Find the Right Program Official

Developing a Compelling Grant Application

Section 2

Find the Right Program Official


Marcel Salive, MD, MPH

Wendy J. Weber, ND, PhD, MPH


Contributing Editor

Karen Staman, MS

NIH is a major funder of health research and comprises 27 institutes and centers (ICs), each with its own mission, budget, scientific priority, funding strategy, and staff (including those who work with applicants, such as program officials, scientific review officers, and grants management officers).

Early in the planning of developing any application, including those for a pragmatic trial, NIH recommends contacting a program official at one of the ICs whose mission most closely matches the trial. The purpose of this contact is to talk to a program official who can gauge an IC’s potential enthusiasm for a research idea, recommend which funding opportunity announcement (FOA) to use for the application, and provide guidance to the investigator both pre-submission and post-review. Because finding the right program official is a critical first step in developing a successful grant, the NIH Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tools (RePorter) website has a matchmaker function. Through the site, prospective grant applicants can enter up to 15,000 words, such as the proposed application project aims, abstracts, or other scientific text, and search for a “similar project” and a “similar program official.”

NIH RePORTER Matchmaker Tool


Searching for a “similar program official” produces a list of people and their affiliated IC, email addresses, and number of projects. For example, the search “pragmatic clinical trial” produced the below list of 129 program officials.

Sample matchmaker results based on the text “pragmatic clinical trial”

After researching the program officials and ICs, prospective investigators can select one with projects most closely matching the proposed application and then email the program official with 1) a 1- to 2-page draft of specific aims for the proposed application, and 2) a request to discuss the proposed application and whether it is a fit with the IC’s mission and priorities. The program official will be in touch to review the specific aims. If the program official is not a right fit for a project, he or she may recommend someone who might be more suitable or recommend that the investigator contact a program official at another IC. In some cases, more than one program official is potentially appropriate, such as when a project would fit within a disease-specific and nondisease-specific IC. If so, investigators may contact both program officials.

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this chapter should not be interpreted as representing the official viewpoint of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute on Aging, or the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health except where noted.



Version History

Published December 13, 2018


Salive M, Weber W. Developing a Compelling Grant Application: Find the Right Program Official. In: Rethinking Clinical Trials: A Living Textbook of Pragmatic Clinical Trials. Bethesda, MD: NIH Health Care Systems Research Collaboratory. Available at: Updated August 13, 2019. DOI: 10.28929/112.