Q: When is NIST announcing the new Centers of Excellence?
A: The Advanced Materials Center of Excellence was awarded in December 2013. Two additional Centers of Excellence – Resilience and Forensics were announced in FY2014 and FY2015. Information on the Centers of Excellence program can be found at www.nist.gov/coe.
Q: How much Federal investment will go into each Center of Excellence?
A: NIST will invest roughly $4 million per year for up to 10 years in the Forensic Science COE. Additional Centers are expected to be roughly similar in size and scope.
Q: What are the technology focus areas of the new Centers of Excellence?
A: NIST researchers collaborate with researchers from academia and industry on advancing the state of the art in selected domains through innovations in measurement science.
Q: What is the primary objective of the NIST Forensic Science Center of Excellence?
A: Broadly, the goals of the Center are to: provide a strong scientific basis in probabilistic methods and computation development; to create the necessary education and training infrastructure in probabilistic methods for practitioners, non-practitioners and stakeholders, and; promote competence building among and dialogue between NIST, academia, and the forensic science community.
Q: Where can I find more information about NIST research in Forensic Science?
A: NIST research in Forensic Science is described at http://www.nist.gov/forensics/.
Q: What types of activities does the Forensic Science Center of Excellence focus on?
A: A critical need in the forensic science community is a more thorough understanding and contextualizing of the uncertainty associated with scientific measurements and/or analytical techniques. Reporting uncertainty in forensic science measurements is currently an uncommon practice. One approach that helps address this gap in forensic science and strengthen the impact of the evidence is probabilistic analysis, specifically in the areas of digital evidence and pattern evidence. This effort in probabilistic analysis development includes but is not limited to:
Q: Digital evidence is quite broad. There are many distinct types of digital evidence that are very different from each other, such as:
Which of these types of digital evidence are covered?
A: Digital evidence includes the "(when, where, how and why these bits were actually written to the disk, and who made it happen), and whether the findings were impacted by an undetected fault in forensic tooling, procedural error, or fraud."
In that context (and given the groupings as listed above), computers and information systems would be considered reasonable topics. Surveillance systems would not be considered an immediate focus area but could be examined in future efforts should the awardee make substantial progress in the previously mentioned areas. Collection and storage of information regarding evidence are not covered.
Q: How is the Center of Excellence funded?
A: The Forensic Science Center of Excellence is funded by a competitively awarded cooperative agreement.
Q: Are matching funds required?
A: Matching funds are not required.
Q: How long will NIST support the Forensic Science Center of Excellence?
A: NIST made the award for an initial five-year period. Based on the results of a formal assessment of the progress and accomplishments of the awardee, at the end of the initial five year award, a second five-year period may be funded, for a total of ten-year funding. At the conclusion of ten years, if NIST chooses to continue funding Forensic Science research through the Centers of Excellence model, NIST may consider opening a new funding opportunity for the Forensic Science Center of Excellence.
Q: Are existing collaborations with NIST staff affected by this Federal Funding Opportunity?
A: Collaborations between NIST staff and applicants in research areas outside the scope of this Federal Funding Opportunity are not affected. Pre-existing collaborations between an applicant and NIST staff should be identified to NIST in order to avoid conflicts of interest during the review process.
Q: How are collaborations with NIST handled?
A: Any collaboration by a NIST employee must be approved by appropriate NIST management and is at the sole discretion of NIST. Prior to beginning the merit review process, NIST will verify the approval of the proposed collaboration. Any unapproved collaboration will be stricken from the proposal prior to the merit review. Any collaboration with an identified NIST employee that is approved by appropriate NIST management will not make an application more or less favorable in the competitive process.
Q: Will funds from the grant need to be directed toward NIST for the collaborations and joint work?
A: NIST may not receive any funding from the grant. All work performed under the award by the recipient and its contractors and subawardees must be funded using the grant funds.
Q: Is there a restriction on foreign nationals?
A: In general, there is no restriction on foreign nationals working for the Center, any subawardee, or any contractor. However, applicants should be aware of the following:
Q: Can you describe NIST policy on patents?
