Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Request for Statements of Interest: DRL Internet Freedom Annual Program Statement
[Funding Opportunity # DRLA-DRLAQM-17-001]
I. Requested Statements of Interest Objectives
The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) announces a Request for Statements of Interest (RSOI) from organizations interested in submitting Statements of Interest (SOI) outlining project concepts and capacity to manage projects that support Internet freedom. In support of the U.S. International Strategy for Cyberspace, DRL’s goal is to promote fundamental freedoms, human rights, and the free flow of information online through integrated support to civil society for technology, digital safety, policy and advocacy, and research programs. DRL invites organizations interested in potential funding to submit SOI applications outlining program concepts that reflect this goal.
PLEASE NOTE: DRL strongly encourages applicants to immediately access www.grantsolutions.gov or www.grants.gov in order to obtain a username and password. GrantSolutions.gov is highly recommended for all submissions and is DRL’s preferred method of receiving applications. To register with GrantSolutions.gov for the first time, click “Login to GrantSolutions” and follow the “First Time Users” link to the “New Organization Registration Page.” On the next page, click on “Continue the GrantSolutions registration process without a DUNS number” if you do not have a DUNS number and sam.gov registration. Otherwise, select the option that best fits. For more information, please see DRL’s Proposal Submission Instructions (PSI) for Statements of Interest, as updated in July 2015, available at: //2009-2017.state.gov/j/drl/p/c12302.htm.
The submission of a SOI is the first step in a two-part process. Prospective applicants must first submit a SOI, which is a concise, 3-page concept note designed to clearly communicate a project idea and objectives without requiring development of a complete application. Upon review of eligible SOIs, selected prospective applicants will be invited to expand their ideas into full applications. The intention of requesting SOIs first is to provide prospective applicants the time to develop new and innovative ideas to address current challenges to Internet freedom. There will be two deadlines for submission of SOIs – August 26, 2016 and February 10, 2017. Organizations may submit up to two (2) SOIs per deadline. Organizations that submit applications to the first deadline may submit applications to the second deadline, regardless of the result of their previous applications.
SOIs focused globally or focused on any region will be considered. Applications should prioritize work in Internet repressive environments.
SOIs regarding technology development should have clear regional use-cases or plans for deployment. SOIs focused on digital safety, advocacy, and research should also have region or population specific goals and priorities that are informed by clear field knowledge and expertise.
Internet Freedom Funding Themes:
SOIs must address one or more of the Internet Freedom funding themes: technology, digital safety, policy and advocacy, and research. Each of the funding themes is described in detail below. Applications that do not address the funding themes will be disqualified from the competitive process.
Areas of Focus:
Within each of the Internet freedom funding themes, DRL has identified “areas of focus.” SOIs do not need to fit into one of these areas to be considered. They are provided solely to indicate a subset of areas of interest for consideration. Applications that do not address “areas of focus” will not be penalized nor disqualified from the competitive process.
Funding Theme #1: Technology – Uncensored and Secure Access to The Global Internet: Development and support of desktop and mobile technologies that counter censorship and/or enable secure communications. These tools should be tailored to the needs of human rights defenders, and to the acute and diverse threats that they face. The tool design and deployment should be informed by user-centered design that is focused on these communities, and these tools should be supported on the platforms (desktop, mobile, etc.) that these communities most use. Projects may include but are not limited to:
• Development of new technologies for defeating censorship, for maintaining availability of information, for secure communications, privacy protection, and online services, such as email and website hosting with robust defenses against hacking and other attacks.
• Improvements to proven technologies including deployment, expansion, adaptation, and/or localization of proven anti-censorship or secure communication technologies; and improvement of usability and user interfaces to enable broader populations of users to adopt such tools.
• Re-usable libraries or platforms that provide the underlying software that may be used by communication and access tools. This includes tools to disguise encrypted communications as ordinary traffic without compromising security.
Areas of Focus:
- Mechanisms for small-grant support and seed funding of promising new technologies and tools.
- Scalable and sustainable next-generation anti-censorship and secure communication technologies.
- Platform-level technologies that have the potential to scale because they enhance effectiveness or security of many other tools.
- Mobile tools for uncensored and secure access to the global Internet.
- Resistance against state-sponsored malware.
