Post July 11, USAID presses on with Cuba projects

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The U.S. Agency for International Development today said it wasn’t changing its latest grant offering in response to the wave of protests in Cuba.
“There are no plans to amend the original scope or objectives of the NOFO (Notice of Funding Opportunity) in response to recent events in Cuba,” the agency said. However, “applicants should take the current political situation into account when designing proposed activities.”
USAID on June 30 had announced it was offering up to $2 million democracy-promotion projects. Grants will range from $500,000 to $1 million each. The agency said it expected applicants to “identify unrecognized and unmet needs of Cuban civil society in its pursuit of human rights and democratic values.” The application deadline is 5 p.m. July 30.
Prospective bidders have submitted three dozen questions about the funding opportunity. One question discussed the logistics of giving microgrants to artists on the island. USAID replied, “Applicants should propose whatever partnership strategy they deem effective to meet the objectives outlined in the NOFO.”
Another bidder asked if it was OK to use pseudonyms for staff and partners and later share the real names with USAID using a secure platform such as Signal. The agency replied:
“USAID acknowledges the sensitive nature of this program. Applicants should take this into consideration when submitting applications in response to the NOFO.”
The full list of questions and USAID’s answers are below:

USAID NOFO No. 7200AA21RFA00024
Supporting Local Civil Society and Human Rights in Cuba
Questions & Answers

Question #1: The NOFO states, “Under this award and subject to the availability of funds, USAID intends to provide up to $2 million in total USAID funding over a three-year period. USAID anticipates one to two awards ranging from $500,000 to $1 million each.” Can USAID please provide guidance as to how they are envisioning the price component of this award? Is USAID conceptualizing these as separate price categories ($500,000 and under, and $1 million and under)? Can USAID please provide guidance to bidders regarding acceptable minimum thresholds within these two price categories?

Answer #1: There are no minimum thresholds. Applicants should propose budgets to achieve the results of their proposed programs within the limits stated. Since applicants propose their own programs, USAID does not establish minimums as each applicant proposes their own project and approach.

Question #2: Page 35 of the NOFO provides guidance regarding USAID’s evaluation of forthcoming bids, namely stating that the overall rating for proposals will “be evaluated in order of descending importance: technical approach, organizational capability, management structure and staffing plan.” The overall rating does not factor in price according to USAID’s schematic. Moreover, USAID additionally states on page 35 of the solicitation that the “agency will evaluate the cost application…to determine whether the costs are allowable in accordance with the cost principles found in 2 CFR 200 Subpart E.” These statements by USAID imply that underpricing proposal offers will NOT be a factor in USAID’s evaluation of forthcoming proposals. Will USAID commit to the non-inclusion of underpricing as a factor in proposal evaluations for the purposes of this solicitation?

Answer #2: USAID will review the cost application and evaluate and analyze specific elements of costs for reasonableness and allowability of costs in the budget, and the allowability of the costs under the applicable cost principles. The review of the proposed budget is to determine the applicant’s understanding of the financial aspects of the program and the recipient’s ability to perform the grant activities within the amount requested and whether the applicant’s plans will achieve the program objectives with reasonable economy and efficiency.

Question #3: The NOFO states “The Office of Cuban Affairs of the USAID Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC/Cuba) reserves the right to lessen the scope or reduce costs as appropriate.” Can USAID please clarify under what circumstances LAC/Cuba may lessen the scope or reduce costs? Can Lac/Cuba refer bidders to USAID’s guiding directives outlining requisite protocols and procedures for these kinds of circumstances should they occur?

Answer #3: This statement relates to the availability of funds for the fiscal year. It is at USAID’s sole discretion to ultimately decide on the final amount of any awards issued.

Question #4: Given the current uprising by Cuban citizens against the regime, do you plan to issue an amendment to the solicitation that may further address those developments?

Answer #4: No, there are no plans to amend the original scope or objectives of the NOFO in response to recent events in Cuba. Applicants should take the current political situation into account when designing proposed activities.