A: It is part of NIST's mission to transfer the results of its research, including intellectual property, to industry, academia and government agencies. Generally, inventions conceived in whole or in part by a grantee or contractor of the Federal government are subject to the Bayh Dole Act. Subject to certain conditions, contractors or grantees who invent while using Federal funds are entitled to elect to retain their ownership interest in the invention. If such an invention is co-invented by a Government employee and a Federal grant recipient or contractor, the government will retain its ownership interest in the invention and the contractor or grantee will be entitled to elect to retain their ownership interest in the invention. As such, an invention that is jointly created will be jointly owned when the contractor or grantee elects to retain title. Further, the contractor or grantee may be given the opportunity to apply for an exclusive license to the government's interest in the jointly owned invention. Invention made solely by NIST employees are owned solely by NIST, although such invention may be made available for licensing. Further information can be found the Commerce Financial Assistance Standard Terms L.04 and L.10 http://www.osec.doc.gov/oam/grants_management/policy/documents/DOC_Standard Terms_and_Conditions_01_10_2013.pdf.
Q: Are foreign or multi-national companies eligible as sub-awardees?
A: Provided that a company otherwise meets all eligibility requirements, foreign or multi-national companies are not excluded as sub-awardees. However, it is the mission of the U.S. Department of Commerce to support U.S. industry whenever possible. Additionally, recipients are responsible for effective export compliance procedures during performance of an award, including control of access to export controlled items by foreign nationals.
Q: Can the budget include instrumentation costs?
Q: Can the budget include construction costs?
A: No. The program description does not envision construction of new facilities.
Q: Can the budget include costs for staff, including administrative support?
Q: How were the proposals for Centers of Excellence evaluated? Who evaluated the proposals?
A: Applications that were determined to be eligible, complete, and responsive were reviewed in accordance with the review and selection processes below:
Each application determined to be complete and timely, was reviewed by at least three (3) independent, objective reviewers, knowledgeable in the subject matter of this Federally Funded Opportunity (FFO) and its objectives and who were able to conduct a review based on the evaluation criteria. All applications were provided to the Evaluation Panel with their respective reviews.
An Evaluation Panel was established. The Evaluation Panel consisted of NIST staff and/or other federal agency employees with appropriate technical expertise. The Evaluation Panel prepared and provided an adjectival ranking of the applications to the Selecting Official, the NIST Associate Director for Laboratory Programs. The adjectival rankings were:
The Selecting Official made the final application selection and recommended funding to the NIST Grants Office.
Q: What criteria were used to evaluate proposals for the Forensic Science Centers of Excellence?
A: The proposals were evaluated according to four criteria:
The first criterion evaluated the clarity of the proposer's approach to effectively address scientific and technical challenges relevant to the objectives of the Forensic Science Center of Excellence. The second criterion evaluated the extent to which the proposer has access to the necessary facilities and overall support to accomplish project objectives. The third criterion evaluated the technical merit of the proposed work and the value it would contribute to future breakthroughs in Forensic Science. The fourth criterion evaluated the clarity and quality of proposed metrics and mechanisms for evaluating the effectiveness of outputs from the Forensic Science Center of Excellence, including the potential for utilization by the forensic science communities and professionals with respect to probabilistic methods.
Q: How will the success of the Center of Excellence be determined?
A: The NIST Centers of Excellence will provide an interdisciplinary environment where researchers from NIST, academia and industry will collaborate on emerging areas of basic and applied research and innovations in measurement science. These centers are meant to:
The success of the Forensic Science Center of Excellence will be evaluated against progress towards the original goals of the Center. The Forensic Science Center of Excellence will accelerate the development of probabilistic methods, build and deploy educational tools and infrastructure, and necessary standards in the areas of digital evidence and pattern evidence to enhance and inform the greater forensic science community, and the center will establish opportunities for extended collaborations with NIST. Additionally, specific metrics will be used to periodically evaluate progress and success.
Q: What are the metrics for reviews and renewals?
