When an application is submitted to NIEHS in response to a specific Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA), or to NIH as an unsolicited application, it undergoes a specific peer review process.
NIH policy is intended to ensure that applications and proposals submitted to NIH are evaluated on the basis of a process that is fair, equitable, timely, and free of bias. The NIH dual peer review system is mandated by statute in accordance with section 492 of the Public Health Service Act and federal regulations governing "Scientific Peer Review of Research Grant Applications and Research and Development Contract Projects" ( 42 CFR Part 52h ).
Peer Review at NIEHS
Scientific and technical evaluation of applications submitted in response to certain funding announcements published by NIEHS (primarily Requests for Applications, or RFAs) is conducted by the Scientific Review Branch (SRB).
Within this branch, scientific review officers (SROs) identify the most meritorious scientific research for support using federal resources. They are responsible for the initial scientific and technical merit review of grant applications and contract proposals submitted to NIH. These evaluations are conducted by peer review in groups known as initial review groups (IRGs), also known as study sections. The SRO identifies the mix of expertise required for the review of grant and cooperative agreement applications and proposals for research and development contracts, and interprets and implements NIH policies governing the review.
SROs have comprehensive knowledge of the diverse and complex award mechanisms, understand the critical need to avoid conflicts of interest, and have the ability to exercise objectivity and fairness to all applicants. In formalizing appropriate review panels for evaluating applications, the SRO selects consultants with the appropriate expertise, orients the review panels to applicable policies and procedures, and documents a summary of the deliberations and recommendations of the review panel. The SRO also works with the program officer, grants management staff, contracting officer, and contracting office representative in the planning of the scientific review meeting, providing guidance to reviewers and interpreting policies at the review meeting.
The Environmental Health Sciences Review Committee
The Environmental Health Sciences Review Committee is the chartered review committee for NIEHS and is responsible for the scientific review of the following review mechanisms: Environmental Health Science P30 Core Centers; Institutional National Research Service Award (T32); career awards (various K applications); and conference grants (R13/U13). This committee is composed of 21 members who serve a term of four overlapping years.
Center for Scientific Review
The Center for Scientific Review (CSR) is the portal for NIH grant applications and their review for scientific merit. The CSR organizes the peer review groups that evaluate the majority (70%) of the research grant applications sent to NIH. The remainder is reviewed by the individual NIH institutes and centers. The CSR also receives all grant applications for NIH, as well as for other components of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
First & Second Level of Review
Initial peer review meetings are administered by either NIEHS or CSR. The focus of review is specified in the funding opportunity announcement. Peer review meetings are announced in the Federal Registry. The meetings are closed to the public, although some meetings may have an open session. The Federal Register provides the details of each meeting.
The second level of review at NIEHS is performed by the National Advisory Environmental Health Sciences (NAEHS) Council. The Council is composed of both scientific and lay members chosen for their expertise, interest, or activity in matters related to environmental health and disease. Only applications that are favorably recommended by both the IRG and the Advisory Council may be recommended for funding.