One of my close colleagues got on eRA Commons and downloaded the challenge grants she was to review before eRA Commons went down for major upgrades in a majorly untimely fashion. This was a prudent move on her part since by the time eRA Commons would be accessible again, she would be traveling for multiple conferences and would have precious little time to download and review her grant assignments. So, she logged on. She was assigned 2 grants. She reviewed them while traveling and once home, with eRA Commons back up and running, went to upload her critiques the night before they were due. Since NIH would not be taking any critiques that came in after the deadline, this seemed a responsible plan.
Of course, when said colleague logged onto eRA Commons, she found that she had 3 grants to review. What's more, one of the the original two grants that she downloaded was no longer there, but she did find another that she hadn't seen before. So she had to review 2 new grants at the last minute, simply because NIH couldn't be bothered to send out emails alerting people to changes in the assignments and eRA Commons couldn't be accessed for a large chunk of time during the review period.
I'm continuously amazed at how this lumbering behemoth of an institution manages to function. Get your act together, people.
For those in the audience who are curious - what would happen if the two original grants were the only ones your colleague reviewed? Or, for that matter, what if a hypothetical person did all the work for whatever set was given, and then later, that set changed - are all the reviewers required to check the site every n days to see if something new has come in?
Slightly off topic, but one of the more entertaning bits on my favorite podcast (uhh yeah dude) is a recounting of the latest seemingly absurd grants coming out of the NIH. The details are a bit foggy but one was a 5 year, multi million dollar tour of brothels in China with the hopes of convincing sex workers to drink less on the job. That is going to be a tough one to explain to the wife. "It's science! You can't just always be in the lab! I'll be home in 5..."