The National Institutes of Health (NIH) generates scientific knowledge that leads to improved health. This is done by conducting medical research in its intramural laboratories and by supporting research in universities, medical and health professional schools, and other health research organizations. NIH fosters the widespread dissemination of the results of medical research, facilitates the training of research investigators, and ensures the viability of the research infrastructure. The NIH Evaluation Program is an integral part of how NIH sponsors and conducts medical research.
The complexities and challenges of evaluating and assessing fundamental science have become more widely recognized as science agencies have begun implementation of the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA). The GPRA stresses the use of evaluation to develop measures for reporting on program results. However, measures for evaluating the results of fundamental science have limitations. These are discussed in the March 1997 General Accounting Office report, Measuring Performance: Strengths and Limitations of Research Indicators. The report compares private versus public research and discusses the strengths and limitations of indicators used to measure research. The NIH evaluation program is addressing these challenges as part of its strategy for implementing the GPRA.
Philosophy and Priorities. The NIH Evaluation Program provides information to assist the NIH Director and the NIH Institute and Center (IC) Directors in determining whether NIH goals and objectives are being achieved and to help guide policy development and program direction. Evaluations are planned and conducted from two sources of funds: 1-percent set-aside evaluation funds used to fund trans-NIH projects, and IC program funds used for program evaluations for use by various committees, working groups, task forces, workshops, conferences, and symposia to assist the IC in program management and development. This approach ensures that planning and priority setting specific to the mission of each IC are fully developed and implemented and that there is central leadership for developing crosscutting initiatives and promoting collaboration among the ICDs.
NIH's major evaluation priority areas fall within three broad program areas: basic research, research training and career development, and facilities. These broad program areas form the basis for the strategies and activities that NIH undertakes to achieve the goals identified in the GPRA planning process.
Policies and Operations. A distinguishing feature of the NIH Evaluation Program is the utilization of a variety of evaluation strategies that include the use of national advisory councils, boards of scientific counselors, consensus development conferences, and ad hoc committees that help to chart scientific directions and select the most promising research to support.
A two-tier system is used to review project requests that will use 1-percent evaluation set-aside funding. The first tier involves a review and recommendations by the NIH Technical Merit Review Committee (TMRC) on the technical aspects of project proposals and whether a project fits within HHS guidelines for use of the set-aside fund. The second tier involves the NIH Evaluation Policy Oversight Committee (EPOC), which considers TMRC recommendations, conducts policy level reviews, and makes final funding recommendations to the NIH Director or his designee.