- Initiatives that support the technology development community to enhance collaboration, information-sharing and mentorship opportunities.
Funding Theme #2: Digital Security: Support, training, and information resources that contribute to greater digital security for users in Internet repressive societies, including civil society, human rights defenders, journalists, and other vulnerable populations. Projects may include but are not limited to:
• Digital security skills development for civil society through trainings, organizational security audits, mentorship, local leadership development, peer learning and guided practice approaches.
• Emergency support to respond to urgent cases and prevent future attacks, including harassment and violence against individuals in retribution for their online activities.
• Resource development and information dissemination to targeted communitiesto raise awareness of digital threats, encourage best practices and respond to sudden threats to Internet freedom.
Areas of Focus:
- Development of tailored digital security resources and training methodologies for marginalized populations, including women and LGBTI persons.
- Programs to build the capacity of local digital security trainers and foster regional training networks and training opportunities.
- Targeted, public health-style campaigns to increase the adoption of digital security tools and practices in Internet restrictive environments.
Funding Theme #3: Policy and Advocacy: National, regional, and international policy and advocacy efforts that empower civil society to counter restrictive Internet laws and support policies to promote Internet freedom in countries with governments that have adopted, or are considering, laws or policies that restrict human rights online. Projects may include but are not limited to:
• Local capacity-building programs to support the development of non-U.S. based civil society organizations to advocate for human rights online.
• Regional coalition-building efforts to expand networks, increase coordination, and develop regional standards to support policies that protect and promote Internet freedom.
• International engagement opportunities to increase civil society participation in international policy dialogues to support multistakeholder engagement and promote Internet freedom at key international forums.
Areas of Focus:
- Programs that foster and/or enhance coordination with the private sector to support Internet freedom and protect users’ rights online.
- Civil society-led initiatives to educate policy-makers and government officials about Internet freedom and international human rights standards.
- Leadership-development opportunities to identify and support new Internet freedom advocates.
- Mentorship opportunities to connect local advocacy organizations with international experts.
- Initiatives to integrate Internet freedom and human rights standards into regional and international Internet policy dialogues, including Internet governance and cybersecurity discussions.
Funding Theme #4: Research: Efforts should emphasize applied research that can inform and benefit Internet freedom efforts globally. Research should address technological and political developments affecting Internet freedom. Projects may include but are not limited to:
• Real-time monitoring and analysis of both technical and policy threats to Internet freedom, including network interference and disruptions.
• Global assessments of Internet freedom threats, opportunities, and trends.
Areas of Focus:
- Monitoring, documenting, and information sharing about censorship events and mechanisms, as well as analysis of current effectiveness of anti-censorship tools and techniques.
- Policy research and legal analysis to increase awareness of Internet policy trends and enhance targeted national, regional, or international advocacy efforts.
- Assessments of the effectiveness of digital safety methodologies and interventions.
Key Program Considerations:
The following program considerations will not be used as criteria to evaluate SOI applications. This list of considerations is provided as a guide to help applicants develop responsive, robust program strategies.
• DRL encourages applicants to foster collaborative partnerships, especially with local organization(s) in target countries and/or regions, where applicable. Where appropriate, applicants are invited to form consortia for submitting a combined SOI, in which one organization is designated as the lead applicant.
• DRL strives to ensure its programs advance the rights and uphold the dignity of the most at-risk and vulnerable populations. At-risk populations may include women, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals, members of religious and ethnic minority groups, and people with disabilities. To the extent possible, organizations should identify and address considerations to support these populations. Additionally, where appropriate, programs targeting at-risk populations should strive to build their leadership in these thematic areas.
• For technology development proposals, preference will be given to open source technologies with practical deployment and sustainability plans.
• Consistent with DRL’s venture-capital style approach to Internet freedom, projects should have a model for long-term sustainability beyond the life of the grant.
Activities that are not typically funded include, but are not limited to:
• Academic research with no immediate application; theoretical exploration of technology and/or security issues;
• Purchases of bulk hardware or bulk licenses for commercial encryption or technology products;
• Technology and tools that dictate or suggest specific content;
• Technology development without a clear use case in an Internet repressive environment, or without a clear threat model and understanding of adversarial efforts;
• Study tours, scholarships or exchange projects;
• Projects that focus on expansion of Internet infrastructure, commercial law or economic development;
• Projects not sufficiently connected to real-world impact of improving Internet freedom environments in any country or region; and,
• Activities that go beyond an organization’s demonstrated competence, or without clear evidence of the ability of the applicant to achieve the stated impact.
