A query to the blog is a very typical reaction of those new (and not so new) to the NIH Grant game. As you will see in my answer. First, the question:
I'm now confused about this whole Program Announcement thing. The PO said that my application would be judged normally, just as part of whatever else the study section was reviewing, and that there was no special money set aside for the PA. If that's the case, what's the point of the PA in the first place? I had been under the impression it would be judged with other grants responding to the PA, but apparently that's not true.
It is the RFA that generally routes applications into a dedicated, special emphasis panel type study section for review. For those Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOA) there is indeed a set aside pool of money and generally just a single receipt date. The PAS (Program Announcement with Set Aside Funds) also has dedicated funding, generally for the first round of submissions, then it converts to a regular old Program Announcement (PA) type FOA. Applications submitted for a PAR (Program Announcement with special receipt, referral and/or review considerations) is reviewed by a special panel, generally within an IC.
Regular old PAs are open for 3 years and generally use the standard receipt dates. In the ICs of my greatest experience they tend to be renewed and thus may represent essentially permanent PAs for much of your grant writing life. As per the reader query, the applications are reviewed in standard, CSR study sections with the appropriate domains of coverage and expertise. Alongside those applications that use the generic, mechanism based FOA. I would argue that you would only use the latter if you had to. Again, in the ICs of my greatest experience the PAs can be incredibly broad. Take "PA-10-268 Neuroscience Research on Drug Abuse (R01)" as an example. If your IC of interest has such broad topic PAs...you might as well use them.
Now as the reader question intimates, there is no overtly special benefit to your chances of getting funded. And there may be no benefit at all. Hard to tell. Because of course this sort of business only matters* when Program is considering the grey zone pickup funding. Is there a slant or a formula for how many approximately equivalently scored grants they will select under one of their PAs versus the generic parent FOA? I would suspect so, else why have such things? But I can't say for sure. Maybe it is just make work for Program staff....to lay out their priorities. Or maybe it is a defensive excuse for those rare cases when they decide to stiff a grant that came in under the payline "Sorry PI Squirrel, it didn't fit any of our Programmatic Interests...don't you read the PAs?".
The bottom line here for those new to the system is not to get all that excited when language in a PA seems directed at your research program. It isn't *that* good of a bennie. But you might as well have some idea what is in the PAs and respond to them when you can. Because you just never know when it might help.
*assuming you have a modicum of sense and are not submitting stuff that is clearly not going to be of interest under the generic R01 parent FOA.