September 30, 2008

Redesigning the Campus Research Subaward Process

Background: Business Process Analysis

The Research Administration and Compliance Office (RAC) was one of several campus groups participating in the business process analysis workshop recently offered by the campus Center for Organization and Workforce Effectiveness ( The workshop, held from March to May 2008, provided coaching and training for teams actively engaged in improving real campus business processes.

The workshop provided participants with tools and methods to help analyze processes, identify areas for improvement, redesign processes to incorporate improvement ideas, and lay out a framework for ongoing review and improvement of processes.

Assistant Vice Chancellor for Research Marcia Smith selected a team of RAC and Sponsored Projects Office (SPO) staff to participate in the workshop and focus on the research subaward business process. The issuing of subawards under research grants and contracts is an operational challenge for most research institutions and is a process that is growing in volume and complexity.

The RAC business process analysis team was trained to use a set of tools and various approaches to business process redesign, and they applied that training to redesigning the subaward process. As a result of the team's effort, several improvements have already been made to the subaward process and more are on the way.

Subaward Process Improvement: Coeus Data for PIs

One major change is that more complete and current data on subawards and subawardee organizations is now being collected in Berkeley Coeus and can be shared with principal investigators and staff. Based on the new subaward information carried in Coeus, the Notice of Award sent to PIs and administrators now includes more detailed information, including the status of each subaward and guidance for the PI and department about what the status means for them. In addition, Berkeley Coeus Web will soon have a new research subaward report so that PIs and department staff can track subaward status online. The following statuses for subawards have been defined and implemented.

1. Pending: The subaward is known by SPO but a Subaward Request Form has not been submitted by the department.
2. In process: The Subaward Request Form has been received by SPO, and the subaward is being prepared for signature and transmission to the subawardee.
3. Amendment in process: The Subaward Amendment Request Form has been received by SPO and the amendment is in process.
4. Awaiting subawardee response: The subaward/amendment has been sent to the subawardee, but has not yet been returned fully signed.
5. Active: The subaward is fully executed and distributed.
6. Inactive: The subaward’s final expiration date has passed.

In addition to providing more information to PIs and staff, tracking and managing subaward data in Coeus is key to complying with federal regulations, including the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act (FFATA), which will require the campus to provide data about subawards to the federal government for public access (

Subaward Process Improvement: Subrecipient Commitment Form

SPO will be offering a new tool for campus departments, the Subrecipient Commitment Form. The new form serves as a checklist that will assist faculty and staff in collecting required information from subrecipients. Key information about a subaward project will be in one place, including information about the subawardee organization (debarment, suspension, financial controls, A-133 compliance) and the proposed project (statement of work, budget, indirect costs, fringe benefits, compliance reviews, cost sharing). The form will enhance institutional compliance with federal regulations and UC policy (A-133, FFATA, BUS-43, etc.) and reduce audit exposure.

The Subrecipient Commitment Form is based on commitment forms now in use at many other universities, including other UC campuses. The form is completed by the subawardee’s sponsored projects office and PI, endorsed by the subawardee's authorized institutional representative, and provided at proposal stage with other proposal documents. It will eliminate the need for letters of commitment currently obtained from subawardees at proposal stage. All information requested on the form is already provided at some point in the proposal and award process, often after time-consuming research by the principal investigator, department, and SPO.

Before the new forms are put into use campus-wide in January 2009, SPO has asked several departments to participate in a two-month pilot of the forms and instructions. The pilot will also include an additional form to be used for contracts only, the Fair and Reasonable Cost Analysis/Sole Source Justification Form. This form, to be completed and signed by campus principal investigators, will provide information that is required by UC policy for research subcontracts under contract awards (UCOP Contract & Grant Memo 85-31 and operating guidance for BUS-43).

Feedback from the pilot will be incorporated into the process and procedures. For more information on or to participate in the pilot, contact Patricia Gates ( or 2-8109).

Members of the RAC subaward process analysis team are Patricia Gates, Jennifer Nadeau, Dan Jacobs, Nancy Han, Alaisha Hellman, Neil Maxwell, and Shelley Sprandel.

Future Plans

RAC is also working on revising additional subaward procedures, guidance, and forms, as well as continuing to make internal process changes to simplify and expedite research subaward processing. Newly learned business process analysis skills will also be applied to other processes used in SPO, Office for the Protection of Human Subjects, Office of the Animal Care and Use Committee, and Conflict of Interest Committee operations in the months to come. Look for more news in the next several months.

September 24, 2008

Enhancing Peer Review at NIH: Implementation Plans for 2009-10

Grant applications to the National Institutes of Health are evaluated initially by peer review groups composed of scientists from the extramural research community.

In June 2007, NIH began a comprehensive examination of the NIH peer review system with the goal of maximizing the system’s effectiveness, documenting the effort on the Enhancing Peer Review at NIH web site.