Projects should have the potential to have an immediate impact leading to long-term sustainable reforms, and should have potential for continued funding beyond DRL resources. DRL prefers innovative and creative approaches rather than projects that simply duplicate or add to efforts by other entities. This does not exclude projects that clearly build off existing successful projects in a new and innovative way from consideration. DRL also strives to ensure its projects advance the rights and uphold the dignity of the most vulnerable or at-risk populations.
II. Eligibility Information
Organizations submitting SOIs must meet the following criteria:
• Be a U.S.-based or foreign-based non-profit organization/non‑government organization (NGO), or a public international organization; or
• Be a private, public, or state institution of higher education; or
• Be a for-profit organization or business, although there are restrictions on payment of fees and/or profits under grants and cooperative agreements, including those outlined in 48 CFR 30 (“Cost Accounting Standards Administration”), 48 CFR 31 (“Contract Cost Principles and Procedures”); and
• Have existing, or the capacity to develop, active partnerships with thematic or in-country partners, entities, and relevant stakeholders including industry and NGOs; and
• Have demonstrable experience administering successful and preferably similar projects. DRL reserves the right to request additional background information on organizations that do not have previous experience administering federal awards. These applicants may be subject to limited funding on a pilot basis.
Organizations may form consortia and submit a combined SOI. However, one organization should be designated as the lead applicant.
DRL’s preference is to work with non-profit entities; however, there may be occasions when a for-profit entity is best suited. For-profit entities should be aware that its application may be subject to additional review following the panel selection process.
DRL is committed to an anti-discrimination policy in all of its projects and activities. DRL welcomes SOI submissions irrespective of an applicant’s race, ethnicity, color, creed, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or other status. DRL welcomes SOIs from organizations working with the most at risk and vulnerable communities, including women, youth, persons with disabilities, members of ethnic or religious minority groups, and LGBTI persons.
No entity listed on the Excluded Parties List System in the System for Award Management (SAM) is eligible for any assistance or can participate in any activities under an award in accordance with the OMB guidelines at 2 CFR 180 that implement Executive Orders 12549 (3 CFR 1986 Comp., p. 189) and 12689 (3 CFR1989 Comp., p. 235), “Debarment and Suspension.”
Organizations are not required to have a valid Unique Entity Identified (UEI) number, formerly referred to as a DUNS (Data Universal Numbering System) number, and an active SAM.gov registration to apply for this solicitation through GrantSolutions.gov. However, if a SOI is approved, these will need to be obtained before an organization is able to submit a full application.
III. Application Requirements, Deadline, and Technical Eligibility
All SOIs must conform to DRL’s posted Proposal Submission Instructions (PSI) for Statements of Interest, as updated in July 2015, available at //2009-2017.state.gov/j/drl/p/c12302.htm.
Complete SOI submissions must include the following:
1. Completed and signed SF-424 and SF424B, as directed on GrantSolutions.gov or Grants.gov (please refer to DRL’s PSI for SOIs for guidance on completing the SF-424); and,
2. Executive Summary (not to exceed three  pages in Microsoft Word) that includes:
a) A table listing:
i. The target country/countries;
ii. The total amount of funding requested from DRL, total amount of cost-share (if any), and total program amount (DRL funds + cost-share); and,
iii. Program length;
b) A synopsis of the project, including a brief statement on how the project will have a demonstrated impact, engage relevant stakeholders, and it should identify local partners as appropriate;
c) A concise breakdown explicitly identifying the project’s objectives and the activities and expected results that contribute to each objective; and,
d) A brief description of the applicant(s) that demonstrates applicant(s) expertise and capacity to implement the program and manage a U.S. government award.
An organization may submit no more than two (2) SOIs per submission deadline. SOIs that request less than $500,000 or more than $2,500,000 may be deemed technically ineligible. In practice, DRL awards in excess of $1,500,000 are uncommon. DRL reserves the right to award more or less than the funds described, including estimated individual award floor and ceiling amounts, under such circumstances as it may deem to be in the best interest of the U.S. government.
