National Historical Publications & Records Commission

NHPRC Application Review Process

NHPRC Application Review Process

Ever wanted to know what happens to your application once you submit it to the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC)? The following document describes the steps in the process.

We're always looking for experts in their field to serve as peer reviewers. If you're interested in serving on an application review panel, please match your expertise with our grant programs and contact the program officer(s) in charge by email with a brief résumé attached.

Summary of the Review Process

Applicant uses grant opportunity announcements and Grants.gov to prepare materials for submission.

Applicant submits application package to Grants.gov by deadline.

Level I: NHPRC assembles peer review panels. These panels of knowledgeable persons from outside the NHPRC read each application and advise the agency about its merits. Read More »

Level II: After receiving the written reviews, NHPRC program officers assemble anonymous copies and share them with each applicant's project director, along with specific questions from the Commission staff. Applicants have an opportunity to answer these questions and comments. Using peer review evaluations and the responses of applicants, NHPRC staff recommends applications for funding based on available funds. Read More »

Level III: The full Commission, which normally meets twice a year, reviews all staff recommendations and applications and makes final recommendations to the NHPRC chairman. Read More »

Level IV: NHPRC chairman takes into account the advice provided by the review process and, by law, makes all funding decisions. Read More »

Applicants are notified whether their projects will be funded.

The Review Levels in Detail

Introduction

The review process stands at the center of the NHPRC’s work.

The NHPRC’s review process has four distinct but fully integrated levels. First, knowledgeable persons independent of the Commission, including peer reviewers and/or members of state historical records advisory boards, read each application and advise the Commission about its merits; second, the Commission’s staff synthesizes the results of the outside review and prepares a slate of recommendations for the Commission members; third, the Commission meets in Washington, DC, to advise the Archivist of the United States, chairman of the Commission, on applications and matters of policy; and fourth, the Archivist considers the advice he or she has received and makes final funding decisions. All levels of the review process prior to the Archivist’s decision are advisory.

Level I: Panel Review

The first level in the process—which informs every subsequent level—involves consideration by outside experts in the relevant areas, including peer reviewers and/or members of state historical records advisory boards.

Commission staff members check applications for eligibility and assign them to panels based on subject area, academic discipline, institutional type, project area, or project type. Staff typically assigns three to five applications to a panel and selects five to eight evaluators per panel. In assembling a panel, program officers select evaluators for their expertise in the relevant disciplines, topics, and areas. Other considerations may include the type of institution the prospective evaluator represents, their past panel experience, or other demographic characteristics. It is important to note that no evaluator may serve in consecutive years for the same grant program or on more than two panels in any calendar year.

The Commission provides evaluators with online access to the applications for several weeks. At this stage, the evaluators read the applications, enter their written comments, and assign ratings based on the percentages in the evaluation criteria included in each grant opportunity announcement. In cases of a conflict of interest, evaluators recuse themselves. All reviews and ratings must be based on the Commission's published review criteria and program guidelines. The Commission's review criteria emphasize the potential of a project to broaden public understanding of our democracy, history, and culture; the applicant’s abilities and qualifications; the project’s feasibility, design, cost, and work plan; and the effectiveness of the dissemination plans. (Since the review criteria may vary from program to program, applicants should consult the criteria of the grant program to which they are applying.)

Level II: NHPRC Staff Review

The Commission's grant programs are administered by its staff. After peer reviewers, state historical records advisory boards, and other evaluators have completed their work, Commission staff organizes and analyzes the reviewers' comments, and considers the appropriateness of the project toward fulfilling Commission goals, as well as an application's completeness and conformity to application requirements. Through a questions letter/email to each project director, the staff shares anonymous versions of reviewers' written comments and may raise additional issues and concerns. Based on the evaluators' ratings and comments and the applicant’s response to these, the staff makes recommendations to the Commission as to which proposals to fund. The staff's recommendations and all supporting materials are made available to Commission members in advance of each meeting through a secure online portal.

Level III: Commission Members Review

The National Historical Publications and Records Commission is a 15-member advisory body, chaired by the Archivist of the United States, and composed of representatives of the three branches of the Federal government, two presidential appointees, and the representatives of professional associations of archivists, historians, documentary editors, and records administrators. The Archivist and Librarian of Congress are permanent ex officio members, with the other five government members appointed by the Chief Justice (judiciary representative), Speaker of the House and Senate Majority Leader (legislative representatives), and the Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense (agency representatives). The six professional association members are appointed by the governing council or board of their respective organizations. The two presidential appointees must be “outstanding in the fields of the social or physical sciences, the arts, or archival or library science.” Except for the Archivist and Librarian, the other members serve no more than two consecutive four-year terms (or, for the House member, four consecutive two-year terms). The Commission usually meets twice a year in Washington, DC, for the purpose of advising the Archivist regarding Commission policy, grant programs, and making recommendations on grant proposals.

A list of the current membership is on our website.

The Commission meetings are a full day in length and occur in May and November. Meetings consist of sessions open to the public when matters of policy and strategy are discussed and grantees and others may be scheduled make presentations. There is also a closed session, when Commission members, having reviewed relevant application materials beforehand, discuss individual applications and vote on the staff's recommendations. By law, the Commission is required to review all applications for financial support, and the Archivist may not approve or disapprove of applications until he or she has considered the Commission’s advice and recommendations.

Level IV: The NHPRC Chairman

The Archivist of the United States, as Commission chair, decides which applications will receive public support. The chairman takes into account the totality of advice provided by the Commission's review process—including the advice of reviewers, Commission staff, and the Commission members. By law, the chairman makes all final funding decisions.

A biography of NHPRC Chairman David S. Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, is available on our website.

Transparency and Confidentiality at the NHPRC

The NHPRC seeks to make its application, review, and award processes as transparent as possible, while protecting the confidentiality of applicants, evaluators, staff, and Commission members. The NHPRC announces on its website and via press release the names of award winners in each program for each grant cycle; the NHPRC does not announce the names of unfunded applicants. All applicants receive reviewers' comments during the course of the application review process and may also inquire with Commission staff for any general comments on their application. Periodically, the Commission will release an alphabetical list of peer reviewers on its website. In the unlikely event of litigation involving the Freedom of Information Act, however, the NHPRC’s commitment to applicant and evaluator confidentiality may be affected.

The Commission welcomes your questions, suggestions, and comments about its review process. Please send your comments to  nhprc@nara.gov .

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