In 1998 the Farm Bill (The Agricultural Research Extension, and Education Reform Act of 1998 Public Law 105-185) called for USDA to establish procedures to perform scientific peer reviews of all research projects conducted by the ARS
-to verify that ARS's research has scientific merit and programmatic relevance,
-at least once every 5 years and that a majority of reviewers be external scientists.
The overall results of the reviews were to be submitted to the National Agricultural Research, Extension, Education, and Economics Advisory Board (NAREEE).
Office of Scientific Quality Review
In response, ARS created the Office of Scientific Quality Review (OSQR) in 1999. OSQR manages and implements the ARS peer review system for research projects, including peer review policies, processes and procedures. OSQR centrally coordinates and conducts panel peer reviews for project plans within ARS' National Programs every five years.
The Office sets the schedule of National Program review sessions. The OSQR team is responsible for:
- Panel organization and composition (number of panels and the scientific disciplines needed)
- Distribution of project plans
- Reviewer instruction and panel orientation
- The distribution of review results in ARS
- Notification to panelists of the Agency response to review recommendations
- Ad hoc or re-reviews of project plans
Review CriteriaThe peer review process is an opportunity for researchers to obtain constructive feedback on ways to improve the scientific quality of their projects from their peers. The review criteria and project plan design policies assure that ARS research scientists develop carefully conceived project plans that focus on three key elements of research planning: (1) adequacy of approach and procedures, (2) probability of successfully accomplishing the project's objectives, and (3) merit and significance as it aligns with the National Program Action Plan.
ARS sees peer review as an integral part of the Agency's overall scientific program. ARS will assure that project plans are refined and revised as appropriate in response to the peer review panel's recommendations. Sound and credible scientific peer review serves to improve the quality of research ideas, approaches, and techniques. It promotes the use of new ideas, creative thinking, and alternative approaches that may not have been considered by Agency scientists and staff.
Peer Review Panels
Peer review panels are comprised of scientific peers with expert knowledge in the fields of science pertinent to the research being reviewed. Peer review panels are convened to provide in-depth critiques of each project plan. Each panel reviews about 25 project plans. To conform to this general panel workload, more review panels are formed for the larger National Programs. The OSQR facilitates the process of panel member selection in collaboration with external Panel Chairpersons. Panelists are selected based on his/her expertise and professional qualifications in a field of science pertinent to the research project plans being reviewed