Question #5: Given the current situation on the island, will USAID be issuing an extension for submission of proposals beyond the July 30, 2021 closing date?

Answer #5: No, the closing date of July 30, 2021, remains unchanged for the NOFO.

Questions #6: Can the project be proposed as an activity shorter than 36 months?

Answer #6: Yes. See Section B(3) of the NOFO for details.

Question #7: Given the context of protests in Cuba, have any changes in the NOFO been foreseen?

Answer #7: No, there are no changes or plans to amend the original scope or objectives of the NOFO in response to recent events in Cuba. Applicants should take the current political situation into account when designing proposed activities.

Question #8: Is it possible to include in the proposal advocacy activities and promotion of artistic pieces outside Cuba?

Answer #8: Applicants should propose whatever strategies they deem most effective in achieving the stated objectives of the NOFO.

Question #9: Is it necessary to adjust the proposal to only one of the two objectives or can we foresee activities that contribute to both objectives?

Answer #9: Applicants may apply to one or both objectives in the NOFO.

Question #10: We understand that the project can have a maximum extension of 36 months. What would be the minimum extension, if any?

Answer #10: As stated in Section B.3, the maximum period of performance is up to 36 months. USAID does not anticipate any extensions at this time.

Question #11: NOFO Page 16 Section 4: Please confirm application submission will be only by email and not through the grants platform.

Answer #11: Yes. Applications must be submitted electronically to mamunoz@usaid.gov

Question #12: NOFO Page 23 Annex 7 Organization Matrix of Projects and Page 28 h) History of Performance. Can these 2 pieces be consolidated into one single detail?

Answer #12: No.

Question #13: NOFO Page 24 c) Required Certification and Assurances: Please confirm these certifications are to be prepared only upon USAID request. Besides, is SF-424B mandatory as it is also mentioned in item b) SF424B Forms ?

Answer #13: Yes. The Certifications and Assurances are submitted upon request by the AO. The SF424 B is a mandatory form, see Amendment 1 (Synopsis 2) for details.

Question #14: NOFO Page 25 Subawards: Would this section be the one applicable for a partnership with a US based NGO implementing part of the project ? And how about potential Contribution Agreements (microgrants) to individuals living in Cuba to perform part of the core activities in-country? These people are mainly artists who belong to relevant CSOs in the island, but such CSOs are not allowed to legally exist, and also considering Procurement goods and services is not always feasible in normal conditions without risk exposure.

Answer #14: Please see Section C.3 for additional information on “Partnerships.” Applicants should propose whatever partnership strategy they deem effective to meet the objectives outlined in the NOFO.

Questions #15: Can USAID please confirm if the Technical Approach section of the proposal can be longer than eight pages, if the Executive Summary section is shorter than two pages, as long as the Technical Application (minus annexes) is ten pages total?

Answer #15: No. The technical approach must not exceed eight pages. See Section 5 Technical Application Format of the NOFO.

Question #16: On page 13, USAID mentions that “References for the past performance of each partner organization should also be provided.” Can USAID confirm that references only need to be included in Annex 6: Organizational Capacity, and not within the ten page limit for the Technical Application?

Answer #16: See Amendment 1 (Synopsis 2) for details. Please follow the Business (Cost) Application Format guidelines found on page 28 of the NOFO.

Question #17: On page 15, USAID states that “A 10 point font can be used for graphs and charts. Tables, however, must comply with the 12 point Times New Roman requirement.” In the interest of ensuring relevant content fits within page layout requirements and page limits, would USAID consider allowing 10 or 11 point font for Tables?

Answer #17: No.

Question #18: On page 18, USAID mentions that the Technical Approach should “Discuss…programming of human resources, and performance indicators.” Can USAID please confirm that the staffing can be discussed in Annex 3: Program Management Approach, and the indicators listed within Annex 2: Draft Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning Plan?

Answer #18: Yes, staffing can be discussed in Annex 3: Program Management Approach and proposed indicators may be included in Annex 2: Draft Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning Plan.

