Q and A with Dr Sally J Rockey, NIH Deputy Director for Extramural Research

July / August 2013 | Volume 12, Issue 4

Headshot of Dr Sally Rockey

Dr. Sally J. Rockey, NIH Deputy
Director for Extramural Research

Dr. Sally J. Rockey is the NIH Deputy Director for Extramural Research, serving as the principal scientific leader and advisor to the NIH Director on the agency's extramural research program. Rockey heads the Office of Extramural Research (OER), which focuses on grants, contracts and cooperative agreements, supporting biomedical researchers and organizations beyond the NIH campus. She is active on several federal committees related to science, research administration and electronic government and collaborates closely with academic and scientific communities. To help grantees better understand NIH, she hosts a blog, Rock Talk.

Why does NIH fund global health research extramurally?

The importance of global health has long been a critical component of NIH activities. We recognize that developed nations are not the only source of biomedical research and innovation. Important science is being conducted in all corners of the world and the understanding we gain from that research is applicable to people in the U.S. and abroad. Much of the international research NIH has supported has focused on infectious diseases. Today, the nature of the global health landscape is changing and we must broaden our vision to include noncommunicable diseases, such as cancer, diabetes and hypertension.

What is the Office of Extramural Research's role?

OER's mission is to provide the corporate framework for NIH research administration, ensuring scientific integrity, public accountability and effective stewardship of the NIH extramural research portfolio. This means that my office oversees much of the NIH infrastructure that enables grants to happen.

We provide leadership, policy development and oversight over the NIH grant-making process. We also offer resources such as the grants.nih.gov website that help applicants and grantees find, administer and manage NIH grants. OER develops and maintains NIH's electronic Research Administration (eRA) systems that are used by NIH staff and our applicant/grantee community to process grants electronically. We also manage powerful tools, such as RePORT, to give transparency into who and what NIH funds.

What advice do you offer non-U.S. institutions seeking NIH funding?

It is very much the same advice I'd offer all potential applicants - start preparing early. Researchers are often so busy working on the scientific aspects of their applications they focus less attention on preparing to actually submit. It is crucial to understand the NIH grant process.

The registration process includes multiple Federal systems and can take up to eight weeks or more to complete. We don't want researchers to build a great application and then be unable to submit because of registration problems. Applicants should target submission a week before the deadline so there is time to work through any problems. Starting early is especially important for non-U.S. institutions that must deal with language and time zone differences when seeking help. They should then check their submission is correct in the eRA Commons system. There are many resources available on our Grants & Funding and Applying Electronically websites, including a page with information specific to foreign applicants.

What can trip up foreign applicants?

Applicants tend to run into trouble when they don't leave enough time to work through each step of the application process or fail to follow application instructions. Multiple registrations are needed that must be completed to be eligible to apply! Institutions must have a NATO Commercial and Governmental Entity (NCAGE) Code, a Dun and Bradstreet (DUNS) number, a registration at SAM.gov (System for Award Management) that requires annual renewal, registration in grants.gov and, finally, the NIH's eRA Commons. Principal Investigators should work with officials at their institutions to register in the eRA Commons.

It is crucial to build in time to fix any identified errors or warnings. Foreign applicants should be sure to check the eligibility section of the announcement to make sure their organization qualifies. Also, foreign organizations must use the Research & Related budget form, not the modular budget form. And some forms require a congressional district, but foreign applicants simply write 00-000.

How do you track other global health funders?

In order to better coordinate global health research, we have created a pilot global "observatory" to collect and analyze information about the extent and composition of research and development support for sub-Saharan Africa, awarded by NIH and a handful of other major funders. Called World RePORT, it's a work in progress. We're engaged in discussions, coordinated by Fogarty, to discuss possible expansion to other areas of the world and to include other biomedical research funders.

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