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National Institutes of Health (NIH) Funding
Inside the NIH
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is a major source of funding for biomedical research at the College of Medicine. Its mission is to seek fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and the application of that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce the burdens of illness and disability. The NIH is made up of 27 Institutes and Centers (ICs), each with a specific research agenda, often focusing on particular diseases or body systems. Each IC decides what science to fund by balancing a multitude of factors, namely:
- Relevance of the research to their mission,
- Portfolio balance,
- Funding availability; and
- Scientific and technical merit of submitted applications.
Visit the NIH website to learn more about the agency’s organizational structure and its peer review process. For a deeper dive on peer review, visit the NIH’s YouTube Channel, which features a “Live” Mock Study Section to give applicants a feel for the process. The mock study section was recorded on October 28, 2020 during the 2020 NIH Virtual Seminar on Program Funding and Grants Administration.
For institute-specific opportunities in a particular area of science, search the NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts.
Types of funding announcements
The NIH utilizes several types of Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOAs) to announce its intentions to award discretionary grants or cooperative agreements. Before preparing an application, potential applicants should engage the IC-specific research contacts noted in the Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) to discuss their proposed research project and determine if there is a strategic alignment between the planned research, the FOA and the participating IC(s). All applications must be submitted in response to an FOA, of which the NIH recognizes several types:
- Parent Announcement: Parent Announcements are arguably the most common funding mechanism used by the NIH. Parent announcements are NIH-wide and enable applicants to submit investigator-initiated grant applications to any participating Institute or Center (IC). Some Institutes and Centers (ICs) may limit their participation and/or may have unique goals or requirements when making award. Parent Announcements are typically active for 3 years from the release date and use standard NIH due dates. Parent Announcements allow resubmission applications.
- Program Announcement (PA): A Program Announcement (PA) is typically designed to address an area of research that ICs feel cannot be adequately captured through a standard parent announcement. No special funding is set aside for a PA. If a funding opportunity has set-aside money, it will receive a special designation – either as a Program Announcement with Set-Aside Funds (PAS) or a Program Announcement with special receipt/referral/review considerations (PAR). Program Announcements are typically active for 3 years from the release date. Standard NIH due dates and resubmission policies may or may not apply. Refer to the specific PA for guidance.
- Request for Applications (RFA): RFAs are one-time solicitations for a high priority research topic. RFAs clearly outline the research objectives, the funds available, and the anticipated number of awards for each awarding IC that participates in the RFA. RFAs typically have special review criteria and offer only one application due date. An award made through an RFA can be in the form of a cooperative agreement instead of a grant agreement. Applications submitted in response to an RFA are usually reviewed by a specially convened review group organized by the IC that issued the RFA. RFAs do not allow resubmission applications.
- Notice of Special Interest (NOSI): Notices of Special Interest (NOSI) are becoming increasingly common at the NIH. NOSIs provide a vehicle for the NIH to communicate research priorities without issuing a standalone funding opportunity announcement. A NOSI directs applicants to submit research proposals in response to one or more active funding opportunity announcements – usually, a parent announcement that has standard due dates for competing applications. In June 2019, the NIH released a notice (NOT-OD-19-107) that it would be expanding its use of NOSIs, which are posted in the NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts. Visit the NIH website for more information about NOSIs. NOSIs can be active for up to three years and include an expiration date.
Concept clearance is a formal planning process NIH institutes utilize to identify areas of research that would benefit from further investment. NIH program staff initiate the process by identifying specific research opportunities and presenting potential new funding solicitations to an IC’s Council (i.e. governing board) for consideration. By law, IC Councils meet at least three (3) times a year to perform administrative reviews of grant applications and to make recommendations to each institute director on matters related to research. During these meetings, Councils can vote to approve new concepts, defer concepts for additional modifications, or establish a subcommittee to work further with program staff before taking a final vote. The entire planning process can take up to two (2) years. If a concept is developed into an official initiative, it will be published in the NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts as a Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA). While not all approved concepts become published funding announcements, concepts do indicate which areas of science are of priority to an IC. Many ICs release concept clearances on their websites to alert potential applicants. The following reference resources connect you with the latest concept clearances.