A: NIST will seek an independent, objective evaluation of the Forensic Science Center of Excellence that includes scientific and technical experts not affiliated with NIST or the recipient to assess the effectiveness and continued desirability of the program. NIST plans to consider the results of such a review, including any findings and recommendations, as part of the process of determining whether to approve potential renewal of the project. This process may be used as part of the overall assessment, consistent with the potential long-term nature and purpose of the program. The full process is expected to include programmatic, policy, financial, administrative, and responsibility assessments, and the availability of funds, consistent with Department of Commerce and NIST policies and procedures in effect at that time.
Q: Who can I contact if I have additional questions about the Forensic Science Center of Excellence?
A: Questions about the Forensic Science Center of Excellence Federal Funding Opportunity may be directed to the following individuals:
Programmatic and technical questions:
E-mail: dave.holbrook [at] nist.gov (dave[dot]holbrook[at]nist[dot]gov)
Electronic proposal submission through Grants.gov:
E-mail: christopher.hunton [at] nist.gov (christopher[dot]hunton[at]nist[dot]gov)
Grant rules and regulations:
E-mail: scott.mcnichol [at] nist.gov (scott[dot]mcnichol[at]nist[dot]gov)
Questions from the media may be directed to:
Michael E. Newman
Phone: (301) 975-3025
Email: michael.newman [at] nist.gov (michael[dot]newman[at]nist[dot]gov)
Q: Both digital evidence and pattern evidence are fairly broad areas. Could you provide some further clarification as to what areas of these specific forensic science disciplines may be included, or specifically excluded, in the Forensic Science Center of Excellence Federally Funded Opportunity (FFO)?
A: The overarching goal of the Forensic Science Center of Excellence is to facilitate the use of probabilistic methods within the greater justice system. Consequently, the proposals should focus on those specific areas that have the highest use in court proceedings. NIST believes both digital evidence and pattern evidence have the strongest potential, and represent a substantial need, for using probabilistic methods and analysis techniques in relating the strength of analysis and/or conclusions.
The following specific areas within pattern evidence and digital evidence have been designated as either in scope or out of scope for proposals responding to this FFO. Areas within pattern evidence and digital evidence not specifically listed below will be considered but must include a compelling argument as to why the authors are anticipating a substantial use of probabilistic analysis by the judicial system.
Q: Cost sharing is not required, but if it is included will it be a positive in the evaluation? Or is there no weighting?
A: Cost sharing is not required and is not an evaluation criteria.
Q: What is the relationship between the Forensic Science Center of Excellence and the Forensic Science Standards Board (FSSB) and Organization of Scientific Area Committees (OSAC) effort? I understand there are different purposes of the organizations. I was interested in the relationship between them, since NIST administers both. Certainly there is interest in these areas in the OSAC/SAC Sub committees.
A: There is no formal relationship between the Forensic Science Center of Excellence, the FSSB, and the OSAC. It is expected that the research, methods, and deliverables will be of interest to the FSSB and OSAC efforts, but there will be no research direction or agenda setting of the awardees' proposed research plan by the FSSB or OSAC.
Q: Are there any rules, regulations or restrictions when partnering with law enforcement or state crime labs?
A: There are no explicit rules, regulations or restrictions when partnering with law enforcement or state crime labs. We strongly recommend that any organizations entering into partnership first consult with their legal offices to determine whether or not they are eligible for funds or the conditions that would allow them to be eligible to receive funds as defined under the eligibility requirements of the FFO.
Q: Re: slide 20, does "organizations" in the first bullet include commercial and non-profit organizations (other than educational institutions)?
A: Organizations is meant to be used as a broad term and could include commercial and non-profit organizations, state, tribal and local governments. Federal agencies may participate in projects but may not receive NIST funding. A special case is that of federally funded research and development centers (FFRDCs). The eligibility of a FFRDC can vary from situation to situation depending on different factors such as whether they would be acting on their own behalf or on behalf of the Department of Energy or another Federal agency. We recommend that these organizations consult with their legal offices to determine whether or not they are eligible for funds or the conditions that would allow them to be eligible to receive funds as defined under the eligibility requirements of the FFO.
