pdf).

4) Brief statement on the methodology to be used in the project evaluation.

5) An estimated total budget figure. The budget should include intended: Primarily Headquarters-Based Costs, Primarily Field-Based Costs, Indirect Costs, and Cost-Share. For more information on DRL budget standards, please see DRL’s Proposal Submission Instructions “Budget Guidelines” section (http://www.state.gov/j/drl/p/nov_2012/index.htm). Please note that while a detailed budget is not requested at this time, organizations invited to submit full proposals must not exceed the estimated SOI budget figure unless advised otherwise.

Submission deadlines: SOI submissions will be reviewed on at least a quarterly basis according to the following deadlines:

May 31, 2013

August 30, 2013

November 29, 2013

February 28, 2014

Submission review will include un-reviewed SOIs submitted as of 11:30 pm on the above dates.

Applicants must submit SOIs using either www.grantsolutions.gov or www.grants.gov. DRL will not accept proposals submitted via Fax, the U.S. postal system, FedEx, UPS and similar delivery companies, or courier.

Applicants are strongly encouraged to submit applications via www.grantsolutions.gov. Organizations using GrantSolutions for the first time should register on the www.grantsolutions.gov site to create a new Applicant account as soon as possible; as this process must be completed before an application can be submitted. To register with GrantSolutions, follow the “First Time Applicants” link and complete the “GrantSolutions New Applicant Sign Up” application form. Organizations that have previously used GrantSolutions do not need to register again. If an organization that has previously used www.grantsolutions.gov is not able to access the system, please contact Customer Support for help in gaining access.

Organizations that are invited to submit a full proposal for Federal grants will need to obtain a DUNS (Data Universal Numbering System) number and register with the Central Contractor Registry (CCR) at http://www.sam.gov/. Click “create user account” and sign up for an “individual account.” For help with www.sam.gov, please call the Federal Service Desk at 866-606-8220. DRL strongly urges applicants to begin this process well in advance of the submission deadline.

V. Review and Selection Process

DRL will review all SOIs for eligibility. Eligible proposals will be subject to compliance of Federal and Bureau regulations and guidelines and may also be reviewed by the Office of the Legal Adviser or by other Department offices. Final technical authority for assistance awards resides with offices such as the Department’s Office of Acquisition Management.

DRL will solicit for full proposals based on an evaluation of how the SOI meets the solicitation review criteria, U.S. foreign policy objectives, and the priority needs of DRL. A State Department Review Committee will then evaluate proposals submitted under this request. Standard review criteria include:

1) Quality of Program Idea: Proposals should be responsive to the solicitation and exhibit originality, substance, precision, and relevance to the mission of promoting freedoms of expression, assembly, and association online.

2) Program Planning/Ability to Achieve Objectives: A relevant work plan should demonstrate substantive undertakings and logistical capacity of the organization. The work plan should adhere to the program overview and guidelines described above. Objectives should be ambitious, yet measurable and achievable. For complete proposals, applicants will have to provide a monthly timeline of project activities.

3) Cost Effectiveness: The overhead and administrative components of the proposal, including salaries and honoraria, should be kept as low as possible. All other items should be necessary and appropriate. Given that the majority of DRL-funded programs take place overseas, U.S.-based costs should be kept to a minimum. Cost sharing is strongly encouraged and is viewed favorably by DRL reviewers.

4) Program Monitoring and Evaluation: Programs should demonstrate the capacity for engaging in impact assessments and providing objectives with measurable outputs and outcomes. Projects that propose an external evaluation with a clear plan will be viewed favorably in this category.

5) Multiplier Effect/Sustainability: Proposed programs should address how the expected results will contribute to improving Internet freedom goals and how they will multiply existing efforts. Proposed programs should address how results achieved within the proposed grant period will contribute to long-term institution building , for example, sustainability via garnering other donor support, or demonstrating capacity-building results.

6) Institution’s Record and Capacity: The Bureaus will consider the past performance of prior recipients and the demonstrated potential of new applicants. Proposals should demonstrate an institutional record of successful programs, including responsible fiscal management and full compliance with all reporting requirements for past grants. Proposed personnel and institutional resources should be adequate and appropriate to achieve the project's objectives.

Unless directed otherwise by the applicant, DRL may refer SOIs for consideration for other State Department or USAID funding opportunities. DRL will only share SOIs for the purpose of consideration for funding and will not share SOIs with anyone outside of the State Department or USAID.

VI. Award Administration

Award Notices: The grant award or cooperative agreement shall be written, signed, awarded, and administered by the Grants Officer. The Grants Officer is the U.S. government official delegated the authority by the U.S. Department of State Procurement Executive to write, award, and administer grants and cooperative agreements. The Notice of Grant Agreement (NGA) is the authorizing document and it will be provided to the recipient. Organizations whose applications will not be funded will also be notified in writing.

Reporting Requirements: All awards issued under this announcement will require both program and financial reports on a frequency specified in the Notice of Grant Agreement. The disbursement of funds may be tied to submission of these reports in a timely manner. All other details related to award administration will be specified the Notice of Grant Agreement as well.

Additional Information: The information contained in this solicitation is final and may not be modified by any DRL representative. Explanatory information provided by DRL that may alter or contradict this information has no effect on the information and requirements of this solicitation. Issuance of the solicitation does not constitute an award commitment on the part of the Government. DRL reserves the right to reduce, revise, or increase proposal budgets in accordance with the needs of the program evaluation requirements.

This request for proposals will appear on www.grantsolutions.gov, www.grants.gov and DRL’s website, www.state.gov/j/drl.

Contact information:

GrantSolutions.gov Help Desk: For assistance with www.grantsolutions.gov accounts and technical issues related to using the system, please contact Customer Support at help@grantsolutions.gov or call 1-866-577-0771 (toll charges for international callers) or 1-202-401-5282. Customer Support is available 8 AM – 6 PM EST, Monday – Friday, except federal holidays.

Grants.gov Helpdesk: For assistance with Grants.gov accounts and technical issues related to using the system, please call the Contact Center at 1-800-518-4726 or email support@grants.gov. The Contact Center is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, except federal holidays.

See http://www.opm.gov/Operating_Status_Schedules/fedhol/2013.asp for a list of federal holidays.

For programmatic questions related to SOI submissions please contact DRLProgramInfo@state.gov.

After SOIs have been submitted, U.S. Government officials – including those in the Bureaus, the Department, and at embassies/missions overseas – are not permitted to give advice on individual submissions directly related to this funding competition.



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