I’m delighted to announce that this week NIH has posted the first funding opportunity announcement (FOA) that will use electronic submission for multi-project applications. This is no small achievement for NIH.
NIH has been fully electronic for R01 grant submission since 2007, and electronic for all but our multi-project grant applications since 2010. Our goal was always to have 100% of our applications submitted electronically, but our most complex applications did not fit with current submission methods.
To address this situation NIH developed ASSIST (Application Submission System and Interface for Submission Tracking) working in close partnership with Grants.gov. ASSIST is a web-based system designed to accommodate the complexities of NIH’s multi-project applications and, I am happy to say, incorporates many features that have been requested by applicants for years. The system provides pre-population of application forms using information from NIH’s eRA Commons, it accommodates multiple people working on an application concurrently, and it provides the capability for the signing official from the applicant organization to control access to various parts of the application. ASSIST also allows users to view the assembled application before submission the same way it will be seen by NIH reviewers. Additionally applications can be run against NIH and Grants.gov business rules before submission. Finally, applicants will be able to prepare their multi-project applications, submit them to Grants.gov, and view the final assembled application image from within a single system.
During the design and development of ASSIST, NIH’s eRA (electronic Research Administration) technical team worked closely with Grants.gov staff, NIH extramural staff from across NIH institutes, and dozens of applicants from a wide variety of institution types. We couldn’t have done it without everyone’s contributions. The input from all these stakeholders has allowed us to ensure the system accommodates the workflow of our applicant organizations, takes advantage of existing Grants.gov services, and meets the needs of the NIH staff and reviewers who work with these multi-project applications after submission.
We also recognize that many institutions have made large investments in their own system-to-system solutions that send application data directly to Grants.gov. We designed ASSIST to work with Grants.gov in such a way that those institutions, should they choose to extend the capabilities of their own systems to include submission of multi-project applications directly to Grants.gov in lieu of using ASSIST, may do so.
ASSIST can only accept multi-project applications, currently (e.g. P01s). I hope eventually it will be able to expand to include other types of applications as well. I am thrilled to hear that the Grants.gov program management is looking to leverage this collaborative effort to potentially develop an online forms capability for the entire federal grants community.
Initially, we are piloting ASSIST with a few FOAs that have receipt dates between January and September. If everything goes as planned, all of our multi-project applications will use electronic submission by January 2014 and we’ll be 100% electronic. You can find the transition timeline in NIH Guide notice NOT-OD-12-161. As pilot FOAs are published, we will add them to the transition timeline.
We’re delighted that our users will soon be able to submit all their applications to NIH electronically! It’s a large step into the 21st century.