SC Program Staff FAQs

PIER Plan Q&As

Why are PIER Plans being required?

As a steward of public funding, the Office of Science has a responsibility to ensure that we are serving the public. This includes committing to expanding participation in our sponsored activities and being intentional about supporting the participation of individuals from groups historically underrepresented in STEM fields. The PIER Plan requirement is an illustration of this commitment, and a recognition that everyone and every institution funded by SC can contribute to making access to science and scientific research more equitable and inclusive. We also recognize that harnessing a broad range of views, expertise, and experiences drives scientific and technological innovation and enables the SC community to push the frontiers of scientific knowledge for U.S. prosperity and security.

Are PIER Plans a requirement for all FOAs and Laboratory Calls issued by the Office of Science?

Yes. Beginning in FY 2023 (all SC solicitations issued on or after October 1, 2022), PIER Plans are required and must be included in all applications. In addition, any direct requests to DOE Laboratories to submit a new or renewal research proposal (e.g., Science Focus Areas, Lab base research programs) must include the requirement to provide a PIER Plan. The current exceptions to this requirement include SBIR/STTR Programs solicitations, for which the requirement will be phased in over the next year, proposals for supplemental funding, and proposals requesting funding for conferences.

Note, SC will be implementing new requirements for applications for support for conferences in FY 2023.

Are other DOE Offices or other Federal Agencies requiring PIER Plans?

Yes, other DOE Offices and Federal Agencies have initiated similar requirements within all or a subset of their solicitations. This includes DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), which put in place a requirement for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Plans in FY 2021. The DOE Office Fossil Energy and Carbon Management is beginning a requirement this year. Agencies such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Institutes of Health’s BRAIN Initiative also initiated a similar requirement in the past two years. While the title of these requirements initiated by other DOE Offices and Federal Agencies may vary, the intention and the scope are very similar to the new SC requirement for PIER Plans. In addition, requiring diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) plans (or equivalent) is one of the priority actions under DOE’s Equity Action Plan.

What should I do if an application submitted to the FOA I am managing does not include a PIER Plan?

An application that does not include a PIER Plan is considered incomplete and must be declined without review. If the applicant submitted the application prior to the solicitation deadline, the applicant may withdraw the incomplete application and resubmit the application with the PIER Plan before the submission deadline. This cannot be done after the closing date of the solicitation.

An applicant submitted a PIER Plan that exceeds the three-page limit. What should I do?

Because this is a new requirement, SC Program Offices are encouraged to allow flexibility this year if PIER Plans exceed the three-page limit and not reject the application based on exceeding the page limit. Final SC program policy on this matter is up to the cognizant Associate Director or Office Director. Programs may also elect to provide guidance to reviewers to base their review on the content in the first three pages of the PIER Plan and disregard the additional information.

If asked, how should I advise applicants about the elements of a PIER Plan?

It is best to refer applicants to the SC website for PIER Plans. There are many ways in which applicants can advance equity and inclusion within their research projects and some examples are provided in the solicitation Appendix guidance. Applicants should also review the guiding reviewer questions associated with the review criterion of the PIER Plan, Quality and Efficacy of the Plan for Promoting Inclusive and Equitable Research. The PIER Plan should include appropriate and sufficient information for reviewers to evaluate the plan in line with the guiding reviewer questions.

What guidance and instructions do I give reviewers about how to review a PIER Plan?

The guidance and instructions given to reviewers by the SC Program Office at the time of review should be informed by 1) the guidance language in the relevant solicitation for the PIER Plan appendix, 2) the guiding reviewer questions for the criterion, Quality and Efficacy of the Plan for Promoting Inclusive and Equitable Research, also provided in the solicitation, and 3) the Program-specific plan for evaluating proposals, which includes the Program’s guidance on scoring each application.

Do proposals requesting funding to support a conference need to include a PIER Plan?

No. Applications requesting SC funding to support a conference do not require a PIER Plan. However, SC has established new requirements for conference proposals beginning in FY 2023. Please see the FY 2023 SC Open Call (FY 2023 Continuation of Solicitation for the Office of Science Financial Assistance Program) for additional information on those requirements. In addition, see the Q&As related to conferences on the “Resource for SC Program Staff” subpage on the Office of Grants and Contracts Support website.

Do supplemental funding requests associated with an existing award made before the PIER Plan requirement need to include a PIER Plan now?

