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Frequently Asked Questions

Clarification on CVs

Question: Is Appendix A limited only to staff spending 50% or more of their time on the grant, referring back to the language in the top bullet on page 22 of the solicitation about key staff? (10/20/11)

Answer: You may include in Appendix A the CV of a staff member who will spend less than 50% time on Center activities if he/she has a truly meaningful role in the center that makes him/her a key player in accomplishing the purpose of the grant. Please do not use Appendix A simply to display qualifications of faculty who are not expected to have a significant, ongoing role in the center -- such CVs may, if you wish to include them, be put in Appendix C (Optional) Other Documentation subject to the page limit for that appendix.

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References to Curriculum Vitae

Question: Several parts of the narrative portion of the prospectus require a statement of academic capabilities. We will include CVs of participating faculty in the appendix, so will it be sufficient, when answering narrative questions about academic capabilities, to refer to the CVs? (10/19/11)

Answer: Generally yes, though you will want to make clear in the narrative specifically what part of the individual faculty members’ capabilities reviewers should take note of when they look at the CVs.

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Example of Leveraged Resources

Question: Can you please provide clarification and an example for leveraged resources that are mentioned on page 15 of the grant solicitation? (10/17/11)

Answer: An example of leveraging: in the past, some UTCs during the time period of their UTC grant have, for example, built or equipped a laboratory using funds from an NSF grant and have also used that lab for UTC work; while the NSF funds that built that lab are not allowable as match on the UTC grant because their source is Federal, the lab nevertheless assists in accomplishing the purpose of the UTC grant. RITA would be interested in knowing this or any other type of leveraging that would benefit the grant.

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Grant Reporting Requirements (supplemental information)

Drafts of the proposed "Grant Deliverables and Requirements for University Transportation Centers" and "General Provisions of Grants for University Transportation Centers" that will be applicable to grants awarded as a result of this competition are now available for review on the UTC Competition website, http://utc.dot.gov/about/grants_competitions/2011/index.html.

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Indirect-Cost Rates

Question: Some people are interpreting the first bullet on page 20 of the solicitation as a request for a reduction in indirect costs. Is that your intention? (10/4/11)

Answer: RITA will accept universities' Federally negotiated indirect-cost rates; in this section we ask applicants to report on any efforts to reduce costs of, or enhance resources available for, grant activities.

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State Planning and Research (SPR) Funding as "Non-Federal Match"

Question: Are State Planning and Research (SPR) funds received from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) by state Departments of Transportation (DOTs) eligible as "non-Federal match?" (10/4/11)

Answer: SPR is one of the limited Federal funding sources eligible as "non-Federal share" under a specific exception in current law (49 USC 5506(j), "Federal Share"). The eligibility of SPR as "non-Federal matching funds" is included in the UTC 2011 Grant Solicitation at Part II, "Review, Selection, and Award Process," section F, "Matching Funds (see http://utc.dot.gov/about/grants_competitions/2011/grant_solicitation/html/part_02.html).

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Inclusion of URLs in Application

Question: How are the UTC grant applications viewed by the reviewers? In PDF form? Or, are they printed out in hardcopy for the reviewers? The answer could potentially affect some of our prospectus formatting - since with PDFs you can include clickable links. (9/29/11)

Answer: RITA will not comment on the details of the review process beyond what was stated in the RFP. Applications must be self-contained within the specified page limitations. Internet web site addresses (URLs) should not be used to provide information necessary to the review because reviewers are under no obligation to view the Internet sites. If desired, print-outs of information contained on web sites may be included among the allowable ten 8.5 X 11 pages in the "(Optional) Other Documentation" appendix to the prospectus (see page 22 of the solicitation document).

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Providing Matching Funds

Question: Page 6 of the solicitation notes that RITA will provide grantees up to two years to spend the award of funds. Will a grantee have this same two-year period to provide the required matching funds? (9/29/11)

Answer: Yes.

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Submission of Budget Forms for Consortium Members

Question: How do I include the required SF424A forms for consortium members in my application, and do those count toward the page limit? (9/26/11)

Answer: As noted on page 12 of the solicitation, the Standard Forms 424, 424A, and 424B are not part of the prospectus which has a page limit, thus there is no page limit on those three Standard Forms, nor would you include those forms in the prospectus. We understand that Grants.gov provides, as an online form, only one copy of the Standard Form 424A; there is a place on the online SF424 form (below block 15) where you can attach documents, and that is where you would attach the additional SF424A forms necessary for an application that includes consortium members.

