Skip Navigation
Leading research to understand, treat, and prevent infectious, immunologic, and allergic diseases
Skip Content Marketing
  • Share this:
  • submit to facebook
  • Tweet it
  • submit to reddit
  • submit to StumbleUpon
  • submit to Google +

NIH—Organization and Process Questions and Answers

Table of Contents

In which branch of government is NIH?

As part of the Department of Health and Human Services, NIH is in the executive branch of the U.S. federal government, which reports to the president.

How do the roles of the institutes and the NIH Office of the Director differ?

The NIH Office of the Director sets cross-cutting policy but does not fund research, except for the NIH Common Fund.

NIH institutes and centers sponsor biomedical and behavioral research at universities and other organizations around the world. Funded through grants and contracts, this is called extramural research.

About 10 percent of the NIH budget pays for in-house, or intramural, research conducted by NIH employees. See the Extramural and Intramural Research questions and answers.

What are the main functions of an institute?

As semiautonomous organizations with distinct missions, institutes determine which areas of science to emphasize through research initiatives—solicitations, requests for applications, and program announcements.

They also define funding approaches and some policies. For example, the institutes decide which applications to fund and determine how to allocate funds among different activities, e.g., investigator-initiated grants, intramural research, and training awards.

For more information, go to NIH Research Planning and our question and answer documents:

How does NIH set research priorities?

To assess scientific opportunities and priorities, NIH gets input from a range of sources, including focus groups, its advisory Council, and informal discussions with outside scientists. New laws passed by Congress can also create new research priorities.

Each institute has advisory bodies, such as the AIDS Research Advisory Committee, and a main advisory Council. NIAID's Council is called the National Advisory Allergy and Infectious Diseases Council; for more information see our Advisory Council questions and answers and Advisory Council portal.

NIAID also convenes ad hoc advisory groups, such as the Blue Ribbon Panel that led to the NIH Strategic Plan and Research Agenda for Medical Countermeasures against Radiological and Nuclear Threats. Read more about at NIAID's Planning and Priorities.

At the NIH level, the Division of Program Coordination, Planning, and Strategic Initiatives helps identify areas of emerging scientific opportunities and challenges, manages the process for prioritizing trans-NIH initiatives, and gives priority projects “incubator space” for five to ten years. Read more at NIH's Setting Research Priorities.

How do institutes stimulate research in emerging areas?

At NIAID, scientific priorities are reflected in new research initiatives the Institute issues to solicit grant applications or contract proposals. With input from the scientific community, NIAID program officers develop concepts for future initiatives and present them to our advisory Council for discussion and approval.

NIAID also emphasizes high-priority areas by funding programmatically important applications outside the payline. See NIAID Funding Decisions and High-Priority Topics: Concepts and Initiatives questions and answers.

How does NIAID ensure that the highest priorities are funded?

NIAID pays most grants according to merit, not programmatic priority. However, for high-priority areas, NIAID funds some applications outside the payline through selective pay and R56-Bridge awards. Learn more by following the links below.

Funding grants according to merit:

Setting aside funds for high-priority areas:

Funding applications outside the payline:

How does NIH decide new policy?

Many policy changes stem from new regulations within the Department of Health and Human Services or new laws from Congress. NIH can also revise policy in response to feedback from the extramural research community or its staff.

To coordinate changes with the institutes, NIH relies on its Office of Extramural Research and many cross-cutting, inter-institute committees. Also see How does NIH coordinate policy changes among the institutes?

How do NIH and NIAID publish policy changes and funding opportunities?

NIH publishes policy changes and initiatives weekly in the NIH Guide.

NIAID announces key policy changes in the NIAID Funding News, and we list one year of policy news in our Top Policy Changes. To receive email notification of the newsletter and other important policy updates Subscribe to Email Alerts.

For an easy way to find NIAID's funding opportunities, go to the NIAID Funding Opportunities List.

Does NIH have special offices that coordinate policy and research for special areas?

Yes. The NIH Office of the Director has offices that coordinate some of the cross-cutting research supported by the ICs, including:

NIH also has offices for policy only, including:

Another policy office important to NIH, the Office for Human Research Protections, is housed in the Department of Health and Human Services. For more information, go to NIH Office of Extramural Research.

How does NIH coordinate policy changes among the institutes?

NIH's inter-institute Lock icon: This link will not work for public visitors.Committees that make policy recommendations for their areas include:

Many of these bodies make recommendations to the chairperson of the Extramural Program Management Committee, which comprises the heads of organizations similar to NIAID's Division of Extramural Activities.

In addition, the NIH Steering Committee advises the NIH director on streamlining non-scientific, cross-agency functions such as facilities and human resources.

What is CSR and how does it relate to the institutes?

The NIH Center for Scientific Review conducts initial peer review of investigator-initiated grant applications for all award types except those reviewed within institutes: program projects (P), cooperative agreements (U), training (T) and career development (K) grants, contracts (N), and responses to requests for applications and solicitations.

It also receives all grant applications and assigns each to an institute for review, if IC-reviewed, as well as for administration after award.

Read more in the Applying for a Grant section of our All About Grants tutorials starting with Strategy for NIH Funding and in Request for Primary IC Assignment SOP.

What is the NIH Common Fund?

The Common Fund is an NIH funding initiative that addresses major opportunities and gaps in biomedical research that no single institute could tackle alone. All ICs participate in it. Go to the NIH Common Fund site.

What if my question wasn't answered here, or I'd like to suggest a question?

Email with the title of this page or its URL and your question or comment. We answer questions by email and post them here. Thanks for helping us clarify and expand our knowledge base.


Last Updated April 04, 2016

Last Reviewed November 29, 2011