When Cooperative Agreements Are Used
Cooperative agreements and grants are "assistance" instruments used when the principal purpose is the transfer of anything of value to a recipient to accomplish a public purpose authorized for assistance by Federal statute. The only difference between a cooperative agreement and a grant is the level of involvement by the Federal agency. Substantial involvement anticipated during the performance of the contemplated activity between the recipient and the Northeastern Area points to a cooperative agreement. If the recipient expects to perform the project without substantial agency collaboration or intervention, and the Northeastern Area will mainly monitor the recipient's performance, the right tool is a grant.
Cooperative agreements are normally used for:
- Basic and applied research when the principal objective is to stimulate or support development of knowledge;
- Training projects where the recipient selects the trainees, specifies the plan for training, provides the training, and uses funds to support its capacity to provide high-quality training;
- Planning and delivery of services at the local, regional, or state level to meet needs identified by the award recipient;
- Development and testing of training, prevention, and service delivery models where the detailed approach is developed principally by the recipient to advance the "state of the art;"
- Conferences to exchange current information, opinions, or findings in the area of agency program interests for the principal purpose of advancing the field; and
- Construction projects that are designed to benefit individuals or groups served by the recipient, e.g., constructing a school building or a biomass heating plant.
Elements of Cooperative Agreements
Statement of Joint Objectives
The statement of joint objectives should:
- Identify the need for the project and define its objectives clearly;
- Demonstrate that the project is in fact a joint endeavor for which a cooperative agreement is the appropriate instrument; and
- List the specific benefits to the recipient as well as the awarding agency's mission, and the expected outcome of the project for evaluation purposes.
Project Management Plan (Work Plan)
The plan may be a simple narrative included in the articles of the agreement, or it may be incorporated as an appendix to the agreement and referenced in the agreement articles, depending on the complexity of the project. The project management plan should:
- Identify the respective roles, responsibilities, obligations, and accountability each participant to the agreement will assume in its efforts to achieve the stated joint objectives;
- State explicitly the character and extent of anticipated agency involvement. These statements should be carefully crafted to avoid unnecessarily increasing agency liability under the cooperative agreement;
- State how the project and performance will be measured to evaluate achievement of specific milestones or agreed objectives; and
- List resources, such as services, facilities, equipment, materials, supplies, and personnel that the government and the recipient will provide, and a schedule indicating when they will be provided.
This element of the plan should:
- Specify the government's and the recipient's contribution to the project, i.e., dollar costs assigned to each participant, acceptable in-kind contributions and when these contributions will be delivered to support the project;
- Clearly define the details of the planned financial support with regard to ceilings, minimum contributions, percentage rations, and whether the funds are to be committed, obligated at award, or incrementally obligated at specified time/performance intervals;
- Identify agreed upon alternative approaches to changes in the scope of activity or changes in the period of performance which may impact the estimated cost;
- Provide steps to be taken with respect to each recipient’s financial obligations in the event of termination of the agreements; and
- Clearly define the disposition of any anticipated program income.
Most of this information should be indicated on the SF-424.