No. Proposals for supplemental funding do not require a PIER Plan.

Are awardees expected to report progress toward their PIER Plans in their annual progress reports?

Yes. Awardees are required to report progress toward their PIER Plans with the same rigor as a report on research progress in their annual research progress reports and final report.

I plan to award applications received in FY 2022 with FY 2023 funds, should I ask the PI to submit a PIER Plan?

No. The PIER Plan requirement is new for all FY 2023 FOAs/Lab Calls. Since PIER Plans were not required in FY 2022 solicitations, selected proposals do not need to have PIER Plans.

Why are the SBIR/STTR Programs exempt from requiring PIER Plans in FY 2023?

The PIER Plan is not required for applications to the SBIR/STTR Programs at this time. The SBIR/STTR Programs published their first FY 2023 FOA before the requirement was established, and because the PIER Plan, related review criterion, and guiding reviewer questions need to be appropriately tailored to the scope SBIR/STTR applications, in consultation with other DOE Programs that participate in SBIR/STTR. SC plans to phase in the PIER Plan requirement for the SBIR/STTR Programs solicitations at a later date.  

Are PIER Plans a requirement for FY 2023 only, or will this requirement continue for future solicitations?

The requirement is new, starting with FY 2023 solicitations, Funding Opportunity Announcements and DOE Laboratory calls, and will continue from this fiscal year forward.

Can applicants request funding for costs related to the PIER Plan in the budget?

Yes. Applicants may include costs related to the development and implementation of their PIER Plan in the budget. DOE expects that the majority of costs incurred with PIER Plans will be for personnel (time and effort. All costs must conform to the applicable cost principles, institutional policies, and be properly documented in a budget justification.

I requested an invitational proposal from a DOE Laboratory. Is the laboratory required to submit a PIER Plan?

Yes, all research proposals submitted by DOE Laboratories, either in response to a Laboratory Announcement or an invitational request from an SC Program Office, must include a PIER Plan. Please refer the DOE Laboratory to the general PIER Plan guidance on the SC website on what to include along with their research proposals. Likewise, please refer to the merit review criterion and associated guiding reviewer questions for the merit review of the proposal.

Is this going to increase the burden on reviewers? I have concerns, what should I do?

The length of the PIER Plan should be three pages or less so the reading and review of the Plan should not produce an unreasonable burden for reviewers. The guiding questions for review of the criterion, Quality and Efficacy of the Plan for Promoting Inclusive and Equitable Research, and the associated guiding reviewer questions should help guide reviewers’ evaluations. If you have concerns about the implementation of this new SC requirement, please discuss your concerns with your senior office management (e.g., Associate Director or Office Director).

Is it permissible to assign a scoring rubric for reviewers to follow for the evaluation of the PIER Plan review criterion?

Every SC Program Office has its own established processes and guidance for reviewers regarding how applications should be evaluated and scored (numerically and/or adjectivally) in the merit review process. The order of importance (i.e., weight) of a particular review criterion relative to other review criteria should be specified in the solicitation (FOA or Lab Announcement), and the reviewer guidance should be consistent with the published order of importance. Programs may elect to establish a scoring rubric that provides for an overall (single) score (numerical or adjectival) to be submitted by a reviewer or programs could request that reviewers provide a score for each review criterion within a specified range of scores. These details are at the discretion of the SC Program Office provided that the consideration of order of importance is consistent with the established merit review criteria in the solicitation.

Is the PIER Plan weighted more significantly than other review criteria in the merit review process?

In general, SC’s merit review criteria are established as the following in descending order of importance (weight), unless otherwise specified by the Program Office in solicitation (Funding Opportunity Announcement or DOE Laboratory Call):

  • Scientific and/or Technical Merit of the Project;
  • Appropriateness of the Proposed Method or Approach;
  • Competency of Applicant’s Personnel and Adequacy of Proposed Resources;
  • Reasonableness and Appropriateness of the Proposed Budget; and
  • Quality and Efficacy of the Plan for Promoting Inclusive and Equitable Research.

If a Program Office wishes to change this order of importance, it must be done at the time the solicitation language is developed and a deviation to the SC merit review regulations (10 CFR 605.10) must be requested.

How should poor PIER Plans for otherwise highly rated research proposals be addressed?

