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Multistate Research Activities

The multistate research program, authorized by the Hatch Act, enables research on high priority topics among the State Agricultural Experiment Stations (SAES) in partnership with NIFA, other research institutions and agencies, and with the Cooperative Extension Service (CES). In this way, technological opportunities and complex problem solving activities which are beyond the scope of a single SAES, can be approached in a more efficient and comprehensive way. These activities involve cooperative, jointly planned research employing multidisciplinary approaches.  They are oriented toward accomplishment of specific outcomes and impacts and based on priorities developed from stakeholder input and are responsive to NIFA goals.

The multistate research program is funded through the Hatch Act, one of several formula fund appropriations which NIFA allocates to the 50 states and territories on a formula based on population and other factors. Not less than 25 percent of Hatch funds are allocated for the Multistate Research Fund (MRF). In FY2007, 25% of the Hatch allocation or approximately $81 million was expended on multistate activities.

Multistate research activities are managed and documented through the National Information Management and Support System (NIMSS) at the University of Maryland.  


Types of multistate research activities Projects

Multistate Research Project  
Multistate Research Projects are the backbone of multistate research activities. They involve integrated, potentially interdisciplinary, and multistate activities; have expected outcomes, including original research results; convey knowledge; are peer reviewed; and have a life of five years. At the beginning of FY2008, there were 124 active projects, 43 in the North Central Region, 21 in the Northeast Region, 29 in the Southern Region, and 31 in the Western Region.  Among the issues being addressed by research projects are:

500 Series Projects
These are formed for a maximum of two years to provide a mechanism for response to acute crises, emergencies, and opportunities using the multistate research approach. Activities may range from formally organized research on targeted objectives to very informal research coordination or information exchange activity, depending on the circumstances; have expected outcomes; convey knowledge; and are peer reviewed. At the beginning of FY2008, there were 15 active 500 Series projects. Among the issues being addressed by 500 Series projects are:

National Research Support Project (NRSP)
These are activities that focus on the development of enabling technologies, support activities (such as to collect, assemble, store, and distribute materials, resources and information), or the sharing of facilities needed to accomplish high priority research, but which is not of itself primarily research. At the beginning of FY2008, there were seven active NRSPs. Among the issues being addressed by NRSPs are:


Committees

Coordinating Committees
These are 5-year activities that provide a mechanism for addressing critical regional issues where multistate coordination or information exchange is appropriate within a function (ie. research, education, or extension); have expected outcomes; convey knowledge; and are peer reviewed. In October 2007, there were 58 active coordinating committees in the North Central Region, 9 in the Northeast Region, 38 in the Southern Region and 36 in the Western Region. Among the issues being addressed by coordinating committees are:

Development or Temporary Committees
These committees are formed to develop a formal multistate activity; have the expected outcome of a full proposal for a particular multistate activity; and are peer reviewed. At the beginning of FY2008, there were 35 development committees including new committees or those seeking renewal. Among the issues being addressed by development or temporary committees are:

Advisory Committee
These are committees of department chairs/heads from a particular discipline that exchange information and serve a multistate administrative function through review of multistate activities, but are not peer reviewed. As of October 1, 2007, there were 26 such groups, 14 in the North Central Region, 1 in the North East Region and 11 in the Southern Region. Among the issues being addressed by advisory committees are:


Criteria for Multistate Research Projects

Multistate research projects most often begin with a broad group of stakeholders who interact with faculty and staff at the state agricultural experiment stations.  Consequently, the projects address problems or issues directly confronting stakeholders that require further research for resolution.  Faculty and staff then generate a proposal that is submitted to one of the four geographical regional associations of agricultural experiment station directors.  The project is then subjected to the policies and procedures governing the Multistate Research Fund program. Multistate research policies and procedures are contained in the National Multistate Guidelines.  Each multistate project is required to meet the following criteria:

A Multistate activity involves cooperative, jointly planned research employing multidisciplinary approaches in which a SAES, working with other SAES, the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), or a college or university, cooperates to solve problems that concern more than one state and usually more than one region.  In addition, the following must be demonstrated in the project proposal:

1. The objectives are clearly focused.
2. Each participant listed has direct involvement in the accomplishment of the stated objectives.
3. The project is multistate and multidisciplinary.

4. The project proposal has been peer-reviewed.
5. The proposed project is oriented toward accomplishment of specific outcomes and impacts and based on priorities developed from stakeholder input.
6. The project is responsive to NIFA goals.


