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Officials at the National Institutes of Health have revised their grant-application process to try to reduce the amount of time it takes scientists to find out whether their grants have been approved.

Under the N.I.H.'s current procedures, grant seekers must include in their applications an itemized budget and information about other grants and awards to be used for the research. Critics say that forces researchers to spend more time figuring out how to finance their studies than focusing on the quality of the projects.

Under the system announced last month, known as the Modular Research Grant Application and Award Initiative, applicants seeking grants of more than $250,000 will follow the existing procedure. But applicants seeking grants of $250,000 or less will request funds for direct-research costs in $25,000 increments. Under that procedure, applicants will be required to submit only limited budget information in a narrative format.

The changes, which will go into effect with the applications that are due on June 1, will apply to most major award categories.

Harold E. Varmus, the director of the N.I.H., said the goal of the revision was to reduce "the amount of budgetary information requested from applications, allowing investigators, research institutions, peer reviewers, and N.I.H. staff to focus most intently on the science during the peer-review process."

The change will cut from 10 months to six the time between when the N.I.H. receives an application for a grant and when it is awarded.

The streamlined process has been tested with success at several N.I.H. institutes since 1994. When officials suggested last year that the process be carried out throughout the agency, some scientists who serve as peer reviewers for the agency said that $25,000 was too large an increment. Others worried that a budget estimate would not give them enough information with which to judge proposals.

But Ronald Geller, director of extramural affairs at the N.I.H.'s Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the chairman of a committee that drafted the proposal, said that researchers would have the chance to assess the system -- and recommend changes in it, if necessary -- once it is in place.

"Pending reaction from the public and the results of the evaluation, N.I.H. will consider" changes to the process, such as raising the $250,000 limit, he said.

-- PAULETTE WALKER THOMAS

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