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Participation by Universities Not Eligible to Receive a Direct Grant

Question: My university does not meet the eligibility requirements to be a lead institution. How may I participate in the UTC Program? (9/26/11)

Answer: The solicitation for the 2011 UTC Program grant competition stresses collaboration, and based on the questions we have received from applicants and posted on this web page, it appears that many applicants will be proposing a consortium of universities participating jointly in a UTC. If you have not already found a partner that is eligible to apply under this solicitation, then you might wish to use the Transportation Research Board's research databases TRID for completed research (http://trid.trb.org/) or RiP for research in progress (http://rip.trb.org/) to identify other universities that are doing work in your area and then approach them about a possible collaboration.

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Budget Narrative

Question: Should applicants provide a budget narrative to explain what is in the SF424A? (9/22/11)

Answer: The SF424A itself does not provide space for a narrative, and as the SF424A is all the solicitation requires regarding the budget, a narrative is thus not required. However, if you wish to submit a budget narrative, then you should include it in the "(Optional) Other Documentation" appendix to the prospectus (see page 22 of the solicitation document).

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Requested Amount

Question: What is RITA's position on a grant application requesting significantly less than the $3.5 million amount stated in the RFP? (9/22/11)

Answer: RITA would not reject an application as noncompliant solely because it applies for less funding than the amount stated in the solicitation document. However, you should explain in the application your reasoning in proposing to operate a UTC for less than the full amount of funding available and state how doing so would benefit the grant.

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Letters of Support

Question: Where should letters of support be included? (9/22/11)

Answer: Letters of support, if you wish to provide them in your application, should be included in the "(Optional) Other Documentation" appendix to the prospectus (see page 22 of the solicitation document).

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Aviation Projects

Question: Would an application focused on aviation be eligible to receive a UTC grant? (9/22/11)

Answer: An application focused solely on aviation would not be eligible under the UTC Program which is authorized as a surface-transportation program, but an application including aviation as part of an intermodal approach to surface transportation would be eligible.

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Inclusion of Consortium Members in SF424A Budget Information (supplemental information)

Question: Standard practice when universities use the SF424A budget form for a consortium is to include by-category information about consortium members in their individual forms but then report those consortium member budget totals on the "Contractual" category of the lead institution's budget – can you clarify whether we may do that, or not? (9/20/11)

Answer: Thanks to input from a couple of different universities on this point that helped RITA more fully understand this issue from the grantee's point of view, RITA will accept the SF424A budget either as described by the questioner here (using the "Contractual" category) or as described by RITA in the question below called "Inclusion of Consortium Members in SF424A Budget Information" (rolling up all members' budgets into a total budget).

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One-Year or Two-Year Grant?

Question: In talking with other potential applicants, some think the grants RITA will award are for one year and some think they are for two years. Which is correct, and if two years then doesn't pending Congressional action on Federal Fiscal Year 2012 affect the funds? (9/8/11)

Answer: Please see the language on page 6 of the solicitation document, first full paragraph at the top of that page, where it says that RITA will give selected centers "up to two full years from the award date" to spend the approximately $3.5M award. It may be that some potential applicants describe this situation as "one year" referring to the single funding award while others describe it as "two years" referring to the two-year duration of the grant, but the solicitation will result in one award of funds valued at approximately $3.5M (and requiring a dollar-for-dollar match); recognizing the logistics involved in getting an award of that size up and running, we are giving recipients a two-year period to spend the funds.

The approximately $3.5M awards to be made to each selected center come from Federal Fiscal Year 2011 funds thus are not dependent on any Congressional action on a Federal Fiscal Year 2012 budget or a new or further-extended transportation authorization bill. The effect of any new legislation on the UTC Program will be addressed at the time such legislation may be enacted; language on page 6 and elsewhere in the solicitation notes that the grants awarded under this solicitation may be extended if future legislation provides for such an occurrence, but applicants applying under this solicitation should not expect to receive any funds in addition to the approximately $3.5M.

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Grant Reporting Requirements

Question: What will the grant's reporting requirements entail for Centers selected under this solicitation? Will the requirements be the same as for the most recent UTC grants? (9/6/11)

Answer: RITA is working to finalize the new grant's reporting-requirements document for posting on the competition website as soon as possible. Because of the significant change in scope from prior UTC grants (that provided multiple years of funding at various dollar levels) to the new grants (that are anticipated at this time to be a single award of funds at a large dollar level), certain of the prior reporting requirements would not be appropriate. The requirements will likely be similar to previous grants (as shown at http://utc.dot.gov/about/html/requirements_media_version.html) except that a version of the new Research Performance Progress Report (http://www.nsf.gov/bfa/dias/policy/rppr/format_ombostp.pdf) will be required instead of the previous Newsletters and Annual Reports (which will be optional) and progress and financial reporting will be done quarterly instead of semi-annually.

