NIH GUIDE, Volume 23, Number 25, July 1, 1994

P.T. 34


  Grants Administration/Policy+ 

National Institutes of Health

Recently, the NIH extramural programs were designated a Public Health

Service "Reinvention Laboratory."  A number of reinvention activities

have been undertaken to make the NIH work better and cost less.

These activities are, in part, a continuation of the usual

reevaluation of policies and procedures, which is even more critical

now because of fiscal constraints on both the NIH and research

institutions.  An important goal of this effort is to decrease the

workload of applicants and reviewers while conserving resources for

the direct support of research.


In one set of activities, NIH is examining ways to streamline peer

review.  The number of applications reviewed by NIH has increased

from fewer than 19,000 in 1983 to more than 38,000 in 1993.  Neither

staffing nor funding have kept pace with this increase.  The fair

review of all applications is the guiding principle and any change

considered will uphold that principle.

The use of triage for the review of applications received in response

to RFAs has been evaluated and found to be both effective and fair.

Now, the value of triage in the review of investigator-initiated

applications is being assessed.  The comments of reviewers and a

careful evaluation of outcome are vital components of the study.

A pilot study of the triage of grant applications extends the use of

triage from the institutes to the Division of Research Grants (DRG).

Reviewers designate the least meritorious applications

"noncompetitive" and provide scores for only those applications

considered clearly "competitive" for funding.  It is important to

note that "non-competitive" should not be equated with either the

previously used "disapproval" or presently used "not recommended for

further consideration" categories.  The pilot study of the triage

process is an attempt to reduce the workload of the researchers who

serve on study sections and allow more discussion of the applications

that are considered competitive.

The first phase of the triage pilot study, conducted by selected

Study Sections within the DRG during the February, 1994 review round,

incorporated a streamlined format for the expedited production of

summary statements.  Thus, the critiques of "non-competitive"

applications consisted of essentially unabridged comments from the

reviewers and could be sent to applicants almost immediately

following the meeting of the Study Section, providing the applicant

more time to amend and resubmit the application.  An expanded pilot

study, taking into consideration the comments of participants in the

initial study, is being conducted in the June, 1994 review round.  In

this study, streamlined summary statements will be used for all

applications.  For the group of "competitive" applications, the

document will also contain a "Resume and Summary of Discussion" to

convey the highlights of the discussion at the study section meeting

and a paragraph detailing the budgetary recommendations.

Another initiative addresses the desirability of having reviewers

place greater emphasis on the person being supported than on the

specifics of a project.  For example, the extension of MERIT awards

emphasizes retrospective evaluation of the investigator whereas the

traditional R01 review focuses on a prospective review of planned

activities.  The most appropriate balance between these two

perspectives is one topic of discussion.

Within DRG, a study will soon be undertaken to assess the

effectiveness of automatically assigning competing renewal and

amended applications to the Institute or Center (IC) and Initial

Review Group of the previous record.  While deviations could, of

course, occur, it may be desirable to ensure that applicants, program

staff, and review administrators are clear about the standard



A number of initiatives related to the research grant programs are

also under consideration or soon to be initiated.  For example, there

has been discussion of establishing modular grants, at levels of

support preset by NIH (e.g., $150,000, $250,000).  This could be

combined with an assurance that subsequent budget reductions would be

very unlikely or paylines set by size of grant such that the payline

for smaller awards would be higher than that for larger.


Another set of reinvention activities focuses on reducing the burden

of providing grant application material.  The "just-in-time" pilot

test postpones the collection of a fairly substantial amount of

information that currently must be provided in all competing

applications until an application clearly is being considered for

funding.  This delayed request and receipt of information relieves

the burden for approximately 70 to 75 percent of applicants who will

not receive an award.  The information that would be delayed or

simplified includes the collection of other support information,

specific budget detail, and the biographical sketch.  The

biographical sketch will include only information related to research

background and experience, including, at the option of the applicant,

the other support relevant to the proposed research.  If relevant

support is cited, only the title and source is necessary.  This

approach may simplify and reduce the administrative burden associated

with the NIH grant application without compromising the initial

review group determination of scientific merit or the reasonableness

of the proposed budget.  Information relevant to the award of the

project would be exchanged "just in time" prior to award.

"Just-in-time" is being studied through four RFAs from four ICs.

This provides an opportunity to explain the requirements to a defined

set of applicants and to evaluate the results.  As with many such

innovations, the effect may be beneficial for some (applicants who

are not funded) and not for others (grants administration staff).  It

is essential that the applicant Principal Investigator and

institution can provide the detailed information quickly if a

decision is made to fund an application.


The electronic exchange of application and post-award information has

been assigned high priority.  A proposal for Electronic Research

Administration (ERA) is being drafted.  Within this system, each

institution would use a unique, assigned number to submit

applications, and institutional information would then be drawn

automatically from a database of complete institutional profiles.

Thus, the need to provide data repeatedly on a project-by-project

basis would be eliminated.  In addition, electronic application files

would be created to serve as the repository for all information

generated during the life cycle of each project.  This data base

would be accessible to authorized institutional and NIH staff, who

could each review and add information as required.


High priority is also assigned to increasing electronic availability

of information about extramural research programs.  Currently, the

research community can access the NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts

and telephone directory on both the NIH Gopher and NIH Grantline; the

PHS Grants Policy Statement on the NIH Grantline; and the (CRISP)

database, which lists all NIH grant and contract awards, on the NIH

Gopher.  The full text of the NIH Guide and the Table of Contents is

available through separate LISTSERV subscriptions (NIH Guide, Vol.

23, No. 20, May 27, 1994).  Information from the Office for

Protection from Research Risks (OPRR); rosters of advisory groups

including review groups; the minutes of the National Advisory Council

meetings; the NIH Extramural Programs; and descriptions of ongoing

programs such as the First Independent Research Support and

Transition (FIRST) Awards and the National Research Service Act

(NRSA) Awards will be available electronically in the future.


In addition to the projects outlined above, several reinvention

activities are being explored to manage the reduced Federal workforce

mandated by the National Performance Review.  Among them is the

increased use of the Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA), which

permits Federal agencies to obtain the services of experts from

eligible institutions.  This could offer valuable opportunities for

extramural scientists in emerging areas of science to gain exposure

to the NIH extramural processes and transfer that knowledge to their

home institutions.

Several other initiatives, selected for the potential to improve

service to the research community and increase administrative

efficiency, are in the very early stages of development.  Some

involve administrative simplifications that can be implemented

immediately; others will require further evolution before they can be

initiated in the short or long term.  All are part of an ongoing

process being conducted with broad involvement across the NIH and in

partnership with the greater scientific community.


Researchers and members of all segments of the extramural research

community are encouraged to contribute suggestions for additional

modifications of NIH procedures and comments on the ongoing

activities.  Comments may be sent to:

Dr. Wendy Baldwin

Deputy Director for Extramural Research

National Institutes of Health

Building 1, Room 144

Bethesda, MD  20892



Return to 1994 Index

Return to NIH Guide Main Index

Office of Extramural Research (OER) - Home Page Office of Extramural
Research (OER)
  National Institutes of Health (NIH) - Home Page National Institutes of Health (NIH)
9000 Rockville Pike
Bethesda, Maryland 20892
  Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) - Home Page Department of Health
and Human Services (HHS) - Government Made Easy

Note: For help accessing PDF, RTF, MS Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Audio or Video files, see Help Downloading Files.