The State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) awards the vast majority of its program funds through open competition. DRL publishes Requests for Statements of Interest (RSOIs) and Requests for Proposals (RFPs) on and on the DRL website. RSOIs and RFPs are usually tailored to include specific target countries, themes and review criteria. On occasion when a very specific need or timeframe dictates, DRL may issue a limited source solicitation to qualified organizations with the required expertise and experience. Organizations may submit unsolicited proposals for countries or themes that are not covered in DRL’s RSOIs or RFPs, but please note that these proposals are considered on case-by-case basis as time, funding and priorities permit.
In order to obtain a wide array of innovative program ideas, DRL typically uses a two-step proposal system. The RSOI, posted on and on the DRL website, requests organizations to submit a two-page concept paper or Statement of Interest (SOI). Review criteria and format requirements are included in each RSOI. All SOIs deemed technically eligible are then reviewed by DRL and the appropriate State Department regional bureaus. DRL shares all SOIs with relevant posts and missions for their feedback. Organizations that submitted SOIs and are deemed competitive based on the review criteria are notified. In the notification, DRL requests these organizations to submit a full proposal, budget and budget narrative. The full proposal must respond to DRL’s Proposal Submission Instructions.
After full proposals are received and reviewed for their technical eligibility, they are reviewed by the DRL Review Committee. DRL vets all completed proposals through regional bureaus and USAID Washington, as well as with posts and missions. In reviewing a proposal, the Committee may have concerns or questions that could change their funding decision. The Committee may impose conditions (terms that must be met in order for the proposal to be funded) and recommendations (terms that should be met in order to improve the proposal) on any proposal.
Following the panel, DRL’s Programs Unit (DRL/P) compiles the list of projects recommended for funding for approval by DRL’s Assistant Secretary. After the DRL Assistant Secretary (or designate) approves the recommendation letter memo, all organizations are notified in writing.
A DRL Program Officer outlines in the notification the various recommendations and conditions for each proposal that has been approved: this document is called the negotiation letter. Applicants must reply in writing to each negotiation letter. Applicants should provide strong justification to any recommendation or condition that is not met in response to the negotiation letter. In rare cases where justification is particularly strong, the Committee can review conditions or recommendations and re-vote on their funding decision.
Note: Receipt of notification does not imply funding.
After applicants have formally responded to DRL’s negotiation letter, the proposal and budget are used to draft the congressional notification (CN). Final award approval is contingent upon the approval of DRL’s Assistant Secretary and the Director of Foreign Assistance, as well as clearance of the CN. This approval process usually takes 3 to 6 weeks.
Why does it take so long?
Approximately 15 individuals within the Department must clear on each CN that DRL drafts. Once the internal clearances are processed, DRL/P provides the Department’s Legislative Affairs Bureau with the CN. Legislative Affairs sends the CN to the Hill where it must “sit” for 15 calendar days. During this time, Congress reserves the right to request additional information on specific projects or otherwise “hold” the CN pending clarifications. If a CN is held, DRL cannot move forward on the project until the requested information is provided and the hold is released.
DRL will finalize the proposal and budget while the CN is in clearance. Issues may include: an increase or decrease to the overall budget; modification to proposal scope or objectives; scaling down of objectives; or further information on activities or budget. Also, DRL/P will clear the Statement of Work (SOW) with the organization. The SOW contains the short- and long-term goals upon which the grant will be evaluated. The SOW will be included in the binding grant agreement.
Once the CN clears and all negotiations and the SOW are finalized, DRL/P sends the grant paperwork to the Office of Acquisitions Management (AQM, the office within the Department responsible for writing grants) and the Executive Office (EX, DRL’s financial management office) for further processing.
From the potential grantee, AQM requires four additional documents in order to complete a grant agreement. They are:
- the Negotiated Indirect Cost Rate Agreement (NICRA) when applicable;
- proof of 501(c)(3) status;
- documentation of organization audits; and
- a list of current USG grants in-country.
As AQM writes the grant agreement, DRL/P will send the necessary paperwork to new grantee organizations in order to obtain registration with the Department of Health and Human Services’ Payment Management System (PMS). All DRL grant award funds are processed through PMS.
Finally, AQM writes the grant agreement and sends the grant documents to the grantee organization. Once the grantee agrees to the terms and conditions by signing the required forms (the DS-1909 and assurances), the package returns to AQM, EX and DRL/P to be recorded and assigned in PMS. The grant funds, barring technical difficulties, are then available to the grantee for drawdown.