Performance Improvement 2001. National Institutes of Health (NIH)


MISSION: To sponsor and conduct medical research that leads to better health for all Americans.

Evaluation Program

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.

Results based management is recognized as a basic principle for the sound and productive operation of government agencies and their programs. This is evidenced most notably by passage of the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) and by the considerable effort across the federal government to implement results based management mechanisms. With GPRA and other initiatives aimed at increasing public sector accountability (such as the Chief Financial Officers Act and the Government Management Reform Act), interest in the use of evaluation has increased steadily among NIH administrators and others, such as officials within the General Accounting Office, the Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Health and Human Services.

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 evaluation set-aside 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 ICs 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 ICs.

NIH's major evaluation priority areas fall within three broad program areas: basic research, research training and career development, and facilities. NIH conducts evaluations in these areas to assess strategies and goals, develop performance measures and improve operations.

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, which considers TMRC recommendations, conducts policy level reviews, and makes final funding recommendations to the NIH Director or his designee.