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NIH Launches New Research Project Tracking System

The RCDC is part of a broader effort by NIH to provide information about its operations and expenditures and the results of the research it supports.

By Karen Studwell

On January 15th, the National Institutes of Health launched its new Research, Condition and Disease Categorization (RCDC) system, designed to provide consistent and transparent information to the public about NIH-funded research. The NIH supports research on nearly 6,000 diseases and funds nearly 40,000 grants in any given year.  The new system, required by the NIH Reform Act of 2006, includes a complete list of all NIH-funded projects by category with the aim of standardizing reporting across the NIH’s 27 Institutes and Centers.  

The RCDC relies on a text data mining system that is designed to reconcile the historical definitions used by the individual institutes and to create a more uniform system.  At the end of each fiscal year, RCDC will enable reports to be produced on what was funded in the 215 categories that have historically been reported to the public and Congress, such as mental health, aging, behavioral science, and diabetes. In the past, NIH reported a funding level for each category, but to the external observer it has not been obvious how the amount was derived.

In speaking with outside stakeholders including APA, NIH staff members have acknowledged there are challenges in adopting the new system.  Because RCDC uses a different process to categorize diseases and research areas, it is expected that the funding amounts that RCDC reports might differ significantly from the levels that NIH reported in previous years.  Additionally, as the research categories are not mutually exclusive, individual research projects can be included in multiple categories and so the total across categories can exceed the entire NIH research budget. The agency plans to report figures for FY 2008 using both the old and new methods to show the impact of the new system.

Currently, RCDC includes the grant title and its supporting institutes. Eventually, the grant titles will be linked to the Computer Retrieval of Information on Scientific Projects (CRISP) database, which is a searchable database of federally funded biomedical research projects. An additional feature of the system is that RCDC data can also be exported to an Excel file or other applications. 

In a search of just one category of interest to psychological scientists, the new RCDC reports approximately $1.1 billion in basic behavioral and social science research for FY 2007, $15 million more than what was previously reported under the old system for the same year.  Included in this category, however, are projects on mental health services and in cellular neuroscience.   APA and others in the behavioral science community will scrutinize RCDC reports and provide feedback to NIH about the appropriateness of the categorization scheme.

The RCDC is part of a broader effort by NIH to provide information about its operations and expenditures and the results of the research it supports.  The new NIH Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tool (RePORT) website serves as a single access point to a wide range of reports and data.