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ORAU provides responsive customer solutions under reduced government spending

Virtual Meetings, Virtual Peer Reviews

In response to budget uncertainties and reduced government spending, ORAU executed virtual meetings and teleconferences in FY13 for more than 420 attendees for DOE peer reviews and other events to reduce costs associated with travel. Users participating remotely did so in real-time with other attendees, and through the use of webcams, were able to observe body language and other visual cues that are typically limited to face-to-face interaction.

The 2013 sequester led to across-the-board cuts to government agencies in a variety of key areas and further stagnated budgets. As spending for federal employee travel and scientific conferences was cut in FY13, ORAU embraced responsive methods for addressing customer needs and explored ways to reduce operating costs without jeopardizing the quality of peer review services.

Reducing operating costs through virtual meeting software

When you consider the cost of travel, hotel, audio/visual and other miscellaneous logistics, the price tag for 10 reviewers to attend a one-day, onsite panel review in Washington, D.C. totals nearly $40,000. Already sensitive to customers dealing with reduced funds, and in some cases completely eliminated travel budgets, ORAU explored ways to reduce operating costs without jeopardizing the quality of peer review services.

The plan was to take a gradual approach toward incorporating virtual meetings into ORAU’s current scope of work by first providing the technology as a service to those one or two reviewers who could not travel, whether it was due to bad weather, a physical disability or some other issue. As technical difficulties were eliminated, use of the software increased and by the end of FY13, ORAU had hosted 420 attendees through the use of more than a dozen virtual meetings, webinars and peer reviews—efforts that potentially saved DOE more than $1.6 million.

The virtual meeting software used by ORAU can display multiple video feeds at one time, a feature critical for hosting peer reviews with multiple reviewers and a moderator. It records meetings for future viewing, allows users to join from mobile devices, and offers the option to share webcam video, audio, and other types of content. The system also has the ability to collaborate across firewalls and does not require a download to operate.

Supporting the launch of DOE Office of Science’s cradle-to-grave e-grants system

Through the ORISE contract, ORAU has managed the review process for multiple DOE offices for more than 20 years. Initially, this process involved thousands of reviewer comments, which had to be manually solicited, coordinated and prepared. However, in 1997, ORAU revolutionized the cumbersome paper-based research reviews when the newly developed, Web-based system for peer review management, PeerNetâ„¢, was unveiled. DOE’s Environmental Management Science Program was the first to test the new system, evaluating 2,400 research proposals by more than 200 reviewers. PeerNetâ„¢ required 32 fewer ORAU staff members to coordinate the review, allowed the project to be completed three weeks early and saved more than $218,000.

Since then, DOE sponsors and reviewers all over the world have had remote access to PeerNetâ„¢. In FY13 alone, ORAU peer review capabilities supported government allocation of and accountability for hundreds of millions in research funding in science, energy, supercomputing, homeland security and other fields. However, in 2013, DOE-SC decided to implement a new software system called the Portfolio Analysis and Management System (PAMS) that could service the entire grants management cycle, including peer review.

ORAU peer review specialists supported the transition process by assisting DOE-SC with planning the launch, testing the system’s peer review functionality, and by organizing two peer review panels for piloting the new platform, an effort that involved a combined 48 proposals, 37 reviewers and $8 million in anticipated federal funding awards. Since the initial pilots, four other panels have been coordinated through PAMS. Over a dozen ORAU employees have PAMS access to coordinate peer reviews for all six Office of Science program offices.

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