Assessment of National Institutes of Health Centers of Excellence Programs
The IOM conducted a one-year study of the use of research center grants by the National Institutes of Health. The study focused on the criteria and procedures used in deciding to adopt the use of centers, how they are designed and administered, comparisons with other mechanisms of research support, their impacts and costs, and how they are evaluated as a mechanism (as well as how individual centers are evaluated). The emphasis was on how NIH uses centers as a program mechanism, compared with other mechanisms, rather than on how individual centers are chosen for awards.
The committee prepared a consensus report with findings and recommendations for improving the use of the center mechanism, given the many factors that must be taken into account in a specific area of research, including the state of the science, presence of promising research opportunities, burden of disease, need for interdisciplinary approaches, alternative mechanisms (e.g., research project grants, program project grants, and contracts), and adequacy of the research infrastructure. The report included recommended criteria and processes for deciding whether research centers should be created
Specifically, the committee addressed the following questions, as requested by Congress:
- The current areas of research addressed by centers of excellence (including a description of such areas) and the relationship of the center mechanism to other forms of funding for research grants, including investigator initiated research, contracts, and other types of research support awards.
- The distinctive aspects of centers of excellence, including the additional knowledge that may be expected to be gained through the center mechanism as compared to other forms of grant or contract mechanisms.
- The costs associated with establishing and maintaining centers of excellence, and their record of scholarship and training. The research and training contributions of centers should be assessed on their own merits and in comparison with other forms of research support.
- Specific areas of research in which centers of excellence may be useful, needed, or underused, as well as areas of research in which centers may not be helpful.
- Criteria that may be applied in determining when centers are an appropriate and cost-effective research investment and the conditions that should be present in order to consider the establishment of centers as part of an overall program of research.
- Alternative research models that may accomplish results similar to or greater than the use of centers.
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