The University of Arizona

Proposal Review at NASA

Serving as a Reviewer

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) seeks subject matter experts to serve as mail-in reviewers of proposals and/or in-person reviewers to engage in discussions at face-to-face panel meetings. Early career researchers (including postdocs) are eligible to review. On the NASA website, you may also suggest reviewers for proposals submitted to ROSES Science Programs.

Review Process

The NASA Research Announcement (NRA) and Cooperative Agreement Notice (CAN) Proposer’s Guidebook describes the policies and process for submitting proposals for basic and applied science and technology research and for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. An overview of the process for proposals selected for review is as follows:

The process takes between 150 and 220 days and is comprised of the following steps:

  1. Peer Panel Review
  2. Program Officer Recommendation
  3. Funding Decision
  • A peer review panel comprised of reviewers with expertise relevant to the content of the proposal evaluates the proposal based on scientific and technical merit, perceived programmatic relevance, and cost reasonableness.
  • A NASA Program Officer develops a recommendation based on the peer review, any program-unique criteria (e.g., program balance) stated in the funding announcement (FA; either NRA or CAN), relevance to objectives stated in the FA and to NASA’s strategic goals, comparison with competing proposals of equal merit, and available resources.
  • Final selection is then made by the NASA Selection Official identified in the FA.

Peer Review 

  • Proposals are principally reviewed by panels composed of the proposer's professional peers who have been screened for conflicts of interest.
  • There are generally at least three readers of each proposal. In all cases, however, copies of every proposal are available for inspection by the members of the panel while it is in session.
  • The final proposal evaluation determined by the panel is reviewed and approved for completeness and clarity by the attending NASA Program Officer and, if appropriate, the chair of the panel. 

Review Criteria

Proposals are reviewed according to the criteria listed in Appendix D of the Proposer’s Guidebook, which are summarized below. Additional review criteria may be described in the FA. 

Relevance

Evaluation of a proposal's relevance includes the consideration of the potential contribution to NASA's mission as expressed in its most recent NASA strategic plans and the permitted scope and specific objectives and goals given in the FA. If an FA describes the program’s relevance to the NASA strategic plans, it is not necessary for proposals to show relevance to NASA’s broader goals and objectives but, rather only to demonstrate relevance to the goals and objectives of the specific goals and objectives of the FA.

Intrinsic Merit

Evaluation of Intrinsic Merit includes the consideration of the following factors, as applicable to the particular proposal:

  • The scientific quality of the proposed project, including, but not limited to, the scientific rationale and the expected significance and/or impact of the proposed work;
  • Overall technical quality of the proposed work, including, but not limited to, the quality of themanagement plan and project timeline for carrying out the work and the effectiveness and resilience of the proposed experimental designs, methods, techniques, and approaches for achieving the proposed goals and/or objectives;
  • The qualifications, capabilities, and related experience of personnel demonstrated by the proposal (e.g., publications, delivered products, and other measures of productivity and/or expertise) that would affect the likelihood of achieving the objectives.
  • Facilities, instruments, equipment and other resources or support systems presented in the proposal that would affect the likelihood of achieving the proposed objectives. Proposals are evaluatedagainst the state-of-the-artand not to each other; any comparative evaluations are conducted by NASA program personnel.

Cost

Evaluation of the cost of a proposed effort may include the reasonableness of the proposed cost, as well as whether costs are allowable and allocable to the project.

Final Summary Evaluation

The combined significance of a proposal’s strengths and weaknesses determines its final summary evaluation. This may be given for each criterion or as a single overall evaluation. In the absence of a criterion-specific scale, the evaluation is based on the following adjectival scale.

Summary Evaluation Basis for Summary Evaluation Relationship of Summary Evaluation to Potential for Selection
Excellent A thorough, and compelling proposal of exceptional merit that fully responds to the objectives of the FA as documented by numerous or significant strengths and with no major weaknesses Top priority for selection in the absence of any issues of funding availability, suspension or debarment, past performance or programmatic priorities.
Very Good A competent proposal of high merit that fully responds to the objectives of the FA, whose strengths fully out-balance any weaknesses and none of those weaknesses constitute fatal flaws. Second priority for selection in the absence of any issues of funding availability, suspension or debarment, past performance or programmatic issues.
Good A competent proposal that represents a credible response to the FA, whose strengths and weaknesses essentially balance each other. May be selected as funds permit based on programmatic priorities.
Fair A proposal that provides a nominal response to the FA but whose weaknesses outweigh any strengths Not selectable regardless of the availability of funds or programmatic priorities.
Poor A seriously flawed proposal having one or more major weaknesses that constitute fatal flaws. Not selectable regardless of the availability of funds or programmatic priorities.

More information on what constitutes major or minor strengths and weaknesses and fatal flaws, as well as the possible dispositions (apart from selection for an award) of proposals including partial selections and “descoped” resubmissions can be found in Appendix D of the Proposer’s Guidebook.

NASA Best Practices

  • Craft your budget with care. The number one cause of grant delays is a failure to submit accurate budget rates from their institution including approved indirect rates and appropriate justification for expenditures.
  • More coming soon