A submitted grant application undergoes a two-step, peer-review process to determine its eligibility for funding. It typically takes nine months from the time an application is received until the time a grant award can be made. Some grants and fellowships are reviewed and awarded on an expedited schedule.
Initial peer review of an application is an evaluation of the proposal's scientific and technical merit, and is managed by the Center for Scientific Review (CSR) [public.csr.nih.gov] or the review branch of the awarding IC, depending on the type of solicitation, mechanism of support and/or the program. The CSR manages initial review groups that evaluate most investigator-initiated applications. Each IC's review branch manages the initial review of applications in response to specific IC solicitations and programs.
Initial review groups are administered by a Scientific Review Administrator (SRA), and are composed of scientists from the extramural research community. Reviewers are asked to address established criteria concerning the merit of the grant. The top half of reviewed proposals are further discussed at the initial review group meeting and are assigned priority scores: numerical ratings of scientific merit. After the conclusion of the meeting, the SRA prepares a summary statement for each discussed proposal. This report includes the reviewers' written comments, recommendations of the group and the priority score. The summary statement is sent to the program staff of the awarding IC, and to the applicant.
The awarding IC's National Advisory Council conducts the next level of review for recommended applications. This committee is composed of scientists and members of the public. The National Advisory Council considers the initial review group's conclusions, further evaluates the proposal's merit, and also reviews the proposal's relevance to the IC's priorities. An application must receive council approval to be eligible for funding.
For those applications approved for funding, IC staff make the final decisions as to whether an award will be made and at what level of funding.
The NIH's Office of Extramural Research and the Center for Scientific Review offer detailed accounts of the grant application and review processes. The CSR's Applicant Resources offers a step-by-step account of the peer-review process for the Center for Scientific Review.