Will NIH Eliminate The Unpopular “Two Strikes You’re Out” Grant Review Policy?

In January 2009, NIH instituted a policy to sunset A2 applications, i.e. to eliminate a second resubmission. Since, investigators submit a grant application (A0) and if the application is unfunded they may submit one revised application (A1), and no more (previously, one could resubmit twice). This policy has been detested among research scientists since its inception and NIH has heard an earful of complaints about it. NIH spoke out recently on this topic. Will they consider eliminating the wildly unpopular policy? The short answer: Not bloody likely.

In a recent blog post, Sally Rockey gives some data NIH has compiled on this policy. One of the goals of the policy was to reduce the time to award, and in fact the time from A0 submission to award has been reduced from 93 weeks to 56 weeks by this policy. It is conventional wisdom that NIH grant applications, if funded, tend to be successful on their final submission, with very few succeeding as an A0. Yet surprisingly, since the policy went into effect, the proportion of funded A0 applications as compared to A1 apps has increased.

One major complaint of the policy is that it favors established investigators over new investigators. The data do not appear to support this idea, because the time-to-award for new applicants is not appreciably longer than for the entire population.

In response to the suggestion that NIH allow A2 applications only from those investigators whose apps fall just outside the payline, NIH modeled the potential impact of such a policy using FY11 data. From their model, NIH concluded that the result would be to shift awards from A0 and A1 apps toward A2 apps, which was what the policy was designed to avoid to begin with (see original blog post for details of their method.)

Rockey concludes: “Overall, these data indicate that the policy to sunset A2 applications continues to achieve the stated goals of enabling NIH to fund as much meritorious science as possible in as short a time period as possible. Any revision to the policy to allow additional resubmissions of all or a subset of A2 applications will displace equally meritorious A0 and A1 applications, and increase the time to award for many applications. For these reasons, we have decided to continue the policy in its current form.”

Sorry folks, it’s here to stay.

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