What is the CESU?

What is the CESU?

Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Unit (CESU) is a regional network of faculty, specialists, managers, and staff from leading academic institutions, conservation organizations, and federal agencies. It's a cooperative research network that connects federal agencies and nonfederal researchers to enable innovative and collaborative research. Our goal is to connect people so they can establish research relationships. It's a network of federal funding agencies connected to a pool of nonfederal research partners with administrative policies established to help those two groups find each other and work together in a more direct manner than posting a traditional competitive grant and reviewing whatever bids come back through the door. We joke that it's kind of like matchmaking, except for research.

Why join the CESU?

Federal partners can expect to gain access to a broad range of scientific, academic, and other expertise from over 400+ university and organization partners across the nation. The CESU network has the unique capability to organize inter-agency projects focused on interdisciplinary problem solving. Multiple federal agencies working collaboratively and directly on one project can go directly to a CESU partner instead of setting up multiple competitive bids on grants.gov. The CESU's 17.5% indirect cost rate stretches funding dollars further, allowing more money to go towards research on the ground and enabling smaller projects that otherwise wouldn't be worth funding at the regular 55% rate.

The CESU network enables research to get started quickly. It allows for direct, open communication with principle investigators and potential investigators, about a project without having to create a post a full competitive request for proposals on grants.gov. Paperwork can be expedited on non-competitive proposals lets federal partners find an expert in the CESU network to work with and get started without having to create and post a competitive one.

Benefits for non-federal (organization and university) partners

Nonfederal partners can expect closer and recurring partnerships between agencies and researchers. Organizations can establish a direct line of communication with a federal partner to work together on implementing and completing a project. The CESU network enables faculty, researchers, and professional staff to work directly with member federal agencies to fund projects that serve the needs of those federal agencies, their partners, and the public. The lower 17.5% indirect cost rate for overhead benefits both sides of the agreement—less money is required from federal partners and more money is available to researchers. This difference, especially with smaller projects, can make the difference between a program getting funded or not. It can open up opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students to directly participate in federal research. They can get research opportunities directly in their inboxes instead of scrolling through grants.gov.

  • Researchers can expect expedited negotiations between federal partners and primary investigators. They can establish a truly collaborative relationship with the federal government agency in carrying out their research, and that relationship can become a reoccurring one and open up more research opportunities in the future. Membership gives researchers access to a national network of partners and federal agencies via 17 CESUs. They can get support from federal agencies for work anywhere in the country. Researchers who are member of one CESU have access to project ideas across the entire national network.
  • Grants administrators and sponsored project offices can expect expedited paperwork and faster contracting process with member federal agencies. The CESU's master agreement framework provides an existing contract to get started quickly. The network enables direct negotiations between the federal government agencies and their primary investigators.


How do I join? The application process is pretty straightforward. New members submit an application and existing members vote on it. All members are expected to:

  1. Stay in touch with us and keep their contact information updated.
  2. Vote on new memberships and master agreement renewals.
  3. Keep track of the projects they participate in and send us an annual list of them.

Does it cost anything? Nope, it’s free.

    What projects qualify for the CESU? Projects between federal partner agencies and nonfederal partners with effort-based-work with meaningful engagement with the federal agency to provide a natural, cultural, technical assistance, or educational benefit of the publicConsider how a project would benefit the public. It could be contributing to a larger body of scientific research or educating people and  providing experience. Consider what the federal agency and the nonfederal partners can do to make a research project a truly cooperative agreement with mutual participation rather than just a grant.

    What federal agencies can non-federal partners work with? Nonfederal partners in the GLNF CESU network can work with any federal agency that is a national member of the national CESU network and/or a member of the GLNF regional CESU network. Researchers with nonfederal partners can participate in federal funding opportunities across the national network unless the federal partner chooses to limit participation in a funding opportunity to specific CESU regional networks.

    How do I find out which federal agencies are looking for project partners? Each regional CESU and the national network sends out information within their own networks and posts opportunities on their websites. You can also reach out to a federal partner directly if you have an idea you think they'd be interested in pursuing.