Commonly Made Mistakes
As you begin to think about your grant submissions, we wanted to share with you some commonly made mistakes:
The project exhibits no clear relationship to the byway. Remember you're applying for National Scenic Byways Program (NSBP) funding, so establishing the project's relationship to the byway, its intrinsic qualities and describing how the project will enhance the byway traveler experience are all important to convey in your application. A project's proximity to the byway or its inclusion in the corridor management plan does not necessarily make it eligible for NSBP funding.
Not making a compelling case for why the project should be considered for funding. In preparing your application, it is important that you convey the necessary information as succinctly as possible. You have several opportunities to do so and it is important that each section of your application reinforce the others. Essentially you are building support for your proposed project in each section. As such, it is important that you focus on providing only the information required for reviewers to make a determination regarding the eligibility of your project. You are encouraged to avoid incorporating a lot of promotional language about your byway into your application and to concentrate on substantiating funding for your various project elements based on their benefit to byway travelers and their relationship to the byway's intrinsic qualities.
Unfocused project abstracts. Think of this as a snapshot. This is the reviewer's first view of your project and it is important to provide a well-focused and defined picture. In this section of the application you will need to concisely summarize what the project will do. What are the project elements (i.e., what will you specifically be buying with the proposed funds)? What will be the benefit to byway travelers (i.e., how will it help manage the intrinsic qualities that support the byway's designation, shape the byway's story, interpret the story for visitors, or improve visitor facilities along the byway)?
If your project is selected for funding, this will be the write-up used to notify members of Congress about your project, be included in funding announcements about your project, and be included in FHWA's Archive of Funded Projects as the project abstract of record.
Rambling Narrative/Project Summary. Think of this as a wide-angle, panorama shot. Having provided a snapshot of your project in the Abstract/Project Description section of your application, you now have the opportunity to provide the broader context of your project and describe its major elements.
People reviewing your application likely are unfamiliar with the local area, byway and proposed project. You will need to clearly and completely summarize what will be accomplished; the relationship of the proposed project to the byway, to the intrinsic qualities supporting the byway's designation, and to other projects currently planned or underway along the byway (especially those identified in the byway's corridor management plan); and the benefits to byway travelers.
To facilitate review, you should consider using numbered lists, bullets and/or section labels to identify the individual elements for each phase of the project. Again, remember the purpose of your application is to request NSBP funding. As such please avoid the use of overly descriptive language that is more appropriate to promotional materials than to the subject at hand. Also, only reference attachments that specifically support your application narrative (see Excess Attachments below).
You should also keep in mind that the Narrative/Project Summary should accurately reflect and include elements that you outline in both the Work Plan and Budget sections of your application. Please be sure to review your application carefully to ensure that the information included in the Narrative/Project Summary is consistent with the information you include in your Budget, Work Plan and Attachments.
Eligibility category selection. When deciding which eligibility category to select in submitting your application, please take care to determine that the project you are advancing for potential funding is eligible for funding under that specific category.
Also, if your funding request involves implementation of a project identified in your corridor management plan, you are encouraged to apply under the specific eligibility category for which the byway project is being considered. For example, if you have identified "develop a marketing plan" as part of your corridor management plan, you should submit your application for funding under the Marketing Program eligibility category rather than Corridor Management Program eligibility category. Please review the Grant Information thoroughly to determine which eligibility category to submit your grant under http://www.bywaysonline.org/grants/application/information.
Non-compliance with the application submission process. To be considered for NSBP funding you must complete and electronically submit the bywaysonline.org application. More information about the process is available here, http://www.bywaysonline.org/grants/application.
Insufficient information (General). When completing both the Work Plan and Budget sections of the application, it's important to provide enough detail to support the activities outlined in your narrative and provide the reviewer with sufficient information to determine the eligibility of the costs outlined and estimated costs for the various project components. To facilitate review, please be sure to integrate the activities identified in the Work Plan section of the application into the Budget section. Applicants should not assume that by providing detail in the Work Plan a one or two line budget will suffice.
Lack of Work Plan detail. Your Work Plan establishes the timeframe for how you will implement your project as well as providing the justification for each item. You should assume that the list of tasks included in your Work Plan will be used to develop an agreement with your State/Indian tribe transportation agency to identify how you will accomplish the work proposed in your application. You'll want to be sure that you've addressed the "how" and "when" questions that reviewers will need answered to make their determination regarding eligibility and your ability to implement the project. Please use action words such as "develop a" or "design a" or "construct a" to make the intent of the line item clear and reflect the contract deliverables or significant project tasks. You are also encouraged to review your application to ensure that the items detailed in your Work Plan are consistent with the information provided in the Narrative/Project Summary, Budget/Cost Breakdown and Attachments sections of your application.
Lack of Budget detail. When preparing your budget, please keep in mind that bundling items together in a single line item does not typically work to your advantage. In many instances, reviewers might be willing to fund a portion of a project, but because sufficient information was not included in the budget to separate the costs out, large portions of the project, or in some instances entire projects, have been determined to be not eligible for funding.
