Review Process


Federal agencies have an extensive application review process that can take up to six months. An application must be submitted by the deadline, or it will not be considered. The review process in most federal agencies involves the federal agency’s staff and a peer review committee.

Often times the grant announcement or application packet will ask for potential applicants to send a letter informing the federal agency of the applicant’s intent to apply for a grant. This information enables the federal agency to select an adequate number of peer reviewers. When the time comes, reviewers are asked to read several grants and score them according to the review criteria listed in the grant announcement. The reviewers score each section of the federal grant proposal and total the scores for each application. They also make comments about each section of the grant proposal. The federal agency collects the scores and ranks the proposals with those scoring the most points at the top of the list.

In addition to the peer review, the federal staff has a role in the review process, and an applicant’s ranking can change if the grant proposal does not receive a favorable staff review. The federal agency will also try to distribute grant funds geographically and across priorities if a grant program has multiple priorities (i.e., health, education, and energy.)

Generally, applications scoring the highest will receive approval for funding, but that is not always the case as behind-the scenes politics are beyond an applicant’s control. It is important to note that an application can be (1) approved and receive funding; (2) not approved for funding; and (3) approved but not funded. If an application is approved but not funded, it can be an indication the federal agency ran out of money before it reached the applicant’s score on the list.

Applicants can request review information from the federal agency after grants have been awarded. The request must be made in writing. Usually the federal agency will respond with reviewer comments and the applicant’s score. This is important information if the applicant intends to reapply for the grant. The comments can be used to strengthen the grant application for the next round of funding. Click here to see a sample proposal with reviewer comments from the Department of Health and Human Services.

Lastly, the peer reviewers are persons in the field with related program experience. Individuals interested in becoming a peer reviewer should visit the web site of the federal agency of interest to read about the requirements and application process.  Click here to see Grant Making Agencies.

To see a few examples of how to become a reviewer, the qualifications and responsibilities, click on the links below:

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (

Department of Education (, Investing in Innovation Fund, Call for Peer Reviewers,

Administration for Children and Families, Department of Health and Human Services (, Children’s Bureau, Title IV-E Foster Care Eligibility Reviews, Peer Reviewer Requirements and Responsibilities,

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