Technically eligible SOIs are those which:
1) Arrive electronically via GrantSolutions.gov or Grants.gov by 11:30 p.m. Eastern Time on August 26, 2016 or February 10, 2017 under the announcement title “DRL Internet Freedom Annual Program Statement,” funding opportunity number DRLA-DRLAQM-17-001.
2) Are in English;
3) Heed all instructions and do not violate any of the guidelines stated in this solicitation and the PSI for Statements of Interest.
For all SOI documents please ensure:
1) All pages are numbered;
2) All documents are formatted to 8 ½ x 11 paper; and,
3) All documents are single-spaced, 12 point Times New Roman font, with 1-inch margins. Captions and footnotes may be 10-point Times New Roman font. Font sizes in charts and tables can be reformatted to fit within one page width.
Grants.gov and Grantsolutions.gov automatically logs the date and time a submission is made, and the Department of State will use this information to determine whether it has been submitted on time. Late submissions are neither reviewed nor considered unless the DRL point of contact listed in section VI is contacted prior to the deadline and is provided with evidence of system errors caused by www.grants.gov or www.grantsolutions.gov that is outside of the prospective applicants’ control and is the sole reason for a late submission. Prospective applicants should not expect a notification upon DRL receiving their SOI. It is the sole responsibility of the prospective applicant to ensure that all of the material submitted in the SOI submission package is complete, accurate, and current. DRL will not accept SOIs submitted via email, fax, the postal system, or delivery companies or couriers. DRL strongly encourages all prospective applicants to submit SOIs before August 26, 2016 or February 10, 2017 to ensure that the SOI has been received and is complete.
IV. Review and Selection Process
The Department’s Office of Acquisitions Management (AQM) will determine technical eligibility for all SOI submissions. All technically eligible SOIs will then be reviewed against the same four criteria by a DRL Review Panel, which includes quality of project idea, project planning, ability to achieve objectives/institutional capacity, and inclusive programming. Additionally, the Panel will evaluate how the SOI meets the solicitation request, U.S. foreign policy goals, and the priority needs of DRL overall. Panelists review each SOI individually against the evaluation criteria, not against competing SOIs. To ensure all SOIs receive a balanced evaluation, the DRL Review Panel will review the first page of the SOI up to the page limit and no further. DRL encourages organizations to use the given space effectively.
In most cases, the DRL Review Panel includes representatives from DRL and the appropriate Department of State regional bureau, which may request feedback on SOIs from the appropriate U.S. embassies. In some cases, additional panelists may participate, including from other Department of State bureaus or offices, U.S. government departments, agencies, or boards, representatives from partner governments, or representatives from entities that are in a public-private partnership with DRL. Once a SOI is approved, organizations of successful SOIs will be invited to submit an application based on their SOI. Unless directed otherwise by the organization, DRL may also refer SOIs for possible consideration in other U.S. government related funding opportunities. The Grants Officer Representative (GOR) for the eventual award does not vote on the panel. All Panelists must sign non-disclosure agreements and conflict of interest agreements.
The Panel may provide conditions and recommendations on SOIs to enhance the proposed project, which must be addressed by the organization when submitting an application. To ensure effective use of limited DRL funds, conditions or recommendations may include requests to increase, decrease, clarify, and/or justify costs and project activities.
Quality of Project Idea
SOIs should be responsive to the solicitation, appropriate in the country/regional context, and should exhibit originality, substance, precision, and relevance to DRL’s mission of promoting human rights and democracy. DRL prioritizes innovative and creative approaches rather than projects that simply duplicate or add to efforts by other entities. This does not exclude projects that clearly build off existing successful projects in a new and innovate way from consideration. In countries where similar activities are already taking place, an explanation should be provided as to how new activities will not duplicate or merely add to existing activities and how these efforts will be coordinated.
A strong SOI will include a clear articulation of how the proposed project activities and expected results (both outputs and outcomes) contribute to specific project objectives and the overall project goal. Objectives should be ambitious, yet measurable, results‑focused, and achievable in a reasonable time frame.
Ability to Achieve Objectives/Institutional Capacity
SOIs should address how the project will engage relevant stakeholders and should identify local partners as appropriate. If local partners are identified, prospective applicants should describe the division of labor among the prospective applicant and any local partners. SOIs should demonstrate the organizations’ expertise and previous experience in administering successful projects, preferably similar projects targeting the requested project area or similarly challenging project environments.