Multistate Research Project Reviews

Multistate research projects are subjected to a two stage review/approval process to become eligible for an experiment station director to allocate funds to researchers from the Multistate Research Fund.
 
First, a pre-proposal is developed by scientists who have identified a research need which is then reviewed by a committee of department heads from relevant disciplines and/or a committee of experiment station directors.  This review assures that the general approach being proposed has merit, that faculty with appropriate expertise are involved, and that the proposed activity is relevant to current needs of industry and other stakeholders.

A second stage involves development of a full proposal and a rigorous peer review for scientific quality.  This review is conducted by scientists not associated with the project but knowledgeable in the subject matter. Concerns that are identified in the peer review process must be addressed in subsequent revision of the proposal in order to obtain approval.  A committee of experiment station directors again reviews all revisions to assure appropriate responses to the concerns raised in the review process.  A final recommendation is then made to the entire group of experiment station directors for that region.  The regional association then reviews the project proposal before final approval by the regional association.  The ultimate objective of this portion of the peer review process is to demonstrate that the proposed research is of the very highest scientific quality, is multistate, is interdisciplinary, meets stakeholder needs, and is consistent with regional and national goals.

After regional association approval, the project is then submitted to NIFA, where one or more NIFA national program leaders review it, to ensure compliance with requirements specified in the National Multistate Guidelines.

Finally, each project participant must generate a project proposal that contains one or more of the exact objectives as stated in the multistate project.  Each participant then describes within his/her specific proposal the procedures and methodology that will be used in his/her specific project to achieve the objectives.  Since the multistate project must be “multistate” and interdisciplinary, the investigator must demonstrate that his/her specific project contributes to achieving these dimensions of the multistate project.

An indication of the effectiveness of the peer review process is the fact that for the period 2000 – 2004, more than 90 percent of projects were revised with peer-review input. Furthermore, approximately 8% of all new project proposals and 8% of all renewals were rejected for a variety of reasons.


Multistate Research Project Responsiveness

Something that distinguishes multistate research funding from other funding mechanisms is the rapidity with which research projects can be initiated to meet emerging needs as identified by scientists and stakeholders.
 
The MRF rapid response mechanism has allowed the experiment station system to respond with appropriate scientists to address the research needs of these important problems.  Projects can be established within a matter of weeks, much more rapidly than traditional, competitively awarded program can generally respond.


Multistate research funding efficiency and effectiveness

From the outset of a multistate research project, NIFA assigns an agency program leader to the project.  This assures that the project is aligned with the goals of the agency and USDA.  Furthermore, every project must document its effectiveness through submission of the annual SAES-422 form, an accountability statement that documents the accomplishments and impacts of the project. The NIFA program leader and the project administrative advisor annually review the impact statement, another form of peer-review.
 
Multistate projects have the further advantage of having the potential to involve multiple partners without the use of burdensome subcontracts.  The call for participation in projects is widely distributed, and most projects have participants from the private sector, federal government laboratories (such as DOE scientists, ARS scientists, etc.), and non-land grant universities. 
The MRF program has the ability to not only bring scientists from widely disparate fields together from far-ranging funding sources, but also to leverage the investment from these sources.  In justifying the investment that the Multistate Research Fund is making in a project on atmospheric deposition (NRSP 3), it was demonstrated that an annual investment of $112,000 was leveraged 27 to 1, the equivalent of a total research investment of over $3 million.


Multistate Research Fund as Part of a Funding Portfolio

Within federally-funded research, there are several mechanisms for allocating funds to research projects.  Two of the most common are competitive grants programs and Congressional earmarks.  In USDA, both of these mechanisms are used along with Hatch funds to support research directed to achieving the goals of the USDA. 

As noted, the multistate research funds are mandated under Congressional legislation.  Although the Multistate Research Fund is not awarded in a competitive manner similar to NIFA’ National Research Initiative, or National Science Foundation, or National Institutes of Health grants, it nonetheless seeks to address stakeholder needs, meet high priority regional and national needs that are not easily addressed with other funding sources, and draw upon the collaborative strength of the land grant universities and their partners.
 
Among all the funding sources mentioned above, the MRF is the only mechanism where 100% of the funds are used to enhance multistate, multidisciplinary research.  In addition, these funds are used to leverage a significant amount of funding from other federal, state, and private sources.  As shown above, the research is subjected to more peer review by scientists than any competitively awarded research grant.
 
Finally, this system of projects focuses the unique capacity of the state agricultural experiment stations and their collaborators on important issues facing U.S. agriculture, the environment and natural resources, food and nutrition, and family and rural community development.