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Vol. LXI, No. 17
August 21, 2009
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In RePORTER, a Mandate Fulfilled
New Funding Database Offers Customized Searches

On the front page...

Now available for test drive, this baby is sleek, fast and handles beautifully.

Only it’s not a car. It’s a database.

The Office of Extramural Research has launched RePORTER, a brand new tool for searching all NIH-funded projects.

Available on the Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tool (RePORT) web site at http://report.nih.gov, RePORTER (the RePORT Expenditures and Results module) is already garnering praise from journalists, science bloggers and grantees.

It will replace CRISP, NIH’s veteran database of federally funded biomedical research projects, including those in our sister HHS agencies.

Continued...


The RePORTER development team

The RePORTER development team includes (front row, from l) John Lee, Don Tiedemann, Tim Hays, Pete Morton, Jim Onken, Ruby Gill. At rear are (from l) Dave Stenger, R.K. Allam, Sandeep Somaiya, Jerry Sandhu, Amir Venegas, Raid Yaman.

Photo: Elise Rabin

“RePORTER builds on CRISP,” says Dr. James Onken, special assistant to NIH acting deputy director for extramural research Dr. Sally Rockey. Onken, the officer closest to the project, has been with NIH for 20 years.

In software years, CRISP is not a youthful character.

“CRISP will go away around Sept. 1,” says Onken. “The CRISP URL [web address] will then be redirected to RePORTER.”

The consensus is that this is a welcome improvement.

“RePORTER provides a more user-friendly interface,” Onken explains. “Now, in CRISP, you can’t export to Excel, for example. We’ve added new query fields to RePORTER, more search options.”

The most significant change is that RePORTER satisfies a mandate of the NIH Reform Act: that NIH provide an open and electronic tool for searching NIH-funded research projects by category of research and access to publications and patents associated with those projects.

“So NIH now provides lists of projects in 215 research, condition or disease categories (RCDC),” explains Onken. “Until FY 2008, the NIH Budget Office provided budget figures in aggregate for the 215…but RePORTER allows you to search for individual projects in these categories.”

Complete listings for each category are also available on the RePORT web site at www.report.nih.gov/rcdc/categories/.

RePORTER is now an essential part of NIH, available through the RePORT web site. It also includes: NIH biennial reports developed by the ICs and the NIH Office of Science Policy; access to budget information and other reports generated by the Division of Information Services in OER’s Office of Research Information Systems; and research results and other products as they become available. The charts available on the RePORT site also include “geographic visualizations”—maps—of awardee location.

A screen shot of the new RePORTER tool. CRISP, the old online database, will retire by September 2009.
RePORTER is freely searchable by awardee institution, investigator, congressional district and more. You can find dollar amounts and the study sections that reviewed the respective grants, as well as links to patents and papers.

Clicking a checkbox allows you to search exclusively for projects funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). Project listings cite total award by fiscal year and awarding institute/center.

Who will visit RePORTER?

“It was amazing to me to find out how broadly RePORTER is being used,” Onken says. It’s designed to help advocacy groups, applicants, grantees, policy analysts, scientists in a university or private firm, students, writers and any other folks needing in-depth information.

“Say your mother has a particular disease,” he says. “You can search for related NIH-funded projects and get access to the latest results of that research. RePORTER will send you to PubMed for abstracts or PubMed Central for full text.”

It’s true that B.R. (Before RePORTER), the information was out there, but it wasn’t as coherent, retrievable or current.

“Private firms and others are already doing this,” Onken explains. “They will scrape [that is, data-mine] the CRISP web site or get a copy of the database from OER, combine it with other information and make it available to the public. So perhaps we’ll benefit from being proactive. As the more authoritative source, we can better control the quality [of what the public can find].”

Looking ahead, Onken sees “an industry growing up now, around all these databases, studying the research enterprise itself, what is sometimes referred to as ‘the science of science.’”

This project’s gestation has been brief. To give birth to it so swiftly, OER folks really doubled down.

“It’s still evolving,” says Onken, “with other enhancements to make it more useful.”

RSS feeds—a way to subscribe to electronic updates—are in the plans. Meanwhile, OER has provided the ICs with a RePORTER widget for their web sites.

It’s all useful—and it’s cool. Onken, a veteran planning and evaluation officer, seems gratified.

“The public has a right to know,” he says, “what has resulted from the spending of tax dollars. In this day of transparency and open government, it fits in with that spirit.”

To learn more, visit http://report.nih.gov.

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