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Budget Period (see also "Budget Start Date" Q&A below)

Question: Can responders submit a budget that is less than 2 years in duration? Or more than 2 years? (9/6/11)

Answer: RITA would not reject an application as noncompliant solely because it does not provide the two-year budget the solicitation calls for, however, you should explain your reasoning in proposing to operate a UTC for less than the allowable two-year duration and state how doing so would benefit the grant. Applications should not propose a budget period longer than two years, as the grant itself will last for two years from the date of award (as noted on page 6 of the solicitation document).

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Additional Points in Selection Criteria

Question: Please clarify the selection criteria point system, including how "additional points" will be factored into selection. (9/6/11)

Answer: The criteria that will be used for applications for the basic Tier 1 UTC grant total to a maximum of 110 points, while the criteria for applications for Regional Centers total to 120 points, and the Transit-Focused Tier 1s also to 120 points. The use of the word "additional" for the Diversity criterion is perhaps unnecessary as all applicants are directed to respond to all seven criteria, including the Diversity one, that are discussed in detail in Part III.2.D on pages 15-20. The word "additional" does apply to applications for the Regional and/or Transit-Focused Tier 1 Centers where the solicitation requires extra information to be included in those applications beyond what an application for a Tier 1 Center must contain. The use of additional points for Regional and Transit-Focused Tier 1 Centers does not mean that an application submitted for consideration for both a Regional and a Transit-Focused Tier 1 Center could receive 10 additional points for each, for a possible maximum of 130 points; in such cases, the additional 10 points available on a Regional application would not be counted when assessing that same application for a Transit-Focused Tier 1 Center, and vice versa.

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Documenting Eligibility Criteria

Question: With respect to the demonstration of eligibility, would a letter from an authorized representative of the university (e.g., Vice President of Research) stating the institution's fulfillment of all eligibility criteria be considered by reviewers as credible evidence, or is it required that applicants provide specific data sets as evidence for each criteria? (8/29/11)

Answer: Either would be an acceptable response to the eligibility criteria, and RITA recommends providing a basic level of data (whether in the form of a letter or as text following the outline of the prospectus) to clearly show the criteria met. Should RITA request it prior to award of funds, an applicant must be able to document in full detail the basic data or statement provided in the application to demonstrate eligibility. Important note: a letter providing this eligibility information, which is an element required to be included within the prospectus, would count toward the 35-page limit.

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Financial Commitment/Research vs. Education

Question: Does it matter what the balance is between budgeted research and budgeted education amounts on this criterion? For example, could it be 80% research and 20% education? (8/29/11)

Answer: Neither the solicitation nor the UTC Program's authorizing statute specifies any required proportion of research versus education costs in meeting the "Financial Commitment" criteria, so any proportion would be acceptable so long as there is some of each.

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Two Applications from One University

Question: Would RITA prefer to see only one application from a university? How will RITA evaluate two lead proposals from the same institution? If both are well reviewed, and since an institution may not receive more than one UTC grant, who will decide which proposal is selected – will it be the university's choice? (8/29/11)

Answer: RITA intends to conduct a truly full and open competition so does not discourage a university from submitting two separate applications if the university wishes to do so. The two applications' responses on the selection criteria will be used to determine which, if either, is eventually chosen for funding.

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Meaning of "Institution of Higher Learning"

Question: The solicitation states that only "non-profit institutions of higher learning located in the United States or territories" are eligible to apply. Can you please define what is meant by the portion of that language that says "institution of higher learning"? (8/26/11)

Answer: The UTC Program's authorizing legislation, SAFETEA-LU, does not define "institution of higher learning" but does repeatedly use the word "university," as in University Transportation Centers. RITA therefore considers the statute to direct grant funds to universities, meaning an institution that conducts research and teaching and awards degrees at the Bachelor level and higher (per Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition). This is consistent with the way RITA has previously managed the UTC Program under SAFETEA-LU.

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Inclusion of Consortium Members in SF424A Budget Information

Question: Do we put all the money that will go to our consortium members in the "Contractual" category on the SF424A? Or should we request more detailed information from the consortium members so we can feed their anticipated expenses into the other categories (Travel, Equipment, etc.) on the form? (8/24/11)

Answer: On page 13, the solicitation requires one SF424A showing the allocation of the Center's total annual resources plus (for a consortium) SF424As for each of the participating universities including the lead. The solicitation does not specifically state how to treat consortium members on the total-Center SF424A, but it would be most clear if the individual-category amounts shown on the SF424As for the individual universities were rolled up to be reported in those same categories on the total-Center SF424A. Please also work with your university's sponsored research office for any university-specific guidance regarding budgets.

