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Assignment of Application

Receipt and Referral

The Division of Receipt and Referral (DRR) in the Center for Scientific Review (CSR)  serves as the central receiving point for all competing applications, whether solicited or unsolicited. Upon receipt of a competing application, DRR: checks for completeness, determines area of research, assigns applications to one or more NIH Institutes or Centers (ICs) for possible funding, assigns an identification number that looks similar to this: 1-R01-MH123456-01, and assigns the application to a review group that has the expertise to evaluate the scientific and technical merit of the application.  To reach the most appropriate assignment, DRR consults with ICs’ referral staff, Scientific Review Officers (SROs) and Integrated Review Group (IRG) Chiefs, and considers applicants’ requests (see Using a Cover Letter section below).  For applications assigned to an IC review branch for peer review, a general assignment is made to that IC; the staff in the review branch subsequently decides whether the application is to be reviewed by an IC standing committee or by an IC Special Emphasis Panel (SEP).  Additional information about this process at CSR may be found on their submission and assignment web page .
As noted above, applications submitted to the NIH receive two assignments through the CSR DRR:

  • The first assignment (programmatic) is to an NIH IC.
    • Programmatic assignment is based on the overall mission, specific mandates and interests of the IC.
    • The assigned IC is responsible for the overall administration of applications, and will potentially provide funding, depending on review and other considerations.
    • Once assigned to a specific IC, your application will also be assigned to a Program Official within that IC (see Step 1 for details on the Program Official’s role).
  • The second assignment (review) is to the review cluster (Integrated Review Group [IRG]) as well as to a particular review committee (Scientific Review Group [SRG], often referred to as Study Section) that will review the application, either at CSR  or within an IC. For example, some grant applications that are assigned to NIMH are reviewed by a NIMH Peer Review Committee or SEP instead of CSR. Review assignment is based on the specific description for each standing scientific review committee.

Identifying the Most Appropriate Review Committee for Your Grant Application

While CSR or the NIMH Review Branch retains the responsibility for making the final determination concerning assignment of grant applications to a particular review committee, it is often  in your best interest to be familiar with the available choices and to express your opinion at the time of application submission (see Using a Cover Letter section below).

To help identify the most appropriate review committee, look at the description and recent rosters for each review committee. These can be found using the search feature or related links at:

Applicants should also consider seeking guidance from the scientific review officer of a study your think could best review your application, seeking guidance from an IC Program Official, and check out the NIH Reporter database of funded grants.

One other type of review committee is the Special Emphasis Panel (SEP). These are special committees of experts that usually meet only once for the review of a specific set of applications. These types of applications may have been submitted in response to a specific Request for Applications, or are for specific grant mechanisms that are submitted only once per year, among others types of such applications.  Because SEPs are set up on an as-needed basis, applicants cannot request a specific SEP.  You can look for your assigned SEP and roster 30 days before the review on this list of SEPs . The SEP codes will have the prefixes ZRG1 for CSR review or ZMH1 for NIMH review (please note that ZMH1 SRC 99 is a holding code only, used by all review committees convened by NIMH, including those subsequently assigned to standing review committees or SEPs.)

Using a Cover Letter

Investigators may include a cover letter (a PDF attachment for electronic submissions) with their application. The information within a cover letter can help DRR in referring your application to a particular IC and help the SRO conduct the review. You can use a cover letter to suggest a particular review group, to suggest an IC you think would be interested in your research, to describe the kinds of expertise needed to review your application (you should not, however, list the names of potential reviewers), and to inform the SRO of potential reviewers who you feel might be in conflict with your application.  While cover letters are encouraged, please note that CSR and IC review staff make the final assignment and conflict decisions after carefully considering your suggestions and explanations, in light of NIH policies and referral guidelines.  Note that cover letters are for internal use only (i.e., referral staff and SROs).  Cover letters are not provided to reviewers.  You must have a cover letter for the following applications: resubmissions, applications requiring IC approval to submit (e.g., grants requesting $500,000 or more in direct costs for any year), genome-wide association studies (GWAS) or those studies that plan to access GWAS data in the NIH repository, late applications, and continuous submission (in which case you should indicate that you are a member of a NIH study section qualified to submit at a nonstandard time).

Checking on Final Assignment

Information on the final programmatic and review assignments can be found in the eRA Commons page related to the grant application several weeks after submission. If the information is not clear or there are questions about assignment, contact the peer review contact (if any) listed in the Funding Opportunity Announcement or the Division of Receipt and Referral at 301-435-0715.

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