I've remarked before about a curious duality of the NIH system of support for research conducted in your local University or research institute. A duality that is annoying for grant reviewers. Well, at least one grant reviewer. Your Humble Narrator.
The duality is this. The NIH granting mechanisms are supposed to be focused on the project that is being proposed. What is most important are the specific experimental domains detailed, fairly specifically, in the application. All else, including the investigative team, their CVs and track records, the available resources and even the preliminary work are supposed to influence scoring of an application only to a limited and focused extent. Namely the degree to which the bits of extra evidence support the notion that the proposed project and experiments will be conducted successfully.
In many cases, as I have been known to observe, the extra bits such as the track record of the investigator become the prime mover of scoring decisions because the project is unfocused or proposed in such a way that success seems unlikely...save for the track record of the PI, of course.
What I find irritating as a reviewer is not the program-based or the laboratory-based focus per se. I can review a proposal either way, frankly. It isn't rocket brain surgical science. What really chaps my hide is the duality. The way that sometimes other reviewers will stick to the project-based approach and sometimes venture to a laboratory-based review. When two reviewers on the same application take different approaches things get annoying because nobody explicitly discusses the duality at work. Not to mention that despite their overt rules, CSR for damnsure sees this going on often enough that it is engaging in willing maintenance of this nonsense, if you ask me.
Now it is true that I find the laboratory-based proposals really irritating to read as well. They are usually a nightmarish conglomerate of several different directions and methods based on what they find interesting at the moment (senior investigators) or a Bucky-Beaver bushytailed 15yr+ outline of the GreatProblems they play to solve (junior investigators). Either way, annoying.
So what say your Dear Reader? If you were designing a support mechanism what would you adopt? Funding based on "The PI seems good and works on interesting stuff, give 'em a pile of money to play"? or the often-stultifying and laughably discordant-with-actual-science project-based award system? What are the pros and cons? And are you simply selecting the option that is best for you at your current stage?