To provide a guidepost to prospective applicants, some institutes and centers (ICs) elect to publish paylines – cutoff points for determining the likelihood of any one proposal receiving an award. In general, when a proposal falls within an IC’s published paylines, it is considered in the “fundable” range, but applicants must always keep in mind that ICs decide what science to fund by balancing a multitude of factors, namely:
- Relevance of the research to their mission,
- Portfolio balance,
- Funding availability; and
- Scientific and technical merit of submitted applications.
In addition, ICs reserve the right to fund “select pay” applications. These research proposals fall outside of published paylines, but are awarded funding because they speak to an IC’s programmatic priorities.
How does the federal budget process impact NIH paylines?
Most years, the U.S. Congress does not finalize a budget until the federal fiscal year is well underway. In most years, Congress must enact a stopgap spending bill – referred to as a continuing resolution (CR) – to keep the government in operation until a budget gets passed. While operating under a CR, many ICs will adopt interim paylines based on conservative budget estimates. Once the NIH receives its final budget – often midway through the fiscal year – ICs will finalize their spending plan and often revise their paylines to carry them through the balance of the year.
Are paylines restricted to specific funding opportunities?
Paylines are generally only applied to parent announcements, which are broad funding opportunity announcements that provide a vehicle for investigators to submit unsolicited research proposals to any number of ICs that participate in the funding opportunity. Funding opportunity announcements that invite proposals within a specific, narrowly define research interest do not make us of paylines because the applicant pool is comparatively small – and the funding opportunity announcement is not a standing mechanism. An example of a funding opportunity announcement that would not use paylines is the Request for Applications (RFA). Typically, the RFA is a one-time solicitation for a narrowly defined research topic that has specific review criteria, application receipt dates, and a specific budget allocation for funding a limited number of proposals.
Do all institutes and centers (ICs) use paylines?
The simple answer is no. Each of the NIH’s 27 ICs sets its own policies, which means there is substantial variability in payline practices. Some ICs avoid paylines altogether in favor of a zone of consideration – a range of impact scores within which competing applications will be considered for funding. In contrast, other ICs publish new paylines each fiscal year, but limit their use to specific grant mechanisms – most commonly, research project grant (RPG) applications (e.g. R01, R03, R21, R15, R34). When an IC uses paylines, it is common practice to establish more favorable paylines for new investigators and/or Early State Investigators (ESI).
What are the different types of paylines?
Grant paylines are based on either percentile rank or impact score.
A percentile rank considers your application relative to all other applications reviewed by the same study section for both the current review round and the preceding two review rounds. An application that receives a 5th percentile is considered more meritorious than 95 percent of applications reviewed by that study section within the last year. The intent of percentile calculations is to account for the scoring behavior of different study sections. There is tremendous variability across the NIH regarding which ICs make use of percentile rank – and the types of applications they percentile.
An impact score is a review committee’s assessment of each grant application. All applications that are discussed at study section receive an overall impact score, which represents the average of impact scores given to the application by both the assigned reviewers and all other eligible review committee members (without conflict of interest). The NIAID provides an excellent primer on the NIH’s scoring system – and how the impact score is calculated.
The Research Concierge Service (RCS) prepared this table in May 2021 as a reference resource. Please refer to the websites for the relevant institutes and centers (ICs) to obtain the most current paylines and budget updates. When an IC uses paylines, they generally only apply to parent announcements and to specific funding mechanisms. Interested applicants should contact a program officer to discuss their proposed project’s alignment with the IC and to confirm the IC’s payline policies.
The NIH uses success rates as a metric for describing the likelihood of an application getting funded by a given Institute or Center (IC). Success rate calculations are done at the end of the fiscal year. Expressed as a percentage, a success rate is based on the number of applications awarded funding during the fiscal year divided by the total number of unique applications reviewed, including carryovers (i.e. applications reviewed in the prior fiscal year, but funded in the current fiscal year).
To best capture the funding of research ideas, applications having one or more submission for the same project in the same fiscal year are only counted one time. For grants that are funded by two or more ICs, the IC that contributes the most dollars to the grant typically receives the award count.
The NIH’s RePORT website offers success rate data for research project grants (RPGs) and other mechanisms across all Institutes and Centers (ICs).
