Review of Modular Research Grant Applications


The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is expanding its use of the Modular Grant Application and Award. In modular grant applications, total direct costs not exceeding $250,000 per year in any year, will be requested in $25,000 increments instead of being compiled from detailed and separate budget categories. Beginning with the June 1, 1999 receipt date, modular application, review, and award procedures will apply to all competing individual research project grants (R01), small grants (R03), and exploratory/developmental grants (R21). Unsolicited, investigator-initiated applications requesting more than $250,000 in any year will be required to follow the traditional application instructions and applicable NIH policies.

The modular grant initiative expands the existing streamlining and reinvention initiatives that are designed to concentrate the focus of investigators, their respective institutions, peer reviewers, and NIH staff on the science that NIH supports, rather than on the details of budgets. Through its simplified budget reporting features, the modular grant application also will help address the broader NIH goal of reducing the length of time between application receipt and grant award. These goals are consistent with the understanding of the research grant award as a grant-in-aid.

Modular grant application and award procedures have been extensively pilot tested during the past four years in more than 25 separate solicitations, covering a wide variety of award mechanisms issued by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID). The procedures to be implemented are the result of input from numerous NIH staff members, NIH-supported investigators, grantee institution administrators, and members of peer review groups. Finally, NIH data indicate that almost 90 percent of competing individual research project grant (R01) applications request $250,000 or less in direct costs. On the basis of this experience, the size of the modules and the maximum of $250,000 were selected.

The first full year of implementation will be a period for comment. NIH welcomes comments on the experiences and concerns of investigators, reviewers, applicant organizations, and staff. Adjustments and refinements to the procedures will be made after the comment period. A formal assessment of the process will follow.

No Longer Required and Should Not Be Submitted

  • Detailed budget for the initial budget period (corresponding to form page 4 of PHS 398) and budget for the entire proposed period of support (corresponding to form page 5 of PHS 398).

  • Other Support pages of PHS 398.

Required Changes

  • BUDGET JUSTIFICATION PAGE should include the following information (for samples see
    • Total direct costs for the entire period of support should be at the top of the page.

    • Total direct costs requested for each year should be listed next. Routine escalation for future years is no longer permitted. Typically, the number of modules requested will remain constant through the entire budget period.

    • Personnel: the role of ALL personnel should be described by position, role, and level of effort. This includes consultants and any "to be appointed" positions; however, individual salary information should not be given.

    • Consortium and Contractual Costs should be provided with an estimate of Total Costs (Direct plus F&A) rounded to the nearest $1,000. For each key individual/organization listed, the role and percent effort should be provided. Whether each collaborating Institution is foreign or domestic should be indicated. The total consortium/contractual costs should be included in the overall requested modular direct cost amount.

    • Variation in the number of modules requested in different years should be described and justified, without providing additional budget information. For example, purchase of equipment in year 1 may result in a greater number of modules being requested in year 1 than in subsequent years.

New Features

  • The research grant application form PHS 398 (rev. 5/2001) at is to be used in applying for these grants, with modular budget instructions beginning on page 13 of the application instructions. Applicants are permitted, however, to use the 4/1998 revision of the PHS 398 for scheduled application receipt dates until January 9, 2002. If you are preparing an application using the 4/1998 version, please refer to the step-by-step instructions for Modular Grants available at

Still Required

  • All other components of the application are still required (for example, CHECKLIST, IRB and IACUC information or approvals, GENDER, MINORITY, AND CHILDREN SUBJECTS information).

Reviewing Modular Budgets

As part of the modular application initiative, NIH has changed the focus of budget review from an examination of annual categorical budgets to an evaluation of the total resources needed to complete the project. Reviewers should consider the entire proposed research project and the total direct costs needed to complete the project in the recommended period. Based upon the reviewer's understanding of the research proposed and the costs and services associated with such research, the annual recommended budgets should be in modules of $25,000. In addition:

  • Budget adjustments must be made in modules. If in the judgment of the reviewers, the amount requested is too large for the work proposed, the number of modules should be reduced. These reductions do not have to be based on reductions of specific items, but rather can be made generally based on overall funds requested.

  • If changes in staffing, percent effort, specific aims, consortium arrangements, etc. are recommended, but a cost in modules can not be estimated, recommendations should be described in the budget section without assigning an amount. Institute staff will request the specific budget information and will adjust the budget at the time an award is made.

  • Reviewers should not address scientific and budgetary overlap issues during the initial review. NIH staff will address these issues. Complete and up to date Other Support information will be required and therefore requested by Institute staff from applicants being considered for awards. The Institute's scientific and grants management staff will review this information and make the necessary administrative and/or budgetary adjustments. These issues are the responsibility of Institute staff and NIH will ensure that these actions are carried out. These actions by staff are essential to the management of the Institute's grant portfolio.

Non-Compliant Applications

The NIH will continue to screen applications for obvious problems with the required format. When applications are identified that are not in compliance, the investigators will be contacted and given four business days to correct the problem. If the application cannot be corrected in that time period, deferral to the next receipt and review cycle may be necessary. This spot-checking will not necessarily identify all applications with format compliance problems. If reviewers or other NIH staff identify noncompliant applications later in the process, applications may still be returned or deferred at that time. See the May 4, 2001 NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts.

This page last updated on July 19, 2001 
Content Manager: 
Technical Issues: E-mail OER Webmaster