“The first step in the funding process is a peer review panel,” Jefferies said. “Panelists must be experts in their respective fields and have no conflict of interest in serving on the panel.”
Reviews normally involve two internal panelists and one external. Internal panelists are typically Defense Department scientists.
External panelists can include experts from NASA, the National Science Foundation, and others.
Panel members must be intimately familiar with the research area and able to provide advice and expertise in a broad range of areas.
“Panelists provide feedback on a proposal’s technical merit and on opportunities for collaboration which are both very important in basic research,” Jefferies said. “They also provide advice on funding. The feedback helps guide program managers and principal investigators – those that carry out the research – through the decision-making process.”
Prospective grantees are encouraged to submit white papers or otherwise interact with the Program Manager to determine whether their research concepts are of interest to the Air Force before they go to the trouble of submitting proposals.
Because any research topic could potentially generate hundreds of proposals from interested researchers, panel reviews also help all involved stay focused on the direction of basic research.
“Panel members use a scale we provide to grade technical merit,” said Jefferies. “There is a cutoff score involved and we don’t recommend funding for project that fall below the cutoff.”
Annually, program managers review portfolios for planning purposes. Based on the review, decisions can be made to add, modify, or discontinue research programs.
Before decisions are made, reviewers typically seek collaboration with members of the scientific community. The needs of the Air Force are always of primary concern.
“About one third of our research portfolios are up for review each year, which helps us keep our workload manageable,” Jefferies said. “We spend a lot of time collaborating with colleagues and experts from various scientific communities.”
“So, to some degree, some of the risk of initiating new research is managed before we have to make a decision,” he emphasized. “Still, recommended decisions rest with program managers.”
“So, we are constantly evaluating research in order to make the best possible decisions,” Jeffries concluded.