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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

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MSA's Role in the Peer Review Office
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The Mid South Area Office’s Role in the ARS Peer Review Process

The Area Director’s office has become fully engaged in the OSQR peer review process.

Involvement begins with attendance at events planned by the National Program Staff (NPS) to gain customer and stakeholder input into the current direction of ARS research programs.  While listening to customers and an overview of ARS research in specific topic areas, the Area Director’s office reviews the projects in their Area to determine if the research projects are positioned to meet emerging customer needs and to assure that the projects are complimentary and not duplicative of other research occurring in ARS.  After this meeting the Area Director’s office works collaboratively with NPS to determine if changes to research projects are required or if an external review of a program is advantageous.  Members of the new research project teams are identified, created, and approved with input from NPS and Research Leaders (RLs).  Vacancies may be created or filled to provide needed expertise to the research team.

Several months later a listing of projects to be reviewed is sent to the Area Office by NPS.  The Area Office reviews and validates the list.  In rare cases if it is warranted, the Area Director’s office works with NPS to request a delay from Panel review.  This process has been recently changed to include the Associate Administrator’s approval. Once agreement is reached, the list is returned to NPS by the Area Office. National Program Staff, Lead Scientists, and the Area Office work together to identify goals and objectives for the next 5 year cycle. This collaboration result is a Program Direction Resource Allocation Memo (PDRAM) being issued by the NPS. After the PDRAM is issued, conflict of interest lists are reviewed and recommendations are made for Panel Chairs.  A Project Plan Outline (PPO) is then prepared according to instructions received with the PDRAM. The Lead Scientist, team collaborators, Area Office and NPS work together until approval is reached by all. The PPO is used by the project team as an outline for their final pre-project plan.

The Mid South Area conducts Area Panel Meetings composed of the Associate Area Director, Area Statistician, Area Program Analyst, other Area scientists, and NPS, to evaluate the scientific content and methodology, and review for clarity and format.  Recommendations from the panel are discussed with the Lead Scientist and Research Leader and the pre-project plan is revised and re-reviewed.  When the Area Office is satisfied with the quality of the Pre-Project Plan, it is forwarded to NPS for comments.  If further recommendations are suggested by NPS, revisions are again made to the pre-project plan.  After NPS concurrence, one last review is done by the Area Office.The pre-project plan is then sent to OSQR. After review by a Panel of experts, OSQR notifies the Area Director’s office of the Panel results which includes a rating score sheet and Recommendations by the Panel.  If the rating is a Minor or Moderate Revision, the lead scientist responds to the Panel recommendations and revises the project plan which becomes a post-project plan.  The post-review documents are reviewed and approved by the Area Office and NPS prior to being returned to OSQR.  If everything is in order, the project is then certified by OSQR.

In rare cases a Panel may rank a project as Not Feasible or requiring Major Revision.  In these cases the Area Director’s office will decide if the research project will continue and be re-reviewed, will be merged into another project, or will be terminated.  In most cases the research projects are rewritten and returned for re-review by the Panel.  After re-review if the project scores Minor or Moderate Revision, the same process is followed as described above.  In all cases, the Area Director’s office assists the lead scientists and collaborates with NPS until the project plan is certified by OSQR. After certification, the Area Office works with the RL and lead scientist to implement the approved plan. A yearly review of accomplishments and progress towards goals and milestones is done by the Area Office during the ARMP process and during 421 reviews.

Additional responsibilities of the Area Director’s office include:

1.Providing input into OSQR policies and procedures.
2. Coordinating and monitoring deadlines for all parts of the OSQR process to ensure timeliness.
3. Providing feedback to Area RLs on their Unit's OSQR scores and how they rank with the National OSQR average and within the Area.
4. Providing training in the OSQR process.
5. Entering approved projects into ARIS.
6. Monitoring progress toward accomplishments of goals and discussing critical issues with NPLs.

The OSQR activities in the Area Office are very labor intensive.  The Area Director’s office is very cognizant of the fact that their research plans will scrutinized by some of the most recognized experts in the field.  It is important for ARS to have excellent quality plans that hold up to scientific scrutiny from our colleagues in the research community and, thereby, showcase the scientific stature of our ARS scientists.

Deborah Brennan, Associate Director of the Mid South Area 7/28/05

Last Modified: 4/5/2006
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