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Extramural Research: Peer Review Division

Basic Information on NCER Peer Review


What Does it Mean to Peer Review?

Before NCER funds any research, it is subjected to a peer review to ensure that the underlying science is credible, and is based upon the best and most current science and technical expertise.  Peer reviews are a key step in NCER’s research planning and implementation process.

Before a research application is funded, it typically must pass an External Peer Review followed by an Internal EPA Programmatic Review.  If the application does not pass the External Peer Review, it cannot be considered further for funding.

PRD conducts External Peer Reviews on applications that are submitted in response to Requests for Application (RFAs) that are posted on the NCER website.

External Peer Reviews provide independent expert technical evaluation of the scientific merit of applications/proposals by persons having integrity and without conflict of interest.

Description of External Peer Review Process

The NCER External Peer Review process involves technical experts providing individual scores and evaluations for assigned applications, followed by discussion of the most competitive applications and final individual re-scoring. Steps are taken throughout the process to prevent conflict of interest and to maintain confidentiality of the peer review discussion and materials.

The NCER External Peer Review is conducted through either a panel or individual letter review (or an alternative approach).  The details of the External Peer Review process, including the external peer review criteria, are specified in each RFA, which is posted on the NCER website. (source: 2006 EPA Peer Review Handbook (PDF) (190 pp, 1.2 MB), p. B-29)

For a Flowchart depicting the External Peer Review Process, click on image for a larger view:

Peer Review Timeline - SRA/PO Interactions

Definition of Peer Review

“There is no written definition of peer review that applies across the federal government. Officials at the Office of Science and Technology Policy described peer review as a merit-based process or independent merit assessment, generally used in decisions about which research projects to fund. Individual agencies define peer review somewhat differently; however, all of the agencies’ definitions or descriptions of peer review contained the fundamental concept of a review of technical or scientific merit by individuals with sufficient technical competence and no unresolved conflict of interest.” [GAO, March 1999] 

NCER follows EPA guidance and policy regarding Peer Reviews:  

  • “EPA strives to ensure that the scientific and technical bases of its decisions meet two important criteria: (1) they are based upon the best current knowledge from science, engineering, and other domains of technical expertise; and (2) they are credible. Peer review, a process based on the principles of obtaining the best technical and scientific expertise with appropriate independence, is central to sound science and helps the Agency meet these important criteria. Peer review occurs when scientifically and technically based work products are evaluated by relevant experts who were not involved in creating the product.” [EPA’s policy is set forth in the January 31, 2006 memo (PDF) (4 pp, 260 K) by the EPA Administrator]

  • “Peer review is a documented critical review of a specific Agency scientific and/or technical work product. Peer review is conducted by qualified individuals (or organizations) who are independent of those who performed the work, and who are collectively equivalent in technical expertise (i.e., peers) to those who performed the original work. Peer review is conducted to ensure that activities are technically supportable, competently performed, properly documented, and consistent with established quality criteria. Peer review is an in-depth assessment of the assumptions, calculations, extrapolations, alternate interpretations, methodology, acceptance criteria, and conclusions pertaining to the specific major scientific and/or technical work product and of the documentation that supports them. Peer review may provide an evaluation of a subject where quantitative methods of analysis or measures of success are unavailable or undefined such as research and development. Peer review is usually characterized by a one-time interaction or a limited number of interactions by independent peer reviewers.” [2006 EPA Peer Review Handbook (PDF) (190 pp, 1.2 MB)]

NCER Funding Programs

NCER funds research programs that reflect EPA’s priorities and are subject to change. Examples include, but are not limited to:

  • Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Grants Program: grants awarded to academic and non-profit institutions located in the U.S., and state and local governments to conduct environmental research. For more details, click on NCER's Funding Opportunities Page.

  • Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program): contracts are awarded to small companies to develop and commercialize their innovative products that address environmental issues. For more details, click on NCER's Small Business Innovation Research Page.

  • Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Graduate Fellowships Program: fellowships awarded to college graduate students to conduct research in an environmentally related field. For more details, click on NCER's Fellowships Page.

  • Greater Research Opportunities (GRO) Undergraduate Fellowships Program: grants awarded to undergraduate students attending certain institutions to conduct research in an environmentally related field. For more details, click on NCER's Fellowships Page.

  • People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) Program: grants awarded to interdisciplinary teams of college students to conduct science-based projects that improve the quality of life, promote prosperity by developing local economies, and protect the planet by conserving resources and minimizing pollution. For more details, click on NCER's People, Prosperity and the Planet Student Design Competition for Sustainability Page.

  • Research Centers: funds coordinated research between EPA and non-EPA academic or non-profit institutions to achieve long term research goals. For more details, click on NCER's Research Centers Page.

NCER Currently Open Solicitations

For more detail on all currently open solicitations, click on NCER's Funding Opportunities Page.

Join the NCER RFA email list

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