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Vol. LVII, No. 21
October 21, 2005
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A New Meaning for 'R&R'
NIH Grant Application Process To Change

NIH recently published a timetable for significant changes to its grant application and receipt process. In less than 2 years, NIH will convert entirely from the Public Health Service 398 grant application to the new Standard Form 424 Research and Research Related (R&R) and will require all applicants to submit electronically through Grants.gov.

The schedule for adopting the electronic SF-424 R&R is driven, in part, by an executive and legislative mandate to simplify and standardize the grant application and the process for submission. The Federal Financial Assistance Management Improvement Act of 1999 and the President's Management Agenda require that all federal grant-making agencies use a standard form and a single electronic system to post funding opportunities and accept electronic applications. The Office of Management and Budget has designated Grants.gov as the central posting and receiving point.

NIH will phase in its new application process by research-program type, beginning with applications for Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Technology Transfer grants. Effective Dec. 1, SBIR/STTR grant applicants for NIH R41, R42, R43 and R44 non-AIDS-related grants must submit SF-424 (R&R) applications through Grants.gov. NIH expects to receive approximately 2,300 electronic SBIR/STTR applications at that time.

 
Dr. Norka Ruiz Bravo, NIH deputy director for extramural research, strongly encourages all institutes and centers to embrace the transition from paper to electronic applications in the new standard, federal format.  

Dr. Norka Ruiz Bravo, NIH deputy director for extramural research, strongly encourages all institutes and centers to embrace the transition from paper to electronic applications in the new standard, federal format.

"Electronic receipt is here to stay," she said. "There is no turning back. We at NIH have long envisioned a time when every step in grants administration, from the submission of an application to grant award, would be electronic. We are fully committed to make this vision a reality."

According to Ruiz Bravo, "the benefits of end-to-end electronic processing are too great to ignore." NIH will realize major savings by eliminating 200 million pieces of paper a year and by significantly reducing the costs of scanning, data entry, printing and reproduction. Efficiencies gained are expected to reduce workload on NIH employees and on its partner institutions. Furthermore, NIH will benefit from a comprehensive health research data repository that it can mine to guide its research portfolio and improve the nation's health.

During the next 2 months, the Office of Extramural Research will launch an NIH "media blitz" to prepare extramural staff for the conversion to the electronic SF-424 R&R. Under the leadership of Megan Columbus, project manager for Electronic Receipt of Grant Applications, the communications team is providing the following resources to assist NIH'ers:

  • OER has established a public web site at http://era.nih.gov/ElectronicReceipt/index.htm to provide essential information to all stakeholders.

  • There is a new Intranet site at http://inside.era.nih.gov/ElectronicReceipt/index.htm targeted specifically at the internal NIH audience. The site will offer presentations on the transition, changes required for funding opportunity announcements, FAQs pertaining to contingency, minutes of the electronic application coordination group and other information about the plans and progress of the initiative.

  • OER recently presented a preview of the SF-424 R&R at Natcher Conference Center. The archived videocast is available to HHS staff at http://videocast.nih.gov/PastEvents.asp.

On Oct. 12, OER presented "A Walk Through the New 424 (R&R) Grant Application and Electronic Receipt" at the Natcher Conference Center. This training included NIH's overall transition strategy, submission policies, implications for individual business areas and contingency planning. The archived videocast is available to HHS staff at the same address as above.

The announcement of NIH's electronic receipt conversion schedule also is generating a flurry of activity in the grantee community. James R. Randolph, senior associate director of the University of Michigan's division of research development and administration, comments: "At first blush, the implementation timeline appears quite aggressive and will have sponsored-research offices like mine scurrying to train a large and diverse audience in the Grants.gov mechanics. The upside, however, is that with this very large stake in the ground, applicant institutions are now forced to develop local timelines for making the transition. The 800-pound gorilla (no offense intended) has spoken."

Other federal granting agencies are following the same direction. George Moyer, a management analyst at the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and liaison to NIH's electronic Research Administration (eRA), reports that AHRQ is working in partnership with NIH in the move to electronic receipt of applications through the Grants.gov portal. "We are following the same guidelines and timeline established by NIH for this transition."

The success of the conversion to electronic submission depends on the acceptance and concerted effort of NIH's ICs, other federal agencies and partners. "Spread the word about electronic receipt, educate yourselves and those around you, and prepare for the upcoming transition," urges Ruiz Bravo. "I am confident that using technology for more efficient grants administration will promote biomedical research and help NIH to achieve its mission."

OER has organized a network of IC liaisons to assist extramural staff with the transition. The list of contacts is available at http://inside.era.nih.gov/ElectronicReceipt/ic_liaisons.htm. Staff also can send questions and comments to Megan Columbus at megan.columbus@nih.gov or to Sheri Cummins, the project's communications coordinator, at cumminss@mail.nih.gov. The timetable for the transition is available at http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-05-067.html.

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