The proposed budget should accurately reflect the final costs to complete the proposed project. That said the requested amount of NSBP funds should be proportionate to the proposed project's benefits to byway travelers.
In preparing your budget, please be sure to break out the various project elements detailed in the Narrative/Project Summary and Work Plan sections of your application. It is important that each of these sections support the other to provide the reviewer with a comprehensive picture of your project and the details necessary to determine the eligibility of the various components of your project. Where applicable, please provide specificity regarding the number of units (e.g., the number of interpretive signs) and the per price cost to facilitate review.
Insufficient information (travel and per diem costs). If you are requesting funding for byway representatives to participate in the biennial National Scenic Byways conferences, as well as other training or technical assistance activities, please highlight how these training or technical assistance opportunity(s) will help strengthen your byway organization and/or manage byway activities. Please also provide detail on the number of representatives, why their participation is important, and reasonable individual travel components (e.g., airfare, per diem expenses, conference/course registration costs, etc.). Per OMB Circular A-87 (this Circular establishes principles and standards for determining costs for Federal awards carried out through grants, cost reimbursement contracts, and other agreements with State and local governments and federally recognized Indian tribal governments), the rates and amounts established under subchapter I of Chapter 57, Title 5, United States Code ("Travel and Subsistence Expenses; Mileage Allowances"), or by the Administrator of General Services, or by the President (or his or her designee) pursuant to any provisions of such subchapter shall apply to travel under Federal awards (48 CFR 31.205–46(a)) and should be used. For domestic per diem rates, see http://www.gsa.gov/Portal/gsa/ep/contentView.do?contentId=17943&contentType=GSA_BASIC.
Insufficient match. It's very important that you familiarize yourself with what is and is not eligible as a match for your project. If your match is insufficient, your project will not be considered for funding. Applicants for National Scenic Byways Program funding must provide a minimum of 20 percent match for a project in accordance with 23 U.S.C. 162, http://www.bywaysonline.org/program/us_code.html.
In many instances, the applicant's match was determined to be insufficient because the value of the third party in-kind contribution was either not sufficiently documented or could not be directly attributed to the byway project. Please keep in mind that the value of third party in-kind donations may only be accepted as the State or Indian tribe match when they are directly associated with the byway project and the period during which that project is undertaken.
For information on matching funds requirements, please refer to the Grant Information, http://www.bywaysonline.org/grants/application/information. If you have specific questions about the eligibility of your match, please contact your byway coordinator or FHWA division contact, http://www.bywaysonline.org/contacts/states.html.
Salaries and benefits requested are disproportionate to the project costs detailed. Please refer to OMB Circular A-87 (this Circular establishes principles and standards for determining costs for Federal awards carried out through grants, cost reimbursement contracts, and other agreements with State and local governments and federally recognized Indian tribal governments), specifically Appendix A, General Principles for Determining Allowable Costs (Section E, Direct Costs) http://ecfr.gpoaccess.gov/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=ecfr&sid=9445200b8f94b38c09c35f3cc20d7e19&rgn=div5&view=text&node=2:220.127.116.11.6&idno=2#2:18.104.22.168.22.214.171.124.4 which states:
1. General. Direct costs are those that can be identified specifically with a particular final cost objective.
2. Application. Typical direct costs chargeable to Federal awards are:
- Compensation of employees for the time devoted and identified specifically to the performance of those awards
- Cost of materials acquired, consumed, or expended specifically for the purpose of those awards
- Equipment and other approved capital expenditures
- Travel expenses incurred specifically to carry out the award
Fund raising. Fund raising is not an allowable cost for NSBP funds. Please see OMB Circular A-87 (this Circular establishes principles and standards for determining costs for Federal awards carried out through grants, cost reimbursement contracts, and other agreements with State and local governments and federally recognized Indian tribal governments), specifically, Appendix B, 17 (Fund Raising and Investment Management Costs) which states "Costs of organized fund raising, including financial campaigns, solicitation of gifts and bequests, and similar expenses incurred to raise capital or obtain contributions are unallowable, regardless of the purpose for which the funds will be used." http://ecfr.gpoaccess.gov/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=ecfr&sid=9445200b8f94b38c09c35f3cc20d7e19&rgn=div5&view=text&node=2:126.96.36.199.6&idno=2#2:188.8.131.52.184.108.40.206.5. Ongoing administrative expenses. National Scenic Byways Program funds may not be used for ongoing administrative, operating or maintenance expenses. Fulfillment expenses for promotional activities such as maintenance of and costs for toll free 800 numbers, ongoing hosting and maintenance of a website, organizing or sponsoring annual promotional events or festivals, responding to calls and inquiries and mailing brochures and other promotional materials to individual travelers are not considered eligible for NSBP funding. These expenses are considered to be ongoing expenses associated with carrying out the day to day activities of visitor associations and byway organizations. There are certain red flag terms in applications that should be avoided. These include "ongoing," "operations," "administrative," "maintenance," "salary," "position," "staff," and "seed grants" (see below). Many times these terms are used in applications which do not clearly show how the costs are specifically related to a specific project.