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Financial Commitment/What is Included?

Question: What counts as "regularly budgeted institutional amounts..." [p. 9 and elsewhere], e.g. do faculty time for teaching, annualized facility costs for research, and gifts that are directed towards research count? What else might count? (8/24/11)

Answer: The UTC Program's authorizing legislation, SAFETEA-LU, does not specify any more about this criterion than is stated in the solicitation. The items you mention appear reasonable so long as you would be able to document if called upon to do so that they are the kinds of items that would be included in your institution's budget (are gifts directed toward research included in the budget?). The latter portion of that criterion which you did not quote in your question must be met as well, that the items "support ongoing transportation research and education programs." Please also work with your university's sponsored research office for any university-specific guidance regarding budgets.

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Multiparty Arrangements/Use of Federal UTC Funds (supplemental information)

Question: Does the language on p. 8 mean that a community college cannot participate in any way in a UTC? (8/24/11)

Answer: As noted in the question below about use of Federal UTC funds to procure goods and services from a private company, the language in Part I.E on p. 8 speaks to the make-up of a consortium and is not intended to limit a grantee's ability to use UTC Federal funds to pay an organization such as a community college for goods or services that are allowable under Federal grant regulations and are beneficial to fulfilling the purpose of the UTC grant

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Multiparty Arrangements/Use of Federal UTC Funds

Question: In the context of the paragraph on p. 8 of the solicitation concerning multiparty arrangements, I understand that a private-sector entity cannot be a member of a UTC consortium and thus cannot receive a share of the Federal UTC grant funds as other, allowable members of a UTC consortium would do. But may a university use the Federal UTC grant funds to procure from a private-sector entity goods or services that are allowable under Federal grant regulations? (8/22/11)

Answer: The language in that section on p. 8 is intended to address issues related to the make-up of a consortium arrangement; that language is not intended to limit a grantee's ability to incur costs that are allowable under existing Federal grant regulations. Federal grant regulations allow grantees to use Federal funds for certain purposes, such as procurement of goods and services from a private company, that are necessary to the conduct of the grant. An applicant should work closely with its university's sponsored research office to develop a clear understanding of what Federal grant regulations and university policies allow.

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Budget Start Date

Question: What should be the start date of the budget? (8/22/11)

Answer: The solicitation does not specify a start date for the budget, and an exact timeline for award of new grants chosen through this competition is not yet available though RITA hopes to award grants in early 2012. Any reasonable date in early 2012 would be an acceptable start date for the budget.

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Single-Mode Focus

Question: The solicitation emphasizes RITA's desire for a multimodal UTC Program. Does this mean that all proposals should have a multimodal focus, or can individual centers have a strong concentration on a single mode of transportation? If the latter, should the center include some intermodal elements pertinent to that mode in the application, or should it focus principally on the single mode? (8/10/11)

Answer: RITA purposefully did not require applicants to have a multimodal program in order that an applicant with an especially strong single-mode focus would not be excluded from consideration. RITA cannot advise applicants on how to structure their applications, so we are not able to respond to the question on what an application should include.

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Same Scope of Work on Two Proposals

Question: How would two proposals be evaluated that have the same university as a consortium member and that university is supplying the same scope of work for both proposals? (8/10/11)

Answer: The information provided in the solicitation document contains the full extent of information RITA will provide on the evaluation process. On page 12, the solicitation document discusses the "balanced portfolio" that US DOT seeks to select through this competition. RITA has permitted universities to be included in more than one application primarily because we were aware that, at many universities doing work in transportation, faculty in (for example) the engineering department may be working on one transportation topic while faculty in (for example) the urban planning department may be working in an entirely different area of transportation. Should the same faculty member at one university propose identical scopes of work that are included on two applications, and should those two applications both be rated highly by reviewers, that situation is an example of a factor related to achieving a balanced portfolio of types and/or sizes of universities that will be considered in the selection.

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Proposal Costs

Question: My university currently has a UTC grant still open. May we use staff time of personnel whose salaries are paid by the current UTC grant to prepare an application to be submitted to this 2011 competition? (8/10/11)

Answer: You should always consult with your university's sponsored research office when you have questions about whether costs are allowable under a Federal grant, but we would expect the answer to be no. The costs of preparing bids or proposals are typically treated as F&A costs, but, again, you should have your university's sponsored research office advise you on the specifics of how this is done at your university.

