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NIH Record

A Broadened Mission
What's in a Name? DRG Now CSR

On Aug. 28, after more than 50 years as the Division of Research Grants, this well-known component of NIH became the Center for Scientific Review or CSR. Dr. Ellie Ehrenfeld, the current director, who had been at DRG and NIH for 9 months, brought about this change with a minimum of fanfare.

But how significant is this change? "What's in a name?" mused William Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet, "That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet." Certainly CSR, under any name, would continue its pursuit of excellence in peer review as vigorously as in the past. Is the name change then merely a facelift or is it a rebirth?

Dr. Ellie Ehrenfeld

As Ehrenfeld explained, the new name more accurately reflects the mission of the current organization. When it was established in 1946, DRG and the National Cancer Institute were the only components of NIH. The division soon became synonymous with research grants and peer review since, except for submissions to NCI, DRG reviewed all applications and then awarded and managed the grants. As the various NIH institutes and centers became established, the new components awarded and managed their own grants, and the division's responsibilities focused increasingly on the receipt, referral and initial scientific review of grant applications.

The emphasis on scientific review in the new name and the change from division to center designation are intended to signal a broadening of CSR's mission to include a new emphasis on innovative, flexible ways to conduct referral and review. CSR may even establish a "laboratory," similar to that of a small institute intramural program, for experimentation and evaluation of new or revised review processes.

The name change is one aspect of a six-point program already begun at the new center. The first point is a reexamination of the structure of the initial review groups and their constituent study sections. Ehrenfeld has decided to explore possible study section reorganizations to ensure that the peer review process mirrors the increasing emphasis on multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research, and that the system is flexible enough to accommodate new areas and new ways of doing science.

The second point is an analysis of study section membership. Ehrenfeld heard repeated concerns about whether CSR is currently able to recruit the best reviewers. She is exploring the possibility of alternative modes of service such as reducing the workload of individual study section members or limiting the terms of service for researchers who feel they cannot serve for 4 years.

The third part of Ehrenfeld's program is to communicate more fully with certain external communities who have concerns about the peer review process. These include clinical researchers, behavioral scientists and developers of technology and instrumentation.

The center's relationships with the other NIH institutes and centers as well as with the external scientific communities -- the fourth point -- is another critical issue. Ehrenfeld has spoken with many institute and center groups, including their advisory councils, and with many professional associations. This outreach effort is necessary to open the lines of communication so as to improve the center's efforts to fulfill its mandate.

In the peer review system, the role of the scientific review administrator (SRA) is central to the successful operation of the study sections. As the fifth part of her program, Ehrenfeld will seek ways to redirect resources toward SRAs to ensure their continued professional development.

The sixth point in the program is to discover ways to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the receipt, referral and initial peer review processes.

After discussions with staff and an analysis by an outside consultant, Ehrenfeld also restructured CSR. Several management positions were eliminated to streamline the center's operations. To highlight the increased emphasis on planning, evaluation, and outreach, two new offices (planning and outreach, and policy and analysis) were established in the Office of the Director, and an evaluation officer was designated. Finally, to improve the internal operations of CSR, the administrative management, committee management, and information technology functions were consolidated into one division. Further reorganization activities will undoubtedly take place in the future. When the upheavals are over, however, the Center for Scientific Research should be a stronger, more vibrant organization.

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