The NIH Peer Review Process is a multi-stage process that begins with study section review and ends with Advisory Council/Board review.
When an application is submitted to the NIH, an official known as the Scientific Review Officer (SRO) examines the application for completeness and compliance with NIH policies. All applications deemed complete are assigned to three or more reviewers by the SRO approximately six weeks before the study section meeting.
Assigned reviewers are the only individuals that carefully read your grant application. Because they receive dozens of applications for each study section meeting, the other reviewers mostly read just your Abstract, Significance, and Specific Aims.
Step 1: Assigned reviewers provide preliminary scores
Prior to the study section meeting, each reviewer is tasked with determining individual criterion scores for your application based on the NIH’s nine-point rating scale, as follows:
At least five individual criteria are scored by each reviewer:
Assigned reviewers are also required to provide the SRO a preliminary overall impact score, which reflects their assessment of the likelihood for the project to exert a sustained, powerful influence on the research field(s).
All applications receive preliminary impact scores, but not all applications are brought before study section.
Step 2: SRO convenes the Scientific Review Group (SRG)
The SRO utilizes reviewers’ preliminary impact scores to rank all applications from best to worst and only brings the top half of applications before study section for a full review.
At the study section meeting, assigned reviewers share their preliminary overall impact score with the group and explain the significance of the proposed research and the overall impact it will have on the field.
Reviewer presentations are followed by group discussion. Each discussed application is given a score by all reviewers who are eligible to vote on that application. The scores from all eligible reviewers are averaged (calculated to one decimal point) and multiplied by 10 to determine the final overall impact score.
Step 3: Advisory Council/Board performs the second level of review
The Advisory Council/Board of the potential awarding Institute or Center (IC) performs the second level of review. Advisory Councils/Boards are composed of scientists from the extramural research community and public representatives.
NIH program staff members examine applications, their overall impact scores, percentile rankings (if applicable) and their summary statements and consider these against the IC’s needs. The Advisory Board/Council also considers the IC’s goals and needs and advises the IC director.
The IC director makes final funding decisions based on staff and Advisory Council/Board advice.
Step 4: PI obtains feedback via eRA Commons
Within a few days after the SRG meets, impact score and percentile rankings (if applicable) are available to the PI online via his/her eRA Commons account.
Typically within 30 days, the summary statement is also available through the PI’s eRA Commons.
Summary statements for proposals Not Discussed (ND) at study section will include the written critiques produced by the assigned reviewers along with each reviewer’s preliminary scores for each review criterion. Summary statements for proposals brought before study section for discussion will include all of these items, plus the SRO’s summary of study section discussion and administrative notes of special consideration.
Only the PI can view the summary statement via their eRA Commons account.
Summary statements are compiled by the SRO who runs the study section meeting. All applications that a SRO brings before study section will receive a summary statement. These written evaluations of an application include each reviewer’s written critiques along with their criterion scores.
For applications discussed at study section, summary statements will also include an overall impact score, which reflects the overall impact of an application. The impact score on a summary statement represents the average of all individual impact scores assigned by eligible reviewers that participated in study section.
Summary statements are made available to a PI through their eRA Commons account roughly 30 days after the study section meeting.
- Center for Scientific Review – Peer Review Process Revealed: Each year, the NIH’s Center for Scientific Review (CSR) handles approximately 80,000 applications and manages some 20,000 reviewers. This video gives an inside look at the peer review process and shows a mock study section. In addition, a section of the NIH’s website is dedicated to providing resources to peer reviewers.
- Peer reviewer documents: Visit the NIH website for a consolidated list of reviewer documents.
- NIH Peer Review Process: The NIH website provides a step-by-step guide through peer review.
- Center for Scientific Review Video Series: The Center for Scientific Review produced a series of videos on the grant review process. These videos are available for free viewing and cover a wide range of topics, including:
- NIH Peer Review Process
- NIH Early Career Reviewer Program
- What Happens to Your NIH Grant Application
- Tips for Applicants
To find out what an Institute or Center has funded through different mechanisms, explore the NIH Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tool (RePORT), a publicly accessible website that provides a central point of access for reports, data, and analyses of federally funded research from the NIH and several other federal agencies.