DRL strives to ensure its projects advance the rights and uphold the dignity of the most at risk and vulnerable populations, including women, youth, people with disabilities, members of racial and ethnic or religious minority groups, and LGBTI persons. To the extent possible, organizations should identify and address considerations to support these populations in all proposed project activities and objectives. Strong justifications should be provided if unable to incorporate the most at risk and vulnerable populations within proposed project activities and objectives. SOIs that do not include this will not be considered highly competitive in this category.
For additional guidance, please see DRL’s posted Proposal Submission Instructions (PSI) for Statements of Interest, as updated in July 2015, available at //2009-2017.state.gov/j/drl/p/c12302.htm.
V. Additional Information
DRL will not consider SOIs that reflect any type of support for any member, affiliate, or representative of a designated terrorist organization. No entity listed on the Excluded Parties List System in SAM is eligible for any assistance.
Project activities that provide training or other assistance to foreign militaries or paramilitary groups or individuals will not be considered for DRL funding given purpose limitations on funding.
Restrictions may apply to any proposed assistance to police or other law enforcement. Among these, pursuant to section 620M of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, as amended (FAA), no assistance provided may be furnished to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country when there is credible information that such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights. In accordance with the requirements of section 620M of the FAA, also known as the Leahy law, project beneficiaries or participants from a foreign government’s security forces may need to be vetted by the Department before the provision of any assistance.
Organizations should be aware that DRL understands that some information contained in SOIs may be considered sensitive or proprietary and will make appropriate efforts to protect such information. However, organizations are advised that DRL cannot guarantee that such information will not be disclosed, including pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) or other similar statutes.
Organizations should also be aware that if ultimately selected for an award, the Uniform Administrative Requirements, Cost Principles and Audit Requirements for Federal Awards set forth in 2 CFR Chapter 200 (Sub-Chapters A through F) shall apply to all non-Federal entities, except for assistance awards to Individuals and Foreign Public Entities. Please note that as of December 26, 2014, 2 CFR 200 (Sub-Chapters A through E) now applies to foreign organizations, and Sub-Chapters A through D shall apply to all for-profit entities. The applicant/recipient of the award and any sub-recipient under the award must comply with all applicable terms and conditions, in addition to the assurance and certifications made part of the Notice of Award. The Department’s Standard Terms and Conditions can be viewed at https://www.statebuy.state.gov/fa/Documents/2015DeptTermsAndConditionsForUSandForeignOrg.pdf.
The information in this solicitation and DRL’s PSI for SOIs, as updated in July 2015, is binding and may not be modified by any DRL representative. Explanatory information provided by DRL that contradicts this language will not be binding. Issuance of the solicitation and negotiation of SOIs or applications does not constitute an award commitment on the part of the U.S. government. DRL reserves the right to reduce, revise, or increase proposal budgets in accordance with the needs of the project evaluation requirements.
Background Information on DRL and general DRL funding
DRL is the foreign policy lead within the U.S. government on promoting democracy and protecting human rights globally. DRL supports projects that uphold democratic principles, support and strengthen democratic institutions, promote human rights, prevent atrocities, combat and prevent violent extremism, and build civil society around the world. DRL typically focuses its work in countries with egregious human rights violations, where democracy and human rights advocates are under pressure, and where governments are undemocratic or in transition.
VI. Contact Information
GrantSolutions.gov Help Desk:
For assistance with GrantSolutions.gov accounts and technical issues related to using the system, please contact Customer Support at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-866-577-0771 (toll charges for international callers) or 1-202-401-5282. Customer Support is available
8 AM – 6 PM EST, Monday – Friday, except federal holidays.
For assistance with Grants.gov accounts and technical issues related to using the system, please call the Contact Center at 1-800-518-4726 or email email@example.com. The Contact Center is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, except federal holidays.
See http://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/snow-dismissal-procedures/federal-holidays/ for a list of federal holidays.
For technical questions related to this solicitation, please contact InternetFreedom@state.gov.
With the exception of technical submission questions, during the solicitation period U.S. Department of State staff in Washington and overseas shall not discuss this competition until the entire review process has been completed and rejection and approval letters have been transmitted.