SAMHSA uses peer reviewers who are subject matter experts and generally not SAMHSA employees. Peer reviewers evaluate discretionary grant applications.
The Division of Grant Review (DGR) will screen out applications that do not meet the administrative or programmatic requirements of the Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO). These applications will not go forward to review.
The DGR will notify the business official identified in the application within 30-60 days of receiving the application if it has been screened out.
First Level Review
Peer reviewers evaluate the grant applications through fair, competent, and objective assessments to provide SAMHSA with a sound basis for making funding decisions. A summary statement of the peer review evaluation will be sent to the business official identified in the application.
Second Level Review
In addition to the first level of peer review, some grant programs are subject to review by the SAMHSA National Advisory Council (NAC). The NAC is a second level of review required for programs that exceed the current grant threshold of $150,000. The NAC does not review individual applications but votes (usually en bloc) to agree or not with the peer review results.
Grant Review Principles
The DGR upholds the following principles to make sure that each application receives a thorough and fair review:
- The DGR holds peer reviewers to strict conflict-of-interest (COI) standards.
- The DGR maintains confidentiality for both applicants and peer reviewers.
- The DGR chooses peer reviewers for their knowledge, skills, and expertise related to the particular grant program under review. The DGR also tries to develop peer review groups based on geographic, gender, and ethnic diversity.
- Peer reviewers evaluate and score each application according to the NOFO and its criteria for evaluation.
- Peer reviewers consider each application on its own merit and do not compare it with other applications.
- Peer reviewers consider only what is actually written in the application. They do not make assumptions or use any personal knowledge of the applicant.
Avoiding Conflicts of Interest (COI)
The DGR questions all potential peer reviewers about an actual or perceived COI before assigning them to a review committee. A COI is wide ranging and can include:
- Present or past employment (or any other fiduciary relationship) with the applicant or subcontractor (includes the reviewer's relatives)
- Any other relationship with the applicant, subcontractor, or key staff/consultants that could be perceived as COI (e.g., student, teacher, friend, rival, past or present co-worker)
- Being employed by or contractually associated with an organization that has submitted an application for the grant program being reviewed
Application Review and Scoring
The NOFO will ask that specific information be included in certain sections of the application. Peer reviewers give credit only for items addressed in those required sections. Credit may be given if applicants refer to relevant items located in other sections of the application if they are not included in the required section.
Reviewers do not score the budget unless stated otherwise in the NOFO. However, every application must include a proposed budget that the DGR reviews to make sure all expenditures are justified. The DGR does not consider individual salaries.
Peer reviewers score applications on a scale of 0-100. The priority score for each application is the mean of the committee members' total scores.
Participant Protection/Human Subjects Comments and Concerns
Peer reviewers evaluate each application for participant protection/human subjects issues. Reviewers may find an applicant's response acceptable, or reviewers may note a "comment" or "concern." See the NOFO for additional guidelines on participant protection/human subjects.
What is a Comment?
A "comment" is reviewer feedback noting a problem with an applicant's response to one or more of the published participant protection elements. However, the problem is not serious enough to require special terms and conditions that would require adjustments and prevent full funding until the applicant addresses the problem.
What is a Concern?
SAMHSA may prohibit making an award with a "concern." Special term(s) and condition(s) may be included in the Notice of Award if the "concern" is not resolved prior to funding.
Grant Review Opportunities
SAMHSA uses peer reviewers to evaluate discretionary grant applications. Learn more about SAMHSA grant review opportunities.