Matchmaker is a new extension of the NIH RePORTER system that makes it easy to find similar projects already funded by the NIH. Are you an investigator looking for the right home for your grant? Matchmaker can help you find which NIH institutes and Centers have funded similar work, and where that work was reviewed. Enter abstracts or other scientific text and Matchmaker will return a list of 100 similar projects, listing them in decreasing similarity via a “match score.”
Investigators struggling to determine which study section might review their application, or who want to look at study section rosters to see if they have a preference for review in one group over another, might wish to try the NIH’s Assisted Referral Tool.
This tool makes a potential match between the science in the application and an appropriate CSR study section(s) and provides direct links to descriptions of those study sections and their rosters of reviewers.
Each query is confidential. No input text from the application or the fingerprint generated during the search will be retained after the query is completed.
The NIH Center for Scientific Review developed this tool in partnership with the NIH Center for Information Technology.
In 2011, the NIH’s Center for Scientific Review established the Early Career Reviewer (ECR) Program to help broaden its reviewer pool and expose emerging researchers to the NIH review process. The CSR reviews more than 75 percent of the 80,000 grant applications submitted to the NIH each year. To support this effort, the CSR recruits more than 18,000 reviewers to conduct nearly 1,400 review meetings each year.
All researchers accepted into the ECR program are added to a database from which scientific review officers (SROs) may refer to recruit reviewers. The SRO is the designated federal official in charge of the review process, which includes recruiting appropriate reviewers and managing the review meeting. SROs recruit based on the expertise needed, so they may also obtain ECR recommendations from other sources (i.e., recommendations from program officers, submitted applications, other scientists, or via direct outreach from a prospective reviewer). Once accepted into the program, an ECR must confirm eligibility on an annual basis to remain in the program.
Today, there are approximately 1,100 researchers in the ECR database and SROs recruit an estimated 500 ECRs each year. ECRs are assigned two applications to review as the tertiary reviewer. ECRs receive pre-meeting training, prepare written reviews and attend the entire review meeting. ECRs also enter a final score for all discussed applications, except any with which they are in conflict.
Current policy is for SROs to recruit two ECRs for every meeting of a standing panel (a chartered study section/review group) or recurring special emphasis panel that handles primarily R01 proposals. By serving as an ECR, early-career researchers get a unique opportunity to interact with leading researchers in their field while increasing their knowledge of the review process. In turn, this experience can translate into more competitively crafted NIH grant submissions.
National Science Foundation (NSF) Funding
The National Science Foundation (NSF) comprises seven directorates, each of which covers a specific area of science. Each NSF directorate is composed of divisions, which are further subdivided into programs overseen by program directors.
Program directors oversee the merit review process and recommend proposals for funding based on proposal rankings from panel review, consideration of budgetary restrictions, and research funded in previous cycles.
Program directors are generally appointed for two-year terms and are typically university professors with a track record of NSF funding and a history of research within the given program area.
Visit the NSF website to learn more about the agency’s organizational structure and merit review process.
Types of Funding Opportunities
NSF utilizes a variety of mechanisms to generate proposals. The majority of proposals are investigator-initiated (unsolicited). It is wise to contact appropriate program directors to discuss a proposed research topic to determine the most appropriate mechanisms. Some programs may require a preliminary proposal before a complete proposal can be submitted. The NSF recognized four categories of funding opportunities:
- Program Descriptions: These broad, general descriptions of programs was typically the home for investigator-initiated (unsolicited) proposals.
- Program Announcements: Similar to Program Descriptions.
- Program Solicitations: Solicitations encourage submission of proposals in specific program areas of interest to the NSF. Solicitations are more focused and generally active for a limited time period.
- Dear Colleague Letters: Dear Colleague Letters clarify or amend NSF policy, inform the community of upcoming opportunities, special competitions, or supplements to existing awards.
- Confessions of an NSF Program Director
- Special Report: Can NSF Put the Right Spin on Rotators? (October 2013, Science)
Started in 1996, the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program is the NSF’s most prestigious award to recognize junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholar. The CAREER Program is an NSF-wide program, which means all directorates participate at some level. More than 200 programs across the Directorates review CAREER proposals. Review and Funding methods vary according to Directorate and Division practices.
