It's always the simple questions, right?
Stupid n00b grant writer Q here… is it inappropriate to submit similar projects to 2 diff funding agencies? (one institutional, one federal)
— Psyc Girl (@PsycGrrrl) January 7, 2015
This is an important question and, with funding rates set to "career-wrecker" levels, you need to know how to maximize your chances. The responses were varied on this question, so here's my take:
1) You can absolutely send similar proposals to different agencies. In fact, NSF specifically asks you whether the proposal you are submitting has also been submitted elsewhere. This can actually bring up co-funding opportunities with other agencies.
However, you need to realize that if two agencies fund the same project independently, you can only accept one award. Period. Doing otherwise is called fraud and gets you in a world of shit.
2) When it comes to submitting for institutional pots of money, pretty much anything goes. In the overwhelming number of cases an institution will not have money available to complete an entire project that you are shopping to a major federal funding agency. However, it will provide money to generate preliminary data towards that project. And if the federal award is granted and the projects overlap too much, your institution will be more than happy to stop payment on the internal award and accept the federal money. That can be worked out.
Most labs in basic sciences will have 2-4 projects, with varying levels of overlap. Spreading grant proposals for those projects around as widely as possible is just good business. The chances of having a project simultaneously funded right now by multiple agencies are so low as to be unconcerning. If you are worried about it, then make the two proposals different enough that both could be defensibly accepted. But one cannot afford to write a new proposal for every deadline.