It’s been three months since I discussed how, during May Advisory Council meetings, NIH would pilot a new Special Council Review process for particularly well-funded applicants. Since that time, we ran the pilot and carefully considered all the great feedback we received from Advisory Council members and staff. We are now ready to implement the final policy on Special Council Review.
The new special review process will be in effect for the 2013 fiscal year, beginning with September 2012 Council meetings. The new policy will provide additional consideration of new and renewal applications from well-supported investigators who currently receive more than $1 million or more in direct costs. I want to remind you that this policy does not cap the total amount of funds an investigator may receive from NIH, but rather is a special review to complement existing NIH policies that require monitoring all investigators’ activities for overlapping support, and determining whether additional funds should be awarded to well-supported investigators.
You’ll note that NIH has lowered the threshold for the Special Council Review process from $1.5 million to $1 million, and now only considers direct costs. This change stems from widespread concerns expressed by you and during the Councils that using total costs as the trigger for this review process does not reflect differences in indirect cost rates among institutions. We examined how this change would affect the number of applications subject to special review, and found that it will have a minimal effect on the number of grants that undergo additional review. Approximately 89 applications for the upcoming council round will undergo special review (only 19 more than using the $1.5 million threshold).
I like that the Special Council Review process provides a consistent prompt for the Advisory Council to consider the amount of funds a principle investigator receives, yet allows each NIH institute and center (IC) to retain enough flexibility to fund the best science in support of their respective missions. It also responds to a growing need to address how to manage the funding of scientific research in fiscally challenging times, and to research community feedback, some of which took place right here on the blog.
Applications that will be given special review include:
- New and renewal applications from investigators who currently receive $1 million or more in direct costs for research project grants (RPGs), excluding no cost extensions
Applications excluded from special review include:
- Pending applications received in response to requests for applications (RFAs)
- P01s and other multi-component RPGs, unless all the investigators exceed the $1 million threshold
- Multi-PI applications, unless all the investigators exceed the $1 million threshold
- Administrative supplements
- Subprojects within complex applications (this may be revisited by NIH once we begin to accept complex applications through eRA Commons)
The full SCR policy is published in the NIH Guide (Notice number NOT-OD-12-140). We realize that refinements might be necessary as we dive into the implementation stage. However, we’re confident that this policy, piloted at each IC and modeled after a long-standing review process already existing at NIGMS, provides an effective yet adaptable process to responsibly fund the best science and support the biomedical research community.