FAQs on the ACF Review Process

Q 1. How can I become a reviewer or panel chairperson?

Q 2.  What is your process for selecting reviewers or panel chairpersons?

Q 3. How are reviewers and panel chairpersons trained to ensure that they are fairly reviewing the application?

Q 4. How are applications processed for the grant review?

Q 5. Why were only certain parts of my application reviewed?

Q 6. What happens if my application did not adhere to the two-file requirement?

Q 7. Does a high score guarantee funding?

Q 8. Can I appeal the decision made on my application?


Q 1. How can I become a reviewer or panel chairperson?

A 1.  In most but not all cases, the program office will solicit and collect resumes or curriculum vitae of those interested in participating. Some program offices may also request that a writing sample be submitted to demonstrate an individual’s writing ability.

Please refer to the published Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) and email the program office contact listed under Section VII. Agency Contacts for more information.  In addition, please check the program office’s website, as some program offices have established websites to recruit individuals for grant reviews.

Q 2.  What is your process for selecting reviewers or panel chairpersons?

A 2.  Program offices review the resumes and/or curriculum vitae of potential individuals and make selections based on their credentials. Program offices often choose individuals that have some experience doing grant reviews and technical expertise related to the activities being proposed in the FOA.  Since most ACF program offices hold remote grant reviews that are done electronically and not on-site in Washington, DC, program offices have more of a choice in selecting qualified individuals.

Q 3. How are reviewers and panel chairpersons trained to ensure that they are fairly reviewing the application?

A 3.  Prior to each grant review, ACF provides standardized training across each program office to reviewers and panel chairpersons on the grant review process and how to assess an applicant’s response to the published FOA. Training is mandatory for all individuals participating. Training components may include topics such as understanding the components of the FOA and writing comments that reflect review of the evaluation criteria, as well as on confidentiality and conflict of interest.  

 Q 4. How are applications processed for the grant review?

A 4. Applications that are received are processed by the ACF program office listed in the FOA.  As part of the application review process, the program office references Section III.3. Other, Application Disqualification Factors in the FOA to decide which applications to accept and move through the review process.

The ACF standard disqualifications factors include late submission, requests over the funding limit, and submitting a paper application without an approved waiver.  A program office has the option to include additional disqualification factor(s) (e.g., eligibility) that accords with program regulations and/or grants policy.  Applications that are disqualified from the review process are not considered for funding.

Applications that are eligible for review are then examined to ensure that they are in compliance with formatting instructions as listed in Section IV.2. Content and Form of Application Submission.  Any application that does not adhere to the FOA formatting requirements will be reviewed by federal staff from the program office and the grants management office prior to the application being moved to review. In instances where the application does not adhere to formatting requirements, it will be reduced.

Q 5. Why were only certain parts of my application reviewed?

A 5.  Due to requirements specified in Section IV.2. Content and Form of Application Submission there is a possibility that your application may have been reduced for the following reasons:

  • Formatting requirements (i.e., line spacing, font size, font type, margins, etc.);
  • Page limitations;
  • Limitation on number of uploaded files allowable per application. Please see FAQ regarding two-file requirement for more information; and
  • Application file(s) were inaccessible.

For detailed information on these requirements please see Section IV.2. Content and Form of Application Submission of the FOA.

Q 6. What happens if my application did not adhere to the two-file requirement?

A 6. If an applicant does not adhere to the two-file requirement, ACF will review the multiple files and make every effort to choose the two files that contain the Project Narrative and Budget Justification.  Reviewers will review the chosen two files and any standard forms and OMB-approved forms that were uploaded with the application.

Applicants not meeting the two-file requirement will be sent a letter notifying them that their application was reduced for failing to adhere to the FOA formatting requirements.

Q 7. Does a high score guarantee funding?

A 7.  No. Results of the competitive objective review are taken into consideration by ACF in the selection of projects for funding; however, objective review scores and rankings are not binding, they are one element in the decision-making process.  For example:

  • ACF may elect not to fund applicants with management or financial problems that would indicate an inability to successfully complete the proposed project.
  • Applications may be funded in whole or in part.
  • Successful applicants may be funded at an amount lower than that requested.
  • ACF will also consider the geographic distribution of federal funds in its award decisions.  ACF may also refuse funding for projects with what it regards as unreasonably high start-up costs for facilities or equipment, or for projects with unreasonably high operating costs.

Please see Section V.2. Review and Selection Process in the FOA for further detail.

Q 8. Can I appeal the decision made on my application?

A 8.  No.  As noted in the HHS Grants Policy Statement, “the decision not to award a grant, or to award a grant at a particular funding level, is discretionary and is not subject to appeal to any OPDIV or HHS official or board.”

Due to the competitive nature of grants, ACF receives a high number of applications each year to consider for award. Not every application reviewed will be successful.  Each FOA that is published has a designated amount of money and number of grants to be awarded. Depending on the number of applications received for each FOA, there can be a limited amount of awards offered, thus making the competition highly competitive.

Applicants that believe their application was incorrectly reviewed and scored can contact the program office point of contact as noted in Section VII. Agency Contacts of the FOA. Prior to contacting the program office, ACF encourages applicants to review their Applicant Panel Summary Report to understand reviewer’s strengths and weakness comments in response to the FOA evaluation criteria. The Applicant Panel Summary Report includes the average score and a compilation of the reviewer's strengths and weakness statements on all criteria from the reviewed FOA.   The Applicant Panel Summary Report may be helpful in clarifying how the application failed to meet the evaluation criteria as noted in Section V.1. of the FOA.

Note: For those applicants that apply for FOAs under the Administration for Native Americans (ANA), please reference 45 CFR § 1336.35, Appeal of ineligibility for more information.

Last Reviewed: April 17, 2018
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