Who Does it Support?
The CAREER Award supports junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations. NSF encourages submission of CAREER proposals from junior faculty members at all CAREER-eligible organizations and especially encourages women, members of underrepresented minority groups, and persons with disabilities to apply.
What Does it Support?
As a career development award, all CAREER proposals must have an integrated research and education plan at their core. Proposed education activities may be in a broad range of areas and may be directed to any level: K-12 students, undergraduates, graduate students, and/or the general public, but should be related to the proposed research. A CAREER proposal must indicate the goals and objectives of the proposed education activities, how it will be integrated with the research component, and the criteria for assessing how these goals will be met. Principal investigators are strongly encouraged to describe how the impact of the educational activities will be assessed or evaluated.
What is the size of a typical CAREER Award?
In most directorates, the minimum CAREER award, including indirect costs, will total $400,000 for the five-year duration.
What Are the Basic Eligibility Requirements?
- By the Directorate’s deadline for application submission, the PI must hold a PhD in an area of science supported by NSF.
- By the Directorate’s deadline for application submission, the PI must be untenured.
- To remain eligible to receive a CAREER award, the PI must remain untenured until Oct. 1 following the submission deadline.
- To remain eligible to receive a CAREER award, the PI must have received no previous CAREER awards.
Who has received CAREER awards in my area of science?
NSF makes the abstracts of all funded proposals available on its website. To search for active and/or expired awards, conduct an advanced search and enter 1045 into the Reference Code field.
- NSF’s CAREER Program Website
- CAREER Program contacts at the NSF
- Latest CAREER Program Solicitation – NSF 17-537 (released by the NSF Jan. 24, 2017)
- Frequently Asked Questions – NSF 17-050
- Webcast archives from the Fall 2016 NSF Grants Conference
To identify which projects to support, the NSF relies on a merit review process that considers both the technical components of a proposed project and its potential to contribute more broadly to advancing the NSF’s mission “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense; and for other purposes.”
The merit review process centers on two criteria established by the National Science Board, the policy-making body of the NSF:
- Intellectual Merit: What is the potential for the proposed activity to advance knowledge and understanding within its own field or across different fields?
- Broader Impacts: What is the potential for the proposed activity to benefit society or to advance desired societal outcomes?
Some NSF funding announcements will include additional criteria as required to highlight the specific objectives of certain programs and activities.
Proposal and Award Process
The timeline for proposal review can take upwards of six months from the time a proposal is received at the NSF. Learn more about the processing and review timeline here.
Role of Program Directors
NSF program directors (also referred to as program officers) play a key role in the merit review process. These individuals oversee the merit review process and recommend proposals for funding based on proposal rankings from the review process, consideration of budgetary restrictions, and research funded in previous cycles.
Program directors make an “award” or “decline” recommendation to division directors, who generally have final programmatic approval for funding proposals.
Program directors are generally appointed for two-year terms and have a history of research within the given program area. Approximately one-third of NSF program directors are not federal employees, but “rotators” on loan from their home institution. The NSF credits these rotational programs, which employ scientists, engineers, and educators on rotational assignment from academia, industry, or other eligible organizations, as critical to furthering the agency’s mission of supporting the entire spectrum of science and engineering research and education.
Role of Reviewers and Review Panel
Nearly every proposal is evaluated by a minimum of three independent reviewers who prepare written reviews and assign preliminary ratings to proposals – a primary reviewer, secondary reviewer, and ad hoc reviewer. If reviewers will serve on a panel, each reviewer may have 10 to 20 proposals to review.
Primary, secondary, and ad hoc reviewers rank each proposal (as Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair, or Poor) ahead of the panel meeting. At panel, the primary reviewer serves as lead, summarizing the proposal, discussing its merits, and initiating discussion with the entire panel. After the primary viewer presents the proposal, other reviewers provide their perspective. Discussion is then open to the entire panel, which may consist of 15 to 20 individuals.
During panel discussion, assigned reviewers may change their review. At the end of the process, proposals are ranked and the panel makes its recommendation to the Program Director.
