Primary Navigation for the CDC Website
CDC en EspaƱol

Peer Review Process of Research Applications

Page Contents

  1. Peer Review: Background and Definitions
  2. Overview of the Extramural Research Program
  3. Dual Review System
  4. CDC Extramural Research Peer Review Policy
  5. Office of Public Health Research Scientific Review Service
  6. References

I. Peer Review: Background and Definitions

Peer review is a process that includes independent assessment of the scientific merit of research by panels of experts who provide written assurance that their reviews are free of real or perceived conflicts of interest. Results of the peer review process should therefore be without inherent bias and can be viewed as fair and just by applicants. Peer review of research projects at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides confidence to management, academic and other partners, various branches of government, and the public that federal funds appropriated for research will support only the best and most meritorious science.

Extramural Research includes research activities funded through grants or cooperative agreements. Funds are given to partners external to CDC to perform independent or collaborative research projects. Definitions for what constitutes research can be found at

Intramural Research is research supported by CDC and conducted by CDC staff in its own facilities or its components (research programs and research studies). Research programs are typically the mission-related research agenda for CDC. Research studies include projects undertaken by CDC scientists that involve research findings intended for dissemination that are not funded through assistance mechanisms (grants or cooperative agreements) or acquisition mechanisms (contracts).

II. Overview of the Extramural Research Program

The CDC is comprised of Coordinating Centers and Offices (CoC) under which are housed National Centers, Institutes, and Offices (CIOs) ( The CIOs issue grants, cooperative agreements, and research and development contracts for the conduct of health-related research and/or research training projects. Funds are provided to organizations outside of CDC for terms ranging from one to five years. Applications are solicited thorough the use of Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOAs) ( and FOAs are issued to invite applications to conduct research in a well-defined scientific area and to stimulate activity in programmatic priority areas ( and Once applications are received, they are reviewed for completeness during the Administrative Review Process, for scientific merit during the Scientific Peer Review Process, and for fulfillment of programmatic goals during the Secondary Review Process. Once awarded, CDC Scientific Program Administrators (SPAs) administer the awards and assess grantee performance. Research results can then be translated and disseminated into practice (see Figure 1). 

Grant Lifecycle - Key Activities

Figure 1. Key activities of the extramural research program grant lifecycle. CIOs develop research concepts in alignment with CDC goals. These concepts form the basis for the development and publication of Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOAs). FOAs are used to solicit applications from extramural researchers to conduct programmatically-relevant research. Applications are then reviewed using a dual peer review process before awards are made.

III. Dual Review System

T he peer review process consists of two sequential levels known as the dual review system (see Figure 2). The first level of review is performed by the Scientific Review Group (SRG) or Special Emphasis Panel (SEP) that is composed of independent scientists, researchers, and biomedical experts whose knowledge is pertinent to the content of the applications under review. These panels are chosen so that they mirror the qualifications and expertise of the applicant to a large degree. Thus, the term “peer review” is derived from the fact that review panels are composed of the applicant’s peers. This panel reviews and evaluates the scientific merit of the applicant’s proposed research, assesses the inclusion of adequate human and animal subjects protections from research risks and compliance with other required federal regulations, and assigns a numerical score to each application reviewed. Each review panel is headed by a Scientific Review Administrator (SRA), who is a CDC employee, and by a Chairperson, who is selected by the SRA from among the review panel members. The Chair facilitates the discussion of applications by panel members at the review meeting. The SRA is the Designated Federal Official (DFO) who ensures that the peer review process is carried out fairly and according to all applicable regulations. The SRA also recruits and selects peer review panel members. 

The second level of review (Secondary Review) is performed by senior intramural scientists with broad scientific and programmatic experience or by advisory boards that may include public members with general knowledge of, and interest in, the mission of the CDC. The goal of the Secondary Review Panel is to establish the project’s overall merit and priority in advancing CDC’s research agenda. The Secondary Review Panel then makes recommendations for applications to be approved for further consideration by the CIO Director.

Dual Review System for Grant Applications

Figure 2. Diagram of the dual review system used for grant applications. Applications received in response to an FOA are examined at two levels. The first is by the Scientific Review Group to determine scientific merit of the application and the second is by the CIO or an Advisory Board to determine the programmatic relevance of the application.

IV. CDC Extramural Research Peer Review Policy

All extramural research awarded or conducted by CDC on or after October 1, 2005 is subject to peer review (, except in emergency situations. In such situations, the CIO Director can explain the emergency and request, with justification, an exclusion from this policy which can be granted by the Deputy Director for Science and Public Health or his/her designee.

This policy applies to:

V. Office of Public Health Research Scientific Review Service

The Scientific Review Service (SRS) of the Office of Public Health Research (OPHR), located in the Office of the Director, Office of the Chief Science Officer, provides a standard NIH-type scientific merit (peer) review service that complies with HHS grants administration policies ( Figure 3). OPHR also uses electronic NIH grants management and monitoring systems (e.g., IMPAC II [Information for Management, Planning, Analysis, and Coordination] and CRISP [Computer Retrieval of Information on Scientific Projects]) to facilitate the peer review process.

Reviews conducted by OPHR are managed by trained Scientific Review Administrators (SRAs) who have experience with the peer review process and with IMPAC II (, including the Internet Assisted Review (IAR) module. The IAR module is a web-based system to manage the process of electronic submission of critiques written by reviewers. IAR expedites the scientific review of grant applications by standardizing the current process of critique and initial priority score submissions by reviewers via the Internet. IAR enables the reviewers to submit their critiques and view each other's reviews before the actual meeting. As a result, review meetings can contain more informed discussions because after entering their own critiques, reviewers are able to read the evaluations entered by others prior to the review meeting (except where there is a conflict of interest).

SRAs are assisted by Grants Technical Assistants (GTAs) who help the SRA coordinate the peer review process. The SRS monitors the quality of the review and is the point of contact for CDC programs that benefit from the availability of a centralized review service for applications submitted in response to FOAs. OPHR also provides oversight, training, and guidance to the Coordinating Centers and CIOs that choose to conduct extramural review of research applications, if the appropriate infrastructure is in place.

The OPHR Scientific Review Service includes:

The intent is to provide CIOs with standard, high quality peer reviews of research applications and to increase the efficiency and cost of peer review by offering a centralized review service to CDC components.

Review Process for CDC Research Grants

Figure 3. The peer review process for CDC research grants. In response to FOA’s published by the CDC, applications from research institutions associated with the project’s Principal Investigator (PI) are received in the Office of Public Health Research (OPHR). The OPHR Scientific Review Service recruits peer reviewers (Scientific Review Group) and coordinates the initial peer review process to evaluate the scientific merit of research applications. Subsequent steps are carried forward by CIO staff and the CDC Procurement and Grants Office.

VI. References

  1. Definition of Research
  2. Finding Funding Opportunities and
  3. CDC Research Priorities and
  4. CDC Peer Review Policy
  5. HHS Grants Administration Policies


Page last reviewed: Page last reviewed: March 31, 2008
Page last modified: October 6, 2006
Content source: Office of the Chief Science Officer (OCSO)