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D.C. offices make matches

Jennifer Grodsky, executive director of federal relations (Photo/Dietmar Quistorf)

You are a faculty member with an idea for a big multidisciplinary research project, and you know that you could get millions in federal funding — if only you could find the right grant program and the right collaborators.

Sound familiar? Most big grant proposals start this way, and most never get to the next step. Daunted by the complexity of federal grant programs and the prospect of sinking time into a proposal that may get nowhere, many faculty members give up. There is no for researchers seeking grants.

There is, however, the USC Office of Research Advancement.

The Washington, D.C.-based office does for USC faculty what search engines have done for information seekers everywhere: It matches needs to resources.

And it does it pretty well.

Since opening quietly in the spring of 2006, the office has helped to identify and develop 103 proposals that requested more than $400 million. As of mid-September, USC has won 33 of these, totaling $62 million. Another $23 million is expected by the end of September.

“It would be fair to say that if our office didn’t exist, we would not have been awarded those grants,” said Steven O. Moldin, the office’s executive director.

He gives the example of a recent solicitation from the National Institutes of Health, where Moldin spent 11 years as a program officer. The solicitation looked custom-made for a particular research group at an east coast university. (This is not unusual, Moldin said: When program officers discuss ideas for future research projects, they tend to tailor their thinking to the capabilities of known laboratories.)

Moldin knew there would be no point in inviting a USC group to submit a full proposal. However, the solicitation also included an information sciences piece that was outside the east coast laboratory’s expertise. That part looked like a perfect match for researchers at the storied Information Sciences Institute, part of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering.

Moldin introduced the ISI group to the east coast laboratory, and the collaborative bid is expected to win a $40 million grant this month, of which $4.5 million will come to USC.

Financial return is one measure of the office’s success. Efficiency is another. The office wants to help faculty allocate their scarce grant writing time only to the most promising opportunities. Through Moldin and his staff, all former administrators at the major federal research agencies, the office tries to match faculty with the program officer most likely to take an interest in their research.

While focused mainly on large multidisciplinary grants, the office also helps junior faculty identify opportunities and mentors at the federal agencies.

“Our job is to help translate federal-speak into language our faculty can understand,” Moldin said.

Moldin’s office shares a large suite in downtown Washington with the USC Office of Federal Relations, which opened in March 2005 with the goal of raising the university’s profile with policymakers.

“The goal of our office of federal relations is to make our voice heard on Capitol Hill and with the administration,” said Jennifer Grodsky, executive director of federal relations.

“As a national university, people outside of California most definitely care what USC thinks. Our legislators want and need to hear from USC. They want to know what we think about pending legislative issues. It’s important that USC is one of the universities making a difference in the capital.”

Lobbying on specific issues is one of three priorities of the office, Grodsky said. The others are to increase appreciation for USC’s contributions to scholarship and society, and to give back by offering experts to members of Congress and their aides.

In the broadest sense, the office’s mission is to ensure the primacy of research funding amid the babble of short-term demands on the nation’s budget.

“We create the environment that makes it possible for Steve’s team and our faculty to do their work,” Grodsky said.

For USC faculty in the capital on business, both offices provide courtesy services such as private offices with computers and printers, meeting rooms and videoconferencing.

For more information on the two offices, visit and

D.C. offices make matches

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