Question #19: The NOFO provides budget categories (starting on page 25), but budget category 6 is missing (the numbering jumps from 5 to 7). Can USAID clarify what budget category should be listed after subawards (5)?

Answer #19: Typographical error, see Amendment 1 (Synopsis 2) for details.

Question #20: Given the amount of information required for the Monitoring, Evaluation & Learning Annex, we respectfully request that the Results Framework may be submitted as a separate section of the annex that is not included in the page limit.

Answer #20: Please follow the Technical Application Format guidelines found on page 19 of the NOFO. A final MEL Plan, including the Results Framework, will be due within 90 days of a signed award agreement.

Question #21: On page 19, USAID mentions that the Draft Implementation Plan should include “The Implementation Plan should address any potential contingency plans should activities be affected by the ongoing global pandemic and/or other potential natural disasters.” Can USAID confirm if the applicant can include a discussion of contingency measures separately, or how it should be incorporated into a visual timeline, such as a GANTT chart?

Answer #21: The Technical Approach narrative may include a discussion of potential contingency plans should activities be affected by the ongoing pandemic and/or other potential natural disasters. The timeline of any planned activities — including back-up plans — should be reflected in the Draft Implementation Plan.

Question #22: Under the Program Management Plan description on page 21, USAID requests that applications include a “statement of work, or terms of reference.” In order to reduce repetition, and ensure compliance with page limits, can USAID confirm if the statement of work for partners can be included in the Technical Application or within the Program Management Plan, and if so, which one USAID prefers?

Answer #22: It is already included under Annex 3. Program Management Approach, see page 19 – 22 of the NOFO.

Question #23: Under the Program Management Plan description on page 21, USAID requests that applications include: “The total estimated cost, including a detailed line-item budget and budget narrative that also includes proposed cost share, if applicable, and a copy of any current indirect cost rate agreement between the U.S. Government and the sub-awardee.” In order to reduce repetition, and ensure compliance with page limits, can USAID confirm if applicants can submit all cost information for partners within the Cost Application, which is not subject to page limits?

Answer #23: Yes.

Question #24: Given the waiver for Marking Requirements, can USAID please confirm if the applicant should still submit a Branding Strategy and Marking Plan Annex as part of the cost application?

Answer #24: No. Section i) states that “USAID marking requirements have been waived for all LAC/Cuba program activities in accordance with Approved USAID Memorandum, “Marking Requirements Waiver for All Cuba Programs.”

Questions #25: Under the Technical Application on page 23, USAID requires “Annex 7: Organization Matrix of Projects (not to exceed two pages)” and on page 28 under the Cost Application USAID requires “h) History of Performance.” In order to reduce repetition, and ensure compliance, can USAID confirm whether both or only one of these are required? If only one or the other is required, can USAID confirm which one?

Answer #25: Both are required.

Question #26: Given the sensitive nature of this program and security considerations for potential partners and staff, could USAID please confirm if offerors may include pseudonyms for select staff and partners in the proposal (e.g., labeling a potential partner as “organization #1”) and share the pertinent information separately with USAID through a secure platform such as Signal?

Answer #26: USAID acknowledges the sensitive nature of this program. Applicants should take this into consideration when submitting applications in response to the NOFO.

Question #27: Can USAID please confirm if offerors may put forward and name more than the two required key personnel?

Answer #27: No. See Section A.3. Management Structure and Staffing Plan, paragraph (4) of the NOFO for details.

Question #28: Given the evolving situation in Cuba which has led to internet and electricity outages and hampered communication with local partners, would USAID consider extending the deadline for proposal submissions by two weeks, with a new proposed deadline of August 13, 5:00 PM Eastern Time, in order to allow for maximum flexibility to coordinate with and incorporate input from local partners?

Answer #28: No, the closing date of July 30, 2021 remains unchanged for the NOFO.

Questions #29: Can USAID please confirm that h ) History of Performance referenced on page 28 of the NOFO is the same as Annex 7: Organization Matrix of Projects to be included with the technical volume?

