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NIH To Accept Electronic Grant Applications

Interim eRA (Electronic Research Administration) director Dr. Israel Lederhendler urged 282 NIH participants at a recent eRA Symposium to imagine themselves as principal investigators getting ready to submit electronic applications for the first time. In remarks at the Natcher Center meeting, he announced that NIH would begin accepting modular R01, R03 and R21 electronic grant applications beginning Feb. 1.

The symposium, titled "The eRA eXchange: Making the Electronic Connection," informed the internal community about what grantees will experience with the new NIH electronic submission process. In particular, NIH'ers learned how commercial service providers are assisting research institutions with their transition to e-applications. The symposium also updated staff about new Center for Scientific Review automated procedures that will use e-applications to best advantage.

Dr. Israel Lederhendler
In his keynote address, Kenneth Forstmeier, director of the Office of Research Information Systems at Pennsylvania State University, provided a perspective from the grantee community. He praised government efforts to modernize and standardize the application process. Nevertheless, Forstmeier called for a single application form, a single federal logon ID and a single grants administration system. Accommodating multiple grantor systems is a huge burden for research institutions and federal agencies, he said.

Dr. Brent Stanfield, acting CSR director, spoke about the benefits of two eRA initiatives: applications on CDs for reviewers and Internet assisted review (IAR). NIH implemented CDs and IAR to reduce waste, improve service to its clients, provide user tools, and, with electronic receipt, eventually shorten the review cycle.

Stanfield also spoke about the potential use of knowledge management tools to help refer applications to institutes and centers and review groups, to identify candidate reviewers, to suggest assignments for reviewers and to help applicants identify study sections appropriate for their applications.

Dr. Suzanne Fisher, who directs receipt and referral for CSR, compared the R&R process for handling traditional paper applications with the new process. She estimates that NIH will receive 80,000 applications in 2005, up from 35,000 in 1985. Automation will help NIH handle the increasing workload and reduce errors. Integrated checks and audits should free candidates to devote more time to science, she noted.

The symposium also informed staff about recent and National Science Foundation FastLane activities. Rebecca Spitzgo, program manager, provided an update on the new central web site for finding and applying for federal research grants. She said all federal grant-making agencies now post announcements to; the site is getting 1.4 million hits/week.

NSF's Daniel Hoffher shared his agency's 10-year experience with implementing the FastLane grants administration system. In 2004, NSF accepted 43,500 electronic applications (99.99 percent) through the system. Designed by its users, FastLane supports the full grant life cycle.

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