Advisory Committee Recommends Strategies for Streamlining NIH Peer Review

By | July 16, 2015

On July 6, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Scientific Management Review Board (SMRB) approved a draft report and recommendations aimed at streamlining the agency’s grant review, award, and management process. Last year, SMRB, which was established as part of the NIH Reform Act of 2006, was charged with advising NIH leadership on ways to reduce the time from grant application to allocation of funds while maintaining a high standard for accountability. This effort was managed by the SMRB Working Group on the NIH Grant Review, Award, and Management Process (GRAMP), which met twelve times during the past year to learn about existing procedures and grant management processes at NIH and other research agencies and organizations and to deliberate findings and recommendations. In his presentation, Working Group Chair Michael Marletta, PhD, noted that the final recommendations reflected a desire to improve NIH’s grant-making processes without compromising the quality of peer review or increasing burdens for investigators, institutions, or the agency.

In its report, the GRAMP Working Group proposed 10 recommendations, many of which support efforts that are already underway at NIH. These include re-evaluating the workload of peer reviewers and strategies to retain an adequate pool of reviewers, exploring different formats for study section meetings, pursuing new funding mechanisms to create more flexibility for investigators, streamlining data entry into, and improving the efficiency of just-in-time documentation and procedures. In addition, the Working Group proposed piloting expansions of existing procedures affecting only a small number of current applicants. The first such recommendation suggested a pilot expansion of a pre-application process currently employed on a very limited scope in which applicants would be invited to submit full proposals based on the review of a short summary of the proposed research. The second recommendation was expansion of the continuous submission policy from members of standing peer review committees and members of Institute and Center Councils to all current NIH grantees.

Prior to the presentation of the Working Group’s findings to the SMRB, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) provided public comments on the draft recommendations. While these comments conveyed appreciation for the thoroughness of the Working Group’s deliberations, they also raised concerns about the adoption of a pre-proposal process and expansion of the continuous submission policy. FASEB will be following up with more detailed written comments.