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Strategy for NIH Funding

Navigation for the Strategy for NIH Funding. Link to Part 1. Qualify for NIH Funding.Link to Part 2. Pick and Design a Project.Link to Part 3. Write Your Application.Link to Part 4. Submit Your Application.Link to Part 5. Assignment and Review.Link to Part 6. If Not Funded.Link to Part 7. Funding. 

This page supplements Broaden Your Horizons in Approaches for Staying Funded.

Why You May Want to Consider a Contract

If you're unfamiliar with the world of research and development (R&D) contracts, a little context may build your enthusiasm when you see solicitations well-suited to your scientific strengths.

We support many academic investigators under R&D contracts, and most large research institutions should have experience with federal government contracts as well.

Read on for what contracts are, how they differ from grants, and how to analyze whether a solicitation is right for you.

Table of Contents

What Are Contracts and When Are They Used?

Contracts describe a defined government requirement for a product or service with specific deliverables and deadlines, and work done under a contract requires programmatic oversight by NIAID staff.

For example, we use R&D contracts to address specific programmatic needs, such as clinical trials under networks, product development, statistical and data coordinating centers, and development of animal models and product testing.

While “research” can be acquired under a contract, the research goals and objectives are clearly stated up front in a request for proposals (RFP).

NIAID also uses broad agency announcements (BAAs) to solicit contracted research. An RFP focuses on a specific requirement while a BAA focuses on scientific study and experimentation directed toward advancing the state of the art or increasing knowledge or understanding. Further, we define the statement of work for an RFP whereas the applicant (officially referred to as the offeror) develops the statement of work for a BAA.

In contrast, grants are more free-form because they allow you to go where the science leads you within your terms of award.

When we choose whether an opportunity should be a contract solicitation or a grant opportunity, we consider the scientific need and legal requirements.

Contracts, Grants—What's the Difference?

The table below covers the major contrast points between contracts and grants. Here are some reference links that may come in handy as you review the table:

Opportunity Stage
Factor Contract Solicitation Grant Opportunity
NIAID's goal Acquisition Assistance
Science type Mostly applied and translational research Mostly basic and preclinical research
Scope Specific goals or objectives, and we may also specify approaches General or specific program areas
Opportunity type


Request for applications (RFA) or program announcement (PA)

Proposal or Application Stage
Factor Contract Proposal Grant Application
What your organization sends No fixed template or format, but the proposal must comply with the solicitation’s instructions Grant application package
What you describe Your plan to accomplish the solicitation's stated requirements Your choice of aims, objectives, and approaches
Initial Review Stage
Factor Contract Proposal Grant Application
Review criteria


Standard five review criteria, though some RFAs have additional criteria
After Initial Review Stage
Factor Contract Proposal Grant Application
Negotiations For most R&D acquisitions, we negotiate with the offerors that submitted the most highly rated proposals. Those offerors are given the opportunity to address deficiencies, significant weaknesses, and adverse past performance information to which they have not yet had an opportunity to respond. Also, we may provide offerors an opportunity to address other aspects of their proposal that could, in the opinion of the contracting officer, be altered or explained to enhance materially the proposal's potential for award. (The term "offeror" is equivalent to the term "applicant" for grants.) Applications go to NIAID's advisory Council. If necessary, program staff advise applicants on revisions to address special issues, e.g., reduced funding or removal of Specific Aims
Funding decisions Based on a comparative assessment of proposals against all source selection criteria in the solicitation Based mostly on overall impact/priority score or percentile rank, program priorities, and availability of funds
Funded Stage
Factor Contract Grant
During the project period Contracts are legally binding, so follow specified deadlines and provide agreed-upon deliverables. Pursue your Specific Aims. Follow new leads as they arise and stay within your scope and terms of award.
NIAID program involvement Greater programmatic oversight and monitoring to assure adherence to milestones and timelines. Typically no substantial program involvement (except for cooperative agreements).
Prior approvals Contracting officer and contracting officer's representative are much more involved in prior approvals than program staff are for grants, respectively. See Prior Approvals for Post-Award Grant Actions SOP.
Rights and uses

The contractor usually has the right to data first produced in the performance of the contract.

NIAID generally also has unlimited rights in data delivered under the contract and data generated in the performance of the contract.
You have primary rights to your data and NIAID has the right to access that data.
Renewal When the contract is over, it's over; depending on the need, NIAID may decide to recompete the requirement or post similar solicitations in the future. Some grant types are renewable. Others are not.

How to Decide if a Solicitation Is for You

If you're viewing the Extramural R&D Solicitations list and spot a solicitation relevant to your interests, weigh these factors:

  • How closely does the opportunity map to your area of expertise?
  • Do your capabilities match the requirements? Could you take on subcontractors or collaborators to fill gaps?
  • Are you comfortable with the greater NIAID oversight for contracts compared with grants?
  • Do you feel confident you can provide the deliverables required within the solicitation's deadlines—and at a competitive price?

If you aren't sure or want more advice, check with your business office. Your organization has probably handled contracts before and may have special rules for you to follow.

Also, you may be able to find a colleague who can share insights based on his or her experiences with R&D contracts.

Or if you have questions regarding a specific solicitation, you can ask the NIAID Office of Acquisitions' contract specialist listed in the solicitation.

Note that unlike the list of contacts for a grant opportunity, you should not contact anyone in our program divisions for advice before the award stage. There are regulations that dictate who can communicate with offerors or potential offerors.

Also, unlike a grant, you enter into a legally binding contractual agreement to deliver a product or service at a certain time at a certain cost. You're expected to give us a defined, tangible output, not ​a biomedical research discovery.

Even if you end up deciding a solicitation is not for you, knowing how your organization handles contracts and what factors to watch for when considering future opportunities will benefit you in the long run.

Find current R&D contract opportunities at Extramural R&D Solicitations. You may also want to see a preview of potential future solicitations at Concepts: Potential Opportunities. Read what concepts are at Concepts May Turn Into Initiatives in Part 2 of our Strategy for NIH Funding.

Continue reading about other funding sources at Broaden Your Horizons in Approaches for Staying Funded.

Strategy for NIH Funding
Navigation for the Strategy for NIH Funding.

Table of Contents for the Strategy

We welcome your comments, questions, or suggestions. Email​​

Last Updated February 17, 2016

Last Reviewed February 17, 2016