Seed grants are no more. We continue to see application submissions for seed grants. Since the FY 2007 NSBP grant solicitation, multi-year seed grants are a thing of the past and applicants are no longer limited to $25,000 for various activities designed to get their byway organizations up and running. Activities that were previously funded under seed grants should be applied for under either the State and Indian Tribe Scenic Byways Programs http://www.bywaysonline.org/grants/application/information/category_1, or Corridor Management Plan, http://www.bywaysonline.org/grants/application/information/category_2, eligibility categories. You should not reference "seed grants" in your project title or abstract.
Potential duplication of funding. It's important to let us know the status of a project that has previously received National Scenic Byways Program funds when you submit an application for additional funds. If it is not clear how the current application will fund something new and different from similar applications previously funded, or supplement the work already underway or completed, chances are the current application will be determined to be ineligible. Please carefully consider this if you are cutting and pasting from previous applications, or using general information regarding a larger project of which the current application is only a portion. If you are unfamiliar with projects previously funded, please refer to the Archive of Funded projects at http://www.bywaysonline.org/grants/funded/.
The funds requested are not proportionate to the benefit to byway travelers. Please keep in mind that FHWA expects an applicant advancing a project benefiting the general public or other functions to propose a larger share of non-byways funds.
Inconsistent information. Make sure you review your application carefully to ensure that the information included in the narrative of the application does not contradict the information included in the Work Plan, Budget, or Supporting Documentation.
Excess attachments. Applicants are encouraged to include only those attachments that directly support the narrative of the application. Attachments should not be relied on to tell the story of your byway. Rather you should include all pertinent information within the body of the application and provide any pertinent references supported by the attachments. Attaching byway brochures, maps and plans can help reviewers visualize what byway travelers will encounter once your project is completed. That said, please be judicious in the selection of attachments as the focus should be on providing the reviewers with the information they need to make a determination about the eligibility of your project for funding.
Byway facilities. Visitor/interpretive centers and other byway facilities that share a building or spaces with other functions should include a clear breakdown of how the space will be used and by whom. If you are submitting an application for a visitor's center, please include the following:
- a site plan for the project
- a floor plan of the project with the proposed uses and dimensions clearly identified
- an explanation of how specific areas of the building will be used to directly serve and benefit byway visitors
- an explanation of how any proposed interpretive elements will relate to/underscore the intrinsic qualities supporting the byway's designation
- an explanation of how the proposed facility relates to other visitor facilities and interpretive sites either planned or existing on the byway
- a finance plan identifying proposed sources of funding needed to complete the project
- a budget that clearly delineates between work that is to benefit the byway traveler and work that is to benefit other functions. The budget should be proportionate to the benefit to byway travelers.
The submission of streetscaping and other projects that primarily benefit the local community. Please keep in mind that the following types of projects are not typically eligible for NSBP funds:
- Streetscaping and local sidewalks
- Routine road construction and maintenance
- Routine landscaping, vegetation management and maintenance
- Preserving a pool of possible properties, rather than a specific property or properties
- Local trail projects that do not have a direct relationship to the byway
Insufficient information (Marketing). When submitting an application in the Marketing Program eligibility category, it is important to include specifics on what will be achieved by the proposed project rather than speaking generally about marketing your byway. Applicants should discuss specific project goals, performance measures (e.g., website "hits," information requests fulfilled, etc.) and projected outcomes (e.g., market penetration) and integrate this information into the Work Plan and Budget sections of the application.
When submitting an application for the development of a marketing plan, you should include the following:
- a detailed written account and timetable of objectives and anticipated methods to be considered to achieve the marketing goals, along with any anticipated performance measures for the strategies identified. This should be addressed within the context of the byway's target market, and clearly address how the marketing plan will showcase the byway, the intrinsic qualities supporting the byway's designation, and the region.
When requesting funds to implement a specific component of a marketing plan, you should:
- provide information on which specific components of the marketing plan will be addressed, discuss prior marketing efforts conducted to date, how the proposed project will build on/complement/expand on prior marketing initiatives and how results/performance will be measured. The application should also include information regarding the byway's target market, including segmentation and niche markets.
- identify specific project components in both the Work Plan and Budget sections of the application (e.g., creative development, media buys, advertising, etc. and quantities). For example, if you are requesting funding for Public Service Announcements (PSAs), the narrative should address why this is considered an effective strategy, what market they will target, intended outcomes and how performance will be measured and how this fits into the goals identified in the Marketing Plan for the byway(s). The Work Plan section of the application should outline specific tasks to accomplish these activities and the Budget should include the quantity, length, and frequency of PSAs, as well as development and placement costs.