Understand the Review Process

Background

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ensures grant applications undergo an independent and objective merit review in order to be considered for funding. Merit review is a process that involves the thorough and consistent examination of applications based on an unbiased evaluation of scientific or technical merit or other relevant aspects of the applications.

All responsive applications[1] for CDC grant funding are subject to merit review, whether received in response to a notice of funding opportunity (NOFO), solicited from a single-source, or requesting post-award changes.

The results of merit reviews are advisory in nature. The approving program official[2] is to consider the results when making final award recommendations.

Conduct of the Review

Merit reviews ensure that applications are evaluated through a process that is fair, equitable, objective, and transparent.  Merit Reviews for discretionary[3] grant programs may be carried out through a variety of approaches such as face-to-face meetings, utilizing technology for remote discussions, or through independent assessment of individual reviewers; however, CDC conducts all merit reviews according to the following standards:

  • Reviews are conducted as soon as possible after the application submission deadline.
  • For reviews subject to Federal Advisory Committee ActExternal, CDC publishes specific times and places of committee meetings in the Federal RegisterExternal and whether the meeting is open or closed to the public.
  • Applications are reviewed in accordance with evaluation criteria published in the NOFO.
  • Reviewers score applications against the evaluation criteria published in the NOFO.
  • Only appointed reviewers score applications.
  • A summary statement of each application’s strengths and weaknesses by criteria is prepared for each scored application.
  • Merit review documentation is handled in a way that protects confidentiality of the reviewers’ identities, comments, and assessments or scores.

Eligibility of Reviewers

Reviewers for discretionary programs must be independent of the applicant or application they review. Any individual with a function, or position that may have a specific interest in the outcome of the review of a particular application is not eligible to be a reviewer for that application. Ineligible individuals include:

  • Representatives from the CDC awarding program office[4]
  • Representatives from the servicing grants management office
  • Any federal employee with a real or apparent conflict of interest (COI)
  • Any consultant with a real or apparent COI
  • Individuals that have a direct relationship with the applicant organization or have a COI in the award of a grant to the applicant

Avoiding Conflicts of Interest

The CDC attempts to avoid circumstances that might introduce into the merit review process any COI, or the appearance of COI, or any prejudices, biases, or predispositions on the part of reviewers. A reviewer for discretionary programs has a COI in an application if that person or his or her spouse, parent, minor child, or partner:

  • Serves as an officer to the applicant, subsidiary, or parent organization,
  • Is negotiating prospective employment with the applicant, subsidiary, or parent organization,
  • Has a financial interest in the application,
  • Is a consultant on any application submitted under the NOFO,
  • Has a known close friendship or relationship with key applicant staff

CDC merit reviewers must complete a statement attesting to the absence of COI before reviewing any application.


[1] A responsive application is one that meets objective eligibility criteria outlined in the notice of funding opportunity and is accepted for merit review.

[2] The approving program official has the delegated authority to make funding decisions for a given program.  The approving program official cannot serve as the appointing official for reviewers.

[3] A discretionary grant program is a grant program where, although the authorizing statute may define eligibility and certain parameters of the financial assistance, an awarding agency is not required to make awards to all eligible entities and, therefore, has discretion, based on the outcome of an objective review process and application of other published factors, as to who receives an award and the amount of the award.

[4] The program office is the organization reporting directly to the approving program official responsible for programmatic administration of a particular grant if awarded.

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Page last reviewed: July 13, 2018