The decision to fund or not to fund a particular application is based on the assessment of scientific merit by a peer review group and on the relevance of the proposed work to the Institute’s scientific and health priorities.

Scientific Merit

Peer reviewers’ judgments of scientific merit are expressed in priority scores and in percentile rankings derived from these priority scores. At any point in a given fiscal year, budgetary projections are based on awarding funds to all applications with rankings better than a certain percentile. This percentile sometimes is referred to as the Institute’s payline.

Relevance to Institute Priorities

Applications that address subjects of particular relevance to the Institute’s scientific and health priorities may be considered for awards even if their assigned scores and percentile rankings would not qualify for funding under the current payline. Normally, a small portion of each year’s budget is reserved for such discretionary or “select pay” awards. Projects to be funded on this basis are selected by the Institute Director, following staff discussion. Investigators may not request or apply for “select pay” funding. From  1999—2014, between 3.3% (FY 2004) and 11.8% (FY 2014) of the competing grants that NIAMS funded were from “select pay” applications. See the NIAMS Funding Plan for more information.

Rarely, NIAMS receives an application that is within the Institute’s payline, but is deemed to be of low program priority. In such instances, these cases are discussed in depth with members of the National Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases Advisory Council before the Institute Director makes a final funding decision. An application can be considered low priority for many reasons, including (but not limited to) redundancy with other projects, concerns about the ultimate relevance of the proposed study’s results, or a lack of scientific premise.

NIAMS Research Priority Resources

The NIAMS Strategic Plan Fiscal Years 2020-2024 provides a broad outline of opportunities and needs related to the understanding, diagnosis, treatment, and ultimately, prevention of diseases within the Institute's mission areas. Members of both the scientific and lay communities concerned with programs of the NIAMS provided extensive input as the plan was developed.

Institute funding priorities reflect highly meritorious research as determined by the peer review process, public health needs, scientific opportunities, and Congressional and Administration mandates, among other factors. For grants, the principal public expressions of Institute priorities are Requests for Applications (RFAs) and Program Announcements (PAs), as published in the NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts. Applications received in response to an RFA generally compete only with other applications received in response to the RFA. Applications received in response to PAs generally compete with all other approved applications assigned to the Institute. However, applications that are responsive to PAs are candidates for discretionary funding, as described above. Investigators may not request or apply for discretionary funding.

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