The NSF keeps panel membership confidential and holds panelists to strict Conflict of Interest (COI) policies.
The Panel Summary is the written record of the panel’s discussion of a proposal. It is written by the scribe – a role assigned to one of the three independent reviewers – and addresses proposal strengths and weaknesses. All proposals that are reviewed get a Panel Summary, which is provided to the PI.
How an NSF Panel Functions (Report to the National Science Board, FY 2014)
This annual report to the National Science Board (NSB) includes data and other information about the NSF’s merit review process for fiscal year (FY) 2014. In FY 2014, NSF acted on 48,051 competitively reviewed full proposals and made 10,958 awards, which corresponds to a 23% success rate for competitively reviewed proposals.
The NSF’s merit review criteria cover both the quality of research (intellectual and technical merit), as well as its potential impact on society (broader impact). On this section of its website, the NSF separates fact from fiction.
Broader Impacts – Guiding Principles and Questions
Prepared by the National Alliance for Broader Impacts (December 2015).
Potential panelists or reviewers should contact a Program Director in their particular subfield, by e-mail or telephone, to let them know of their interest in serving as either an ad hoc mail reviewer or panelist to evaluate proposals submitted to the program.
Become a Temporary Program Director
NSF offers a chance for scientists, engineers and educators to join them as temporary program directors – called rotators. You can become a rotator either as a Visiting Scientist, Engineer, and Educator (VSEE) or as an Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA) assignee. While rotators can come on temporary assignment under the IPA program for up to four years, most rotating assignments last one to two years. The NSF is particularly interested in attracting women and underrepresented minority candidates to these positions.
This is the official guide for submitting proposals to the National Science Foundation (NSF) – effective February 2019. NSF Notice 19-1 provides a summary of significant changes and clarifications from the previous version of the Grant Proposal Guide.
Most proposals submitted to the National Science Foundation (NSF) are peer-reviewed in panels consisting of colleagues in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines or related fields, and the success in obtaining funding depends in great measure on reviewers’ judgments and their written reviews. The staff of the Division of Undergraduate Education (DUE) at the National Science Foundation (NSF) compiled this online guide to help potential awardees. The suggestions for improving proposals were collected from a variety of sources, including NSF Program Directors, panel reviewers, and successful grantees. The guide also provides general guidance to potential NSF applicants on everything from how to read an NSF solicitation to an overview of the peer review process.
Advice on Writing Proposals to the NSF
This article is written by Susan Finger, MD, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. For several years, Dr. Finger served as a program officer with the NSF, which gave her unique insights into the funding environment at the NSF. This article is a helpful resource for those new to NSF funding seeking some general advice on proposal preparation and the peer review process.
Tips for a Winning Research Proposal
This article includes information from George Hazelrigg, PhD, Program Director at the NSF, who has been involved in the review of thousands of NSF applications during his tenure with the agency, as well as other funding experts.
Department of Defense (DoD) Funding
Within the federal government, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), the Department of Health & Human Services (through the NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) are consistently the top three funders of academic research and development.
DoD funds a wide range of extramural research activities that support its mission and national security priorities. In fact, universities are awarded more than 50 percent of the DoD’s basic research dollars. Universities receive comparably smaller percentages to conduct applied research (approximately 10 percent) and to engage in advanced technology development (approximately 5 percent).
Under the category of basic research, the following DoD agencies support academic research with a close connection to defense. Core programs are funded through the DoD’s budget process; non-core programs are funded through Congressional appropriation.
With the exception of the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP), which has a solicitation and review process all its own, these DoD agencies commonly use Broad Agency Announcements (BAAs) to solicit extramural proposals. The DoD uses a wide variety of BAAs, ranging from open BAAs, which accept and review proposals on a rolling basis, to two-step BAAs that invite full proposals from submitters whose white papers receive a favorable review.
Under a BAA, the issuing agency has the option of making an award in the form of a grant, contract, cooperative agreement, or cost-share agreement. Active BAAs can be found on the Federal Business Opportunities website and Grants.gov. Some DoD service areas use Long-Range BAAs to contemplate proposals for original research that fall outside the scope of their more narrowly defined BAAs.
The Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP) effort is by far the largest funder of biomedical research within the DoD. Unlike the DoD’s core programs, funding for CDMRP is not included in the President’s budget. Rather, it is funded by Congressional appropriation. The strategic focus of CDMRP is shaped by the U.S. Congress and the consumers (e.g. patients, caregivers, survivors) who advocate for funding to be directed toward the study of a given disease, condition or injury. CDMRP was initiated in Fiscal Year 1992 when consumer advocates prompted the U.S. Congress to appropriate federal funds specifically for a new breast cancer research program.
Today, CDMRP encompasses more than more than 30 research programs that span the biomedical field.
Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP) is by far the largest funder of biomedical research within the DoD. Since its first appropriation of congressional funding in 1992, it has awarded more than $12.0 billion and approximately 16,000 awards.
Appropriation levels for the CDMRP have increased measurably in the last 5 years, currently exceeding $1 billion a year. Today, in addition to breast cancer research, the CDMRP funds a wide variety of cancer research, military medical research, and disease- and injury-specific research. It also invests in the full spectrum of research, from basic to translational and clinical. As stipulated on its website, there are several hallmarks of CDMRP:
- Investing in groundbreaking research
- Targeting critical gaps
- Reviewing applications using a two-tier formal review with no standing peer review panels and no “pay line”
- Involving consumer advocates throughout the two-tier review process
- Supporting researchers at various career stages, both next generation and established scientists
- Funding the full pipeline of research development, including basic, translational, and clinical research
- Fostering (or employing) collaboration and synergy
Consumer engagement is the hallmark of CDMRP. Consumers are involved with all aspects of proposal review, having the same voting rights as the scientists and clinicians who serve as reviewers. The consumer perspective underscores the main thrust of CDMRP, which seeks to fund groundbreaking research that fills a critical gap and that has potential to be translated into more effective clinical care for service members, veterans, their family members and the public.
Applying to CDMRP is a two-step process – a pre‐application and a full proposal. Pre‐applications are submitted through eBRAP, the DoD’s Electronic Biomedical Research Application Portal. Full applications are submitted through Grants.gov.
CDMRP is an office within the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command (USAMRMC), located in Fort Detrick, Md.
USAMRMC has primary responsibility for medical research, development, acquisition and medical logistics management for the U.S. Army. Although housed within the Department of the Army, the CDMRP coordinates across DoD service areas – and with other federal agencies like NIH and NSF – to establish strategic priorities that complement one another.
CDMRP originated in 1991 when a grassroots movement led by breast cancer advocates prompted the U.S. Congress to make a targeted appropriation for breast cancer research in the Defense Appropriations Act and directed USAMRMC to manage the funds. With each passing year, USAMRMC’s successful management of this appropriation, combined with additional advocacy movements, had led Congress to increase appropriations and to designate additional research programs.
In contrast with DoD’s core programs, CDMRP is not included in the President’s budget.
Rather, funding for CDMRP is added to the DoD’s budget by the U.S. Congress through line-item appropriations. Each year, CDMPR’s funding process begins with the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Through this authorizing legislation, Congress stipulates what programs CDMRP will focus on in the coming year. After the programs are authorized in the NDAA, Congress appropriates funding to the program through the annual Defense Appropriations Act (DAA). Congressional language accompanying the DAA specifies the topic areas within each program under which the CDMRP will be allowed to obligate funds.
Once the DAA is signed into law by the President, DoD begins a vision-setting process for each of the congressionally-funded research programs. Programmatic panels convene these meetings to assess the state of research, develop a strategic plan for each program area, and identify funding mechanisms that will help CDMRP achieve its goals. Program announcements are subsequently released that align with the vision-setting process.
Across all research programs, a consistent theme of CDMRP is a focus on paradigm-shifting research that will transform health care for service members, veterans and the American public.
It is important to keep in mind that while some research topics are supported by the CDMRP year after year, other topics may drop off the list temporarily or permanently. The active involvement of consumers and the U.S. Congress in annual goal-setting allows CDMRP to be responsive to emerging opportunities. But it also underscores the importance of investing in research that promises to have near-term impact.
