Promoting research partnerships to improve veterans’ health

NAVREF Response to the GAO Westat Report Assessment

2 Nov 2018 9:58 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

NAVREF Response to the

GAO Westat Report Assessment

BACKGROUND:NPCs have voiced concerns for a number of years about the process of determining where federal awards will be submitted and administered. At some sites it was alleged there was no approved deliberative process, decision-makers were sometimes conflicted, and the academic affiliate (AA) wielded disproportionate influence.

In response to our members’ concern, NAVREF raised this issue with the VA Office of Research & Development and discussed it as part of testimony before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on Oversight & Investigations in June 2016 and 2017. At the 2017 hearing, Dr. Ramoni announced she would engage an outside firm to thoroughly review the management of extramural funding across the VA research enterprise. In October 2017, ORD contracted with Westat to perform this review and many of you participated in their interviews and surveys over the last 12 months.

FINDINGS: Westat’s final report released by ORD on 9-28-18, contained a number of findings, including:

  • A majority of respondents felt NPCs were not used to their full potential
  • A majority of respondents felt indirects at the AA do not benefit the VA
  • No single policy exists across VA research regarding administration of extramural grants
  • NPCs with written policies are healthier, on average, than those without written policies
  • The “preponderance rule” is the most common approach to determining where awards are administered
  • At 1/3 of sites, the AA does not provide sub-awards
  • 42% of AA-managed grants fund work conducted mostly or fully at the VA
  • 24% of projects managed by AAs use a majority of veterans as subjects
  • At NPCs with less than $4M revenue, the AA is much more likely to administer NIH awards


  • Every VAMC is slightly different and each needs to work out a way to optimize its relationship with their NPC and their AA in a way that enhances the mission of serving Veterans.

  • The arrangement for administration of extramural awards should be:
    • logical,
    • local (reflecting the local circumstances),
    • legitimate (taking away the decision of grant administration from conflicted individuals),
    • low cost (aim for the lowest taxpayer cost where possible), and
    • shared (supporting an NPC that is financially healthy and a working relationship with the affiliate that is collaborative and productive).

We appreciate the fact that what works at one site may not be suitable at another, and that each VA, AA, and NPC need to jointly establish a process that works for them. The key is that all three parties work together with the common goal of serving Veterans. Many sites already enjoy this collaborative relationship.

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