The audit report, “Management Of Research Grants and Cooperative
Agreements,” IG-02-017, has been posted to the NASA Office of Inspector
General Web site at:

In carrying out its scientific mission, NASA awards grants and
cooperative agreements, hereafter collectedly referred to as grants, to
universities and non-profit entities for funding basic and applied
research. One of NASA’s goals is to select and award research in a
manner that ensures both broad participation and a high degree of
quality. NASA promotes this goal primarily through a process that
combines full and open competition and peer reviews.

Under the auspices of a university or a non-profit entity, researchers
submit solicited proposals to NASA in response to the broad
announcements for research proposals. NASA is required to perform peer
reviews (objective reviews by qualified personnel independent of the
research proposal) for the solicited proposals and competitively awards
grants for those proposals. In some cases, researchers submit
unsolicited proposals for research that is not in response to a
specific announcement. A grant resulting from an unsolicited proposal
is not competitively awarded. NASA evaluates unsolicited proposals by
performing either a peer review or a technical/merit review. A
technical/merit review, however, may lack the objectivity and fairness
that are the trademarks of the peer review process and may not provide
the same level of assurance that the research is the highest quality
and best choice compared to other research being considered.

At the end of fiscal year 2000, NASA had 7,961 active grants valued at
about $4.8 billion. The three Centers included in our audit accounted
for 76 percent or 6,065 of the active grants and 73 percent or about
$3.5 billion (as of September 30, 2000) of the total dollar value.

Results of Audit

NASA appropriately performed peer reviews on 100 percent of the
solicited proposals for the sampled grants prior to award as required
by NASA policy. However, NASA does not similarly require a peer review
for unsolicited proposals for grants prior to award. Thus, while 25
(61 percent) of the 41 unsolicited proposals that we sampled were peer
reviewed before being awarded, the remaining 16 (39 percent) received
only technical/merit reviews. Using peer reviews Agencywide for all
research proposals would help ensure that unsolicited research
proposals are awarded objectively and fairly.


NASA should obtain peer reviews for all unsolicited proposals prior to
award, unless the Chief Scientist approves a written waiver. NASA
should also make its existing policies on documentation of the grant
files more specific and consistent with Federal and NASA requirements
on maintaining peer review documentation in the grant file. NASA’s
Marshall Space Flight Center and Glenn Research Center should establish
a process to ensure compliance with civil rights requirements. Lastly,
NASA should improve the timeliness of the grantees’ financial reporting
and revise the Grant Handbook to reflect the Financial Management
Manual requirements.

Management’s Response

NASA concurred with the report recommendations, and we consider
management’s planned actions responsive to the recommendations.

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