Q: Will the webinar slides and audio be made available?
A: The webinar slide and audio will be made available on October 2, 2014 at the following webpage: http://www.nist.gov/coe/forensics/coe-forensic-science-webinar.cfm.
Q: Do you envision the Center incorporating downstream legal assessments (i.e., admissibility of standards, research, etc.)? A: The COE could benefit from understanding the legal barriers to the science at the initiation of the research, applying judicial decisions to guide the focus of the research. Downstream legal decisions would naturally have bearing on future research and education plans. This understanding will also be important to guide the COE's work in how to communicate and train so that probabilistic methods can be correctly used in legal proceedings.
Q: Where do you anticipate that the Forensic Science Center of Excellence will be physically located?
A: There is no anticipated location of the Forensic Science Center of Excellence. The Center will be physically located at the awardees' location, which will not be decided until all eligible, compete and responsive applications have undergone merit review, program review, ranking and selection.
Q: You mentioned that you are looking for a new framework? Should that framework appear in the proposal or just in general?
A: The framework should be included in the proposal so that it can be evaluated.
Q: If software might be used in an overall dissemination strategy, do you have a philosophy about whether that software should be freeware for greatest reach, or commercialized so that it might be self-supporting?
A: There is no preferred philosophy regarding freeware vs. a commercialized project. However, one of the goals of the Forensic Science Center of Excellence is to create an education and training infrastructure in probabilistic methods for practitioners, non-practitioners and stakeholders. Consequently, effective communication for an extended period of time with a broad community would be optimal.
Q: Please define more specifically the groups that NIST intends to engage/train/educate. Is it intended for law enforcement training and education? Other scientists? General public that has the potential to be jurors? College students? High school students?
A: One goal of the Forensic Center of Excellence is to disseminate probabilistic methods within the greater criminal justice system, to educate those individuals utilizing this science when examining or presenting evidence. Consequently, there will be a wide variety of engagement, training, and education possibilities. The primary audience for the training is law enforcement, forensic laboratory staff, and the legal community (prosecution, defense, and civil). Creating training for potential jurors and the general public is not the primary intent of the FFO.
Q: What is going to be the effect of the Forensic Science Center of Excellence on other sources of funding for forensic statistics in pattern and impression evidence?
A: There is no information on how the Forensic Science Center of Excellence will affect other sources of funding for forensic statistics in pattern evidence.
Q: Does NIST currently have a public location that would indicate what their best approach to probabilistic or measurement uncertainty for pattern disciplines would look like? For instance you have guidance on best practices for Toxicology and Drug Chemistry because of prior experience in metrology.
A: NIST does not currently have a public location indicating best practices on probabilistic or measurement uncertainty for specific pattern evidence disciplines.
Q: For digital evidence, is it appropriate to include research to develop small-space and time-efficient solutions to better enhance logging capability while guaranteeing error probability? This will provide better and more useful evidential information to support forensics?
A: There are many approaches that one may take in response to this FFO. The specific research direction addressing pattern evidence and/or digital evidence disciplines (as listed above) is at the complete discretion of the authors.
Q: Are there restrictions on collaborating or consulting with colleagues in NIST itself?
A: The Forensic Science Center of Excellence Program Description specifically anticipates collaboration with NIST. Applicants are not required to collaborate with specific NIST employees and may propose staff exchanges, sabbatical programs, activities involving jointly advised students, and other research collaboration activities without proposing any specific NIST collaborators. If the applicant wishes to propose collaboration with a specific NIST employee, the statement of work should include a statement of this intention, a description of the collaboration, and prominently identify the NIST employee(s) involved, if known. Any collaboration by a NIST employee must be approved by appropriate NIST management and is at the sole discretion of NIST. Prior to beginning the merit review process, NIST will verify the approval of the proposed collaboration. Any unapproved collaboration will be stricken from the proposal prior to the merit review. Any collaboration with an identified NIST employee that is approved by appropriate NIST management will not make an application more or less favorable in the competitive process.