Answer #29: No, they are not the same.

Question #30: Given the ongoing protests and demonstrations in Cuba, would USAID consider making changes to the published RFA, such as extending the due date by 30 days?”

Answer #30: No, the closing date of July 30, 2021 remains unchanged for the NOFO. Question 31 : Pages 5-6, Section A: Program Description, 4. Objectives and Activities: “To advance the goal, USAID proposes two objectives: a. Advance the effectiveness of independent civil society groups to advocate for greater human rights and freedoms … b. Develop broader coalitions to expand civil society’s impact.” Can USAID please confirm that applicants can choose to respond to only one objective of the proposal?

Answer #31: Applicants may apply to one or both objectives in the NOFO.

Question #32: Page 15, Section D: Application and Submission Information, 3. General Content and Form of Application: A 10-point font can be used for graphs and charts. Tables, however, must comply with the 12-point Times New Roman requirement. Using the same size font for tables and text makes tables hard to read, as the text is all the same size and not clearly set off from the rest of the page. Would USAID consider allowing offerors to use a 10-point font for tables?

Answer #32: No.

Question #33: Page 23, Section D: Application and Submission Information, 5. Technical Application Format, Application Contents: Annex 7. Organization Matrix of Projects (not to exceed two pages): “The Applicant must provide a matrix of all its contracts, grants, or cooperative agreements involving similar or related programs during the past three years. The reference information for these awards must include the performance location; title of award; brief description of the work performed; and dates of performance.” Pages 28-29, Section D: Application and Submission Information, 6. Business (Cost) Application Format, h) History of Performance: “The applicant must provide information regarding its recent history of performance for all its cost-reimbursement contracts, grants, or cooperative agreements involving similar or related programs, not to exceed three years, as follows: a. Name of the Awarding Organization; b. Award Number; c. Activity Title; d. Performance Location; e. A brief description of the activity; f. Period of Performance; g. Award Amount; h. Reports and findings from any audits performed in the last two years; and i. Name of at least two (2) updated professional contacts who most directly observed the work at the organization for which the service was performed with complete current contact information including telephone number, and e-mail address for each proposed individual.”

Question #33a: Can USAID please clarify the difference between these two lists?

Answer #33a: One is related to experience and the other is related to past performance.

Question #33b: Considering that a complete list of all cost-reimbursement contracts, grants, or cooperative agreements involving similar or related programs during the past three years could be substantial, would USAID consider removing the two-page limit for Annex 7 to the technical application?

Answer #33b: No. Applicants should be able to demonstrate relevant experience in two pages. Question 33c: Can USAID please confirm that the History of Performance section (referenced on pages 28-29) will not be evaluated as it is part of the Business (cost) application?

Answer #33c: Yes.

Question 34: Page 23, Section D: Application and Submission Information, 5. Technical Application Format, Application Contents: “Annex 8. Cuba Commodities List (not to exceed two pages, if applicable)” Can USAID please confirm whether the Cuba Commodities List is required if the Applicant does not intend to provide commodities during the proposed program?

Answer #34: If the applicant does not intend to provide them, it should state “the applicant does not intend to provide commodities.”

Question #35: Pages 24-25, Section 6: Business (Cost) Application Format, d) Budget and Budget Narrative: “The Budget must include the following worksheets or tabs, and contents, at a minimum… Detailed Budgets for each sub-recipient, for all federal funding and cost share, broken out by budget category and by year, for the entire implementation period of the project.” Given current circumstances in the country, there is a possibility that communication with partners may be inconsistent. Can USAID confirm if detailed budgets must be included for all sub-recipients, or if these are “preferred, if available” at the time of submission?

Answer #35: Yes. It must include detailed budgets.

Question #36: Given the current context in Cuba, is USAID considering an extension of the deadline for submission of this NOFO?

Answer #36: No, the closing date of July 30, 2021 remains unchanged for the NOFO.

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