To begin the process, NIH formed working groups that solicited formal input from key stakeholders in both external and internal communities. The Final Draft Report issued in February 2008 describes the outcome of the diagnostic phase and the recommendations made by the working groups. In March 2008, NIH established a steering committee to draft implementation plans for each recommended action. A Peer Review Enhancements and Implementation Plan was announced in June. On September 19, NIH published an NIH Guide notice, Announcing Initial Implementation Timeline for Enhancing Peer Review, that outlines the preliminary implementation plans for the 2009 through 2010 calendar years, as follows:

Priority Area 1 – Engage the Best Reviewers
  • Improve Reviewer Retention: In 2009, new reviewers will be given additional flexibility regarding their tour of duty, and other efforts will be undertaken to improve retention of standing review members.
  • Recruit the Best Reviewers: A toolkit, incorporating best practices for recruiting reviewers, will be made available to all ICs in 2009.
  • Enhance Reviewer Training: In spring 2009, training will be available to reviewers and Scientific Review Officers (SROs) related to the changes in peer review.
  • Allow Flexibility through Virtual Reviews: Pilots will be conducted in 2009 on the feasibility of using high-bandwidth support for review meetings to provide reviewers greater flexibility and alternatives for in-person meetings.
Priority Area 2 – Improve the Quality and Transparency of Review
  • Improve Scoring Transparency and Scale: Review criteria-based scoring on 1 to 7 scale commences in May 2009. Reviewers will provide feedback through scores and critiques for each criterion in a structured summary statement.
  • Provide Scores for Streamlined Applications: In 2009, streamlined applications will receive a preliminary score.
  • Shorten and Restructure Applications: Shorter (12-page research plan) R01 applications (with other activity codes scaled appropriately) will be restructured to align with review criteria for January 2010 receipt dates.
Priority Area 3 – Ensure Balanced and Fair Reviews across Scientific Fields and Career Stages, and Reduce Administrative Burden
  • Fund the Best Science Earlier and Reduce Need for Resubmissions: To ensure that the largest number of high quality and meritorious applications receive funding earlier and to improve system efficiency, NIH is considering separate percentiling of new and resubmitted applications and permitting one amended application.
  • Review Like Applications Together: NIH is establishing an Early Stage Investigator (ESI) designation. In 2009, NIH will evaluate clustering ESI applications for review. The same approach will be considered for clinical research applications.


Enhancing Peer Review at NIH:
NIH Peer Review Policies & Practices:
NIH Center for Scientific Review:
August 2008 Extramural Nexus Article – Update on Peer Review:

ACLS Offers Grants for Collaborative Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences

The American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) is offering a new grant program that funds collaborative research in the humanities and related social sciences. ACLS Collaborative Research Awards will provide up to $140,000 per project for up to two years. Collaborations do not need to be interdisciplinary or inter-institutional, but must involve at least two scholars. Applicants at the same institution must demonstrate why local funding is insufficient to support the project. The deadline for applications is November 12, 2008.

ACLS also offers a variety of other grant and fellowship programs that support research in the humanities and social sciences. More specifics are available on the ACLS Competitions and Deadlines page.

September 11, 2008

NIH Funding New Transformative R01 Program

The National Institutes of Health has published the first Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) for the new Transformative R01 (T-R01) program. With the FOA, NIH is soliciting transformative Research Project Grant (R01) applications for ‘‘exceptionally innovative, high risk, original and/or unconventional research with the potential to create new or challenge existing scientific paradigms. Projects must clearly demonstrate potential to produce a major impact in a broad area of biomedical or behavioral research.’’ NIH plans to to commit $25 million dollars in fiscal year 2009 to fund up to 60 applications. Applications are due January 29, 2009.

NIH intends to invest more than $250 million in the program, which was developed as an NIH Roadmap Initiative, over the next five years. The T-R01 program will support original studies that will:
  • Forge the synthesis of new paradigms for biomedical or behavioral sciences.
  • Reflect an exceptional level of creativity in proposing bold and ground-breaking approaches to fundamental problems.
  • Promote radical changes in a field of study with a profound impact in other scientific areas.
  • Be evaluated by new procedures being piloted by the NIH Center for Scientific Review that are distinct from the traditional NIH peer review process.
NIH is encouraging applications for projects in any area of NIH interest that meet the transformative criteria. Areas of highlighted need include:
  • Understanding and Facilitating Human Behavior Change
  • Complex 3-Dimensional Tissue Models
  • Functional Variation in Mitochondria in Human Disease
  • Transitions from Acute to Chronic Pain
  • Formulation of Novel Protein Capture Reagents
  • Providing an Evidence Base for Pharmacogenomics
For more information:

September 04, 2008

NSF Encourages Comments on Cost Sharing

The National Science Board (NSB) Task Force on Cost Sharing is currently examining the National Science Foundation cost-sharing policy. The NSB recently published a notice in the Federal Register soliciting public comment regarding the research communities’ experiences on use of cost sharing in NSF-funded activities. Comments must be received by October 1, 2008.

NSF Director Arden Bement, Jr. has issued a ‘‘Dear Colleague’’ letter strongly encouraging comments from the research community in response to this notice.

NSF’s letter emphasizes that the NSB is ‘‘particularly interested in receiving feedback on the following: (1) the relationship between cost sharing and NSF program goals; (2) the relationship between cost sharing and institutional competitiveness in NSF grant funding; (3) the role of cost sharing in the NSF merit review process; (4) the importance of types, sources, and timing of voluntary cost sharing; (5) effort associated with tracking and reporting cost-shared resources; (6) the relationship between cost sharing and institutional strategic investment; (7) options for ensuring equity in NSF grant funding when cost sharing is either required or volunteered; (8) research resources from state providers; and (9) research resources from industry providers.’’