Programs will need to consider the overall weight given to the evaluation of the PIER Plans relative to other criteria for the solicitation and/or merit review, along with other program policy factors when making their overall selection recommendations and decisions. Revised PIER Plans may not be requested as a condition of award, but Programs can encourage PIs to consider the merit reviewer comments when implementing their PIER Plans to help improve overall outcomes.

What if the PIER Plan includes a request for funding extensive outreach that we don’t view as a priority or would particularly contribute to improving an inclusive and equitable research environment?

If the Program Office does not view the proposed outreach as a priority for funding on the overall project, similar to standard practices for research proposals, the Program Office may request a revised budget and scope as part of the award negotiation to descope the proposed outreach component.

The reviewers had some very good, constructive comments about the PIER Plan submitted with the application I am recommending for funding. Can I ask the Principal Investigator to address the reviewers’ comments?

PIs are invited to consider merit reviewers’ comments when implementing the PIER Plan or any other part of an application. The SC program manager can encourage the PIs to consider this and advise them to work with their Sponsored Research Office to secure appropriate approvals before making substantial changes to the PIER Plan or any other part of an application.

How is the evaluation of PIER Plans different than DEI-promoting policy program factors?

Peer reviewers should never be asked to apply program policy factors in their merit reviews; their evaluations of applications should be performed using the established merit review criteria for the review and published in the underlying solicitation. Program policy factors (all program policy factors) are for consideration by Federal Program staff only and are generally qualitative in nature. Program policy factors inform trade-off decisions by the Program Office among proposals to address program priorities when all other things such as merit are considered equal.

Conference Proposal Q&As

Are reviewers supposed to evaluate the code of conduct and the recruitment and accessibility plan provided in the conference proposal? If so, what are the review criterion and the guiding reviewer questions?

SC program staff are responsible for reviewing the application to ensure that it meets the requirement for including a code of conduct (or equivalent policy) and that there are protocols in place for addressing complaints and there is discussion of how the policies will be communicated to participants before and during the proposed event. Program staff should also review the application to see that a recruitment and accessibility has been included as part of the proposal.

The following guiding questions will be added to the merit review criterion on Appropriateness of the Proposed Method or Approach, both to the SC Open Call and to PAMS:

The guiding reviewer questions:

Does the host organization’s code of conduct or equivalent policy for addressing discrimination and harassment sufficiently address all forms of harassment and include protocols for addressing complaints?

To what extent is the recruitment and accessibility plan likely to lead to participation of individuals from diverse backgrounds, including individuals historically underrepresented in the technical focus area of the conference?

Can I ask reviewers to evaluate the quality and efficacy of the recruitment and accessibility plan? If so, how should I instruct them to do this in PAMS?

Reviewers will be asked to evaluate the extent to which the recruitment and accessibility plan are likely to lead to participation of individuals from diverse backgrounds, including individuals historically underrepresented in the technical focus area of the conference, as part of criterion on Appropriateness of the Proposed Method or Approach. SC is working on updating both PAMS and the SC Open Call with this language.

The PIER Plan requirement does not apply to conference proposals, but the review criterion and guiding reviewer questions for the PIER Plan that a reviewer sees in PAMS is fixed for the SC Open Call and can’t be changed, what should I instruct reviewers to do about the PIER Plan criterion?

Please instruct the reviewers to insert “N/A” in PAMS for the fifth criterion regarding the PIER Plans.

What will be SC’s involvement if a code of conduct is violated at an SC funded event?

The host institution, per their code of conduct and associated policies and procedures, is responsible for ensuring that a violation of the code/policy is effectively addressed. If the Office of Science is made aware of the violation, Office of Science actions may be determined by whether the parties involved are at institutions currently funded by the Office of Science and bound by Federal civil rights policies governing discrimination and harassment that can be further pursued.

For funded conference proposals, can I request that the Principal Investigator provide specific information as part of the final progress report, for example the final list of speakers or the names of those who were funding to travel to the meeting?

If the conference proposal was funded under a standard financial assistance grant, the standard terms and conditions for annual reports and progress reports apply and the SC sponsoring office cannot request that the PI provide any specific information as part of the progress report.

If an SC program office is hosting a meeting, are there any requirements that must be met?

The sponsoring SC office hosting a meeting should ensure that all participants are informed of SC Statement of Committee and expectations for professional behavior. The SC Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Working Group is currently working on SC guidance and associated resources regarding promoting DEI at SC-sponsored workshops and technical meetings that should be available before the end of the calendar year.