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Correction to Financial Commitment Language on p. 9

Question: On p. 9 of the solicitation, language in the "Financial Commitment" item for Tier 1 and Tier 1 Transit-Focused Centers is slightly different from that shown farther down that page for Regional Centers and as shown for all three types of Centers on p. 14. Which is correct? (8/8/11)

Answer: The word "transportation" was accidentally omitted from the text on p. 9 that briefly describes the "Financial Commitment" eligibility criterion for Tier 1 and Tier 1 Transit-Focused Centers; that text should read the same as it does in the brief description of that criterion for the Regional Centers on p. 9 and in the more detailed descriptions of that criterion for all three types of Centers on p. 14; correct text is as follows: "...at least $400,000 each year in regularly budgeted institutional amounts to support transportation research and education..."

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Foreign Funds as Match

Question: Can match (cash or in-kind) be received from abroad, for example from a foreign transportation firm or university? (8/8/11)

Answer: Foreign funds are acceptable as match unless their original source was U.S. Federal funds (for example, if the funds originated as U.S. aid to a foreign country).

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Eligibility Criteria

Questions: When counting "...the number of degrees awarded in professional fields closely related to transportation...," do we include all students in related degree programs or only those who focused on transportation within those programs? And when counting faculty who have published "...referred journal publications on transportation research...," do we include conference DVDs or books or book chapters? (8/8/11)

Answer: As noted in the solicitation, SAFETEA-LU does not specify any more about the eligibility criteria than is stated. In the case of the number of "graduate degrees awarded in professional fields closely related to transportation...," because the statute does not specify that an individual student's research be focused on transportation within one of those fields closely related to transportation, when determining eligibility reviewers would have no basis on which to exclude a student who receives a degree in one of those closely-related fields but does not work solely on transportation.

Concerning the eligibility criterion requiring a certain number of "refereed journal publications on transportation research...," the statute here states that refereed journals are what will be used to establish eligibility under this criterion. Other items such as conference DVDs and books or book chapters thus may not be used to establish eligibility.

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Financial Commitment

Question: Does the RFP require the lead institution to demonstrate at least $400K in regularly budgeted support in preceding years, or does it also require that the lead institution show $400K in budgeted support for each year of the proposal? Is there a number of preceding years that this needs to be shown for? Can you please clarify if the $400K/yr in regularly budgeted institutional amounts can be a subset of the 1:1 yearly matching total? (8/4/11)

Answer: The RFP asks for evidence of committing $400K in preceding years, meaning a time period before submission of this RFP. If your application will propose a consortium, this section asks for financial evidence only on the lead university. As noted toward the top of page 15, SAFETEA-LU did not specify how many years should be reported for this element, so reviewers will accept any credible evidence from one or more preceding years equaling $400K by the lead university.

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Consortia Applications

Question: Will the US DOT give priority to consortia of universities applying for UTC grants? (7/28/11)

Answer: An application will not be given priority because it proposes a consortium. Selection will be based on the evaluation criteria described in the solicitation document. However, Part III, Section 2.D.e (p. 18) of the RFP explains that centers are encouraged to form consortia and other collaborative relationships with other academic and/or research institutions in order to achieve their objectives. Centers must also demonstrate a commitment and capability to form other partnerships with public and private entities, in order to advance transportation expertise and technology and address critical workforce needs.

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Multiple Grants

Question: Can you please clarify whether/how a university may receive funding under more than one grant to be awarded under this solicitation? (7/28/11)

Answer: RITA has authority to award a single grant to each University Transportation Center (UTC) to be chosen in this competition. This means that for a UTC composed of a single non-profit institution of higher learning, an award will be made to that university; in the case of a consortium, the lead university applies for the grant on behalf of itself and other universities, and RITA will make the award to that lead university, which then distributes funding to the other consortium members.

SAFETEA-LU limits a non-profit institution of higher learning to being awarded only one direct UTC grant from any Federal fiscal year's funds, so a single university may be the recipient of only one direct grant under this 2011 competition (either as the sole university operating a UTC or as the lead of a consortium of universities). Other universities that are non-lead members of a consortium do not receive funding directly from RITA, so this limitation does not apply to them. For example:

  • A university that is selected to receive a direct grant from RITA on one grant may also (if selected) receive funds as a non-lead member of a consortium on a different grant; or
  • A university that is a non-lead member of two consortia may (if selected) receive funds from both grants through the lead university of each grant.

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