research. Attracting the largest pool of applications from which to select grantees increases the chances for the highest-quality outputs. When establishing its priorities, the agency needs to consider continuity from one funding cycle to another, as well as identify future research challenges and societal needs.

In the context of this committee’s work, it is challenging to link priority setting directly to specific output quality. The quality of NIDRR’s research portfolio, grants, and outputs is the product of multiple complex factors, including the priority-setting process, funding levels, the peer review process, and the scientific quality of the grantees. It is clear, however, that NIDRR’s priority-setting process has a positive impact on the quality of the final outputs. In this chapter, the committee reviews and assesses that process and makes recommendations for its improvement.

The chapter has three major sections. The first describes NIDRR’s priority-setting process based on existing documentation and interviews with NIDRR executives. The second presents an assessment of the process, based on data gathered from NIDRR staff, grantees, and stakeholder organizations. The final section offers the committee’s conclusions and recommendations with respect to NIDRR’s priority-setting process.


The following description is based on existing documentation, such as legislation, the Federal Register, NIDRR and the U.S. Department of Education (ED) policies and procedures, NIDRR’s Long-Range Plan (LRP), and NIAs, as well as interviews with NIDRR and ED management.3

Legislative Foundation

The Rehabilitation Act (1973, as amended) authorizes the formula grant programs of vocational rehabilitation, supported employment, independent living, and client assistance. Title II4 of the act—Research and Training—authorizes the majority of NIDRR’s research activities, while Section 21 of the Act and the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Development Act (2000) require NIDRR to reserve small portions of its budget for those two specific program mechanisms. Section 202 of Title II states that NIDRR’s Director will lay out funding priorities and covered activities in a 5-year plan


3 The committee conducted interviews with NIDRR and ED management in four sessions during summer 2010 and one session in spring 2011.

4 The other six titles are Title I, Vocational Rehabilitation Services; Title III, Professional Development and Special Projects and Demonstrations; Title IV, National Council on Disability; Title V, Rights and Advocacy; Title VI, Employment Opportunities for Individuals with Disabilities; and Title VII, Independent Living Services and Centers for Independent Living.

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