NIH peer review meetings, also referred to as Scientific Review Groups (SRG), are conducted in accordance with the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). FACA requires that review meetings be conducted in the presence of a Designated Federal Official (DFO), who ensures that the meeting is conducted in compliance with applicable laws, regulations, and policy. For SRG meetings, the DFO is referred to as the Scientific Review Officer (SRO).
The NIH operates with a clear separation of function for Review and Program staff. The roles of the SRO and Program Officials (PO) are clearly distinct at the SRG meetings.
SRO’s Roles and Responsibilities*
The SRG meetings cannot legally be held without the presence of the SRO, who is the DFO.
- Meeting Orientation by SRO and Chair —Before the review of grant applications begins, the SRO is required to instruct the study section members about policy issues related to conflict of interest and confidentiality rules and explain important review policies and procedures, as well as other administrative issues related to the meeting logistics, etc. The SRO will then hand over the meeting to the Chair to orient the reviewers about the review process.
- Making Sure Policies and Procedures are Being Followed — The SRO works as a team with the Chair to ensure that relevant review policies and procedures are properly applied in the discussion of the applications. This would include: human subjects, vertebrate animals, and biohazards comments or concerns, and proper use of gender, minority and children coding. Questions about appropriate NIH policy should be directed to the SRO. The SRO (or Chair) will intervene during the review if a reviewer strays from accepted policy.
- Keeping the Meeting Moving — Although the chair should play the major role in keeping the meeting flowing, this is also the responsibility of the SRO. Watching the time spent early in the meeting is important in order to make sure that there is ample time to discuss applications that come at the end of the review order.
- Taking Good Notes —The SRO takes notes during the discussion of each application. This is important for writing the Resume and Summary of Discussion. In addition, the SRO reminds reviewers to modify their critiques to reflect appropriate changes as a result of the discussion, and asks discussants who raised particularly important points to provide these comments in a brief paragraph.
*Modified from Role of the SRO – A Quick Overview’
POs play an important (but ancillary) role by attending SRG meetings and doing the following:
- Providing relevant administrative, policy and/or historical information about the funding opportunity, when requested by the SRO;
- Witnessing the scientific merit discussion of applications by taking notes;
- Gaining insights important for future determinations of program priority and recommendations for funding.
- At SRGs, POs provide information when asked by the SRO;
- At SRGs, POs do not interfere with the review while it is ongoing;
- POs do not speak to reviewers about their specific applications or other review issues before, during, or after the meeting.
** Information from the Program Handbook