A grant is a type of assistance award and a legal instrument which permits an executive agency of the Federal government to transfer money, property, services or other things of value to a grantee when no substantial involvement is anticipated between the agency and the recipient during the performance of the contemplated activity. Grants are the primary mechanism of NSF support.
A cooperative agreement is a type of assistance award which may be used when the project being supported requires substantial agency involvement during the project performance period. Substantial agency involvement may be necessary when an activity: is technically or managerially complex; requires extensive or close coordination with other Federally supported work; or helps assure suitability or acceptability of certain aspects of the supported activity. Examples of projects which might be suitable for cooperative agreements are systemic reform efforts, research centers, policy studies, large curriculum projects, multi-user facilities, projects which involve complex subcontracting, construction or operations of major in-house university facilities and major instrumentation development.
Cooperative agreements will specify the extent to which NSF will be required to advise, review, approve or otherwise be involved with project activities, as well as require more clearly defined deliverables.
A contract is a legal agreement between the University and another party typically for the purpose of acquiring a product, property, services, or some other deliverable. The University can be the originator or the recipient of a contract.
Although the words
subcontract are often used interchangeably, they are not quite the same.
A subaward is when a prime awardee passes along grant money to another institution to support its participation in the overall objectives of the prime award. Sub-awards are generally used to fund research between several institutions rather than acquire a deliverable.
A subcontract can be best understood as a contract (as defined above) paid for using funds from an award (especially another contract). If the University is the recipient, a subcontract is a contract issued to the University by a third party using funds awarded to them from another source.