CDMRP makes use of pre-announcements to alert the research community of an upcoming funding opportunity. Pre-announcements are of critical importance to potential applicants because many CDMRP proposals carry deadlines that can be anywhere from one to three months out from an FOA release date. In addition to giving investigators time to plan and prepare proposals before a program announcement is released, pre-announcements give prospective applicants a lot of other useful information:
- Pre-announcements identify focus areas that proposals must be responsive to.
- Pre-announcements stipulate which funding mechanisms will be supported under the funding opportunity.
- Pre-announcements provide an opportunity for the investigator to sign up for specific news and updates via the eBRAP listserv.
- Pre-announcements indicate what type of pre-application will be required by the program announcement – a pre-proposal or a letter of intent (LOI). Within CDMRP, a pre-application is required for all applications. The LOI gives the agency notice that the applicant intends to submit a full proposal. It serves as an administrative tool for the program to identify an appropriate number of reviewers, as well as relevant expertise. In contrast, a pre-proposal is used by the program is a screening tool to invite proposals from projects that have the most perceived technical merit.
There are three ways to keep up-to-date on CDMRP’s funding opportunities:
- Pre-announcements are posted as press releases to the CDMRP website as they become available.
- eBRAP, the DoD’s Electronic Biomedical Research Application Portal, provides an opportunity for users to subscribe to program-specific news and updates by signing up for eBRAP Listserv email notifications.
- CDMRP’s home page profiles active funding opportunities across all program areas.
A pre‐application is required for all applications submitted to CDMRP. CDMRP makes use of two different type of pre-application – the letter of intent (LOI) and the pre-proposal.
For many CDMRP funding opportunities, submission of a full application is by invitation only, contingent upon successful review of a required pre-proposal. The letter of intent (LOI) is most often used when a pre-proposal is not a requirement for submission of a full proposal. In that respect, the LOI becomes an administrative tool to identify subject matter expertise for the review process.
The LOI is a one-page document that provides a brief description of the proposed research. It is used for program planning purposes and is not included in the two-tier review process.
In contrast, pre-proposals are used as a pre-screening tool to eliminate proposals from further consideration. They generally consist of a five-page narrative that addresses the topic area, overarching challenges, the research strategy, a discussion of anticipated short and long-term impacts, an overview of the research team and citations. Only proposals that make it through the pre-screening process are invited to submit a full application. Program announcements that require a pre-proposal will stipulate specific criteria by which CDMRP will evaluate them.
CDMRP utilizes a two-tier review process that consists of a peer review and a programmatic review.
Tier 1 is peer review, which assesses applications for technical merit against the criteria written in the program announcement. There are no standing panels for peer review; rather, reviewers are recruited based on the expertise needed. Consumers are always represented during peer review and have equal voting rights to all other members of the panel. Peer review produces summary statements for each proposal, which contain a numeric score with details of each proposal’s strength and weaknesses.
Tier 2 is programmatic review. The programmatic panel, which includes consumer members, reviews the summary statements alongside one another. The panels consider the program’s portfolio, the potential for impact and program relevance. Programmatic panels typically include representatives from other federal funding agencies, such as the NIH, NSF, CDC and/or VA, who provide information regarding the research being funded in related areas.
CDMRP wants to avoid making research investments that unnecessarily overlap with other federal agencies and, in fact, considers its programs to be a complement to other funding agencies.
Because research topics can change from year to year, programmatic panels frequently include ad hoc reviewers to ensure that they have the correct expertise to provide a fair review and recommendation.
In 2019, the Department of Defense presented a webinar series that provided a solid overview of the wide variety of funding opportunities available under the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program. Strategies to increase proposal success rates and an introduction to the agency’s two-tier review process are also covered.
See CDMRP webinar archives here.
Also in 2019, the College of Medicine worked with consulting firm McAllister & Quinn to deliver a series of Department of Defense training sessions to faculty and staff. The training series was as follows:
Introduction to DoD Biomedical Research (webinar)
Jan. 15, 2019
Communicating with the Department of Defense: Pre-Proposals and Abstracts (webinar)
Feb. 12 2019
Proposal Preparation Essentials for the Department of Defense (webinar)
Oct. 22, 2019
Web-based recordings for each session are available, by request, by emailing the Research Concierge Service at firstname.lastname@example.org.