Study in Progress


A Review of the USDA Agricultural and Food Research Initiative - 08/09/13

Statement of Task

An NRC committee will perform an independent assessment of the AFRI program, including the quality and value of research funded by the program and the prospects for its success in meeting established goals and outcomes.

The assessment will:
- Examine the value, relevance, quality, fairness, and flexibility of AFRI.
- Consider whether NIFA funding mechanisms, including the process of setting annual funding priorities, the shift to five NIFA Challenge areas, and the balance between challenge area grants and foundational program grants, are appropriate for meeting AFRI's desired goals and outcomes.
- Compare NIFA?s decision to fund fewer, higher-dollar and longer-term grants through AFRI to the former National Research Initiative (NRI) approach of funding more, lower-dollar grants, in terms of achieving desired outcomes. Include an exploration of the relationship between the length of grants and their effectiveness in terms of outcomes.
- Examine indications of whether AFRI is achieving its stated goals and outcomes. Include in these considerations how well AFRI facilitates the integration of research, extension, and education; supports food production efforts; balances fundamental and applied investments; increases foundational knowledge while facilitating translational research; and contributes to preparing the future scientific workforce.
- Identify measures of the effectiveness and efficiency of AFRI?s operation, from requests for applications and the panel review process (including the effectiveness of virtual grant review panels relative to face-to-face panels), to the awarding of grants.
- Evaluate the diversity of grant recipients and institutions that participate in the grants program, and examine the methods NIFA uses to facilitate the participation of a diversity of individuals and institutions (public and private, land-grant and non-land grant, minority).

The study also will examine AFRI's role in advancing science in relation to other research and grant programs inside of USDA (capacity and formula grants) as well as how complementary it is to other federal R&D programs, such as the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the Department of Energy, including the effectiveness of past joint-agency grant solicitations.

The study committee will prepare a report of its assessment. In addition to its findings and conclusions, the committee will identify aspects of the implementation of AFRI that could improve how it functions and its effectiveness in meeting its goals and outcomes.

The committee will not make recommendations about funding levels for AFRI; however, it may draw conclusions about the level of scientific effort supported by AFRI and the adequacy of that effort in meeting the initiatives goals.