Archive for the ‘NIH funding levels’ Tag

Significant Budget Cuts Imminent For the National Institutes of Health

Guest Blog by Luke Bouvier, PhD

In a notice issued a few days ago on February 21, the NIH released some additional details about its contingency plans if sequestration goes into effect this Friday, March 1, as scheduled.  In order to hit the mandated 5.1% budget cut, the NIH “likely will reduce the final FY 2013 funding levels of non-competing continuation grants and expects to make fewer competing awards.”  Non-competing continuation awards, which have generally been funded this year at 90% of the previous commitment level because of the ongoing budget uncertainty, may see some restoration above the current level “but likely will not reach the full FY 2013 commitment level described in the Notice of Award.”  The NIH also confirmed that in the event of the budget sequester, each of the 27 NIH Institutes and Centers will detail its own approach to meeting the reduced budget level.

Science likewise reported that a press conference held at the NIH last week confirmed the bleak budget outlook.  NIH Director Francis Collins and Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) warned that the coming sequester cut of $1.57 billion to the NIH’s $31 billion budget would “slow scientific progress, delay clinical trials, and put a generation of young researchers at risk.”  Collins reported that “everything will take a hit,” though Institute directors will be able to use their discretion in allocating cuts among programs such as single-investigator grants, centers, and intramural research.  Referring to NIH staff and intramural researchers, Collins added that “we will do everything we can to try not to furlough or to lay off employees.”  Nobel Prize winner Carol Greider, chair of the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics at Johns Hopkins University, also appeared at the press conference and lamented that the looming cuts could reduce NIH’s grant success rate from an already-low 17-18% down to 15%, which would translate to a reduction of grants in the hundreds, forcing cutbacks in biomedical labs throughout the country.  Collins confirmed that many high-scoring grant proposals have not received any funding yet at all because of the lack of budgetary clarity, adding that “some of that science is being held up as we try to figure out what resources we actually have in fiscal year ’13.”  Though few observers now believe that the sequester cuts can still be averted by March 1, Senator Mikulski, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, hopes that the NIH cuts will eventually be remedied in a budgetary deal to fund the federal government through the remainder of the current fiscal year.  That deal would have to be reached before the current Continuing Resolution expires on March 27, or else a government shutdown could result.

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Posted February 25, 2013 by Meg Bouvier in Biomedical research, medical grant writing, medical policy writing, NIH grantwriting

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NIH Will Pilot Anonymous Peer Review of Grant Applications

On December 7, the NIH Office of the Director issued a press release announcing a series of new initiates. The initiatives group under two main themes: workforce development and data & informatics.

I strongly recommend that people read the one-page press release to get a sense of the way NIH will set priorities in terms of its funding portfolios going forward. Look for new funding opportunity announcements and NIH policies addressing the issues laid out in this document in the upcoming months/years. It is also worthwhile to peruse the original recommendations given to the NIH Director by the Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) last June, from which these initiatives derive.

Within workforce development, topics include the launch of new initiatives to provide mentored support to new researchers, training and standards for mentors, numerous initiatives to promote diversity at all levels, and increased support to grant mechanisms that foster an independent research career, such as the K99/R00. Notably, the following language appears pertaining to peer review:   Promote fairness in peer review through interventions including implicit bias and diversity awareness training for both scientific review officers and members of review panels, and piloting a program that would make grant applications completely anonymous.

Under data and informatics, they list the following:

  • Maximize the value of biomedical data through a new Big Data to Knowledge (BD2K) initiative that would create:
    • improved data and software sharing policies, catalogs of research data, and data/metadata standards development to facilitate broader use of biomedical big data
    • analysis methods and software development and dissemination
    • enhanced training for biomedical big data
    • proposed new centers of excellence
  • Launch the NIH InfrastructurePlus adaptive environment to advance high-performance computing, agile hosting and storage approaches, and modernization of the network, among other approaches.

How The Continuing Resolution Affects The NIH Budget– And Your Grant Award

The NIH issued this announcement yesterday:

“The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), including NIH, operates under a Continuing Resolution (CR) (H. J. Resolution 117) that was signed by President Obama as Public Law 112-175 on September 28, 2012.  The CR continues government operations through March 27, 2013 at the FY 2012 level plus 0.6 percent.

“Until FY 2013 appropriations are enacted, NIH will issue non-competing research grant awards at a level below that indicated on the most recent Notice of Award (generally up to 90% of the previously committed level). This is consistent with our practice during the CRs of FY 2006 – 2012. Upward adjustments to awarded levels will be considered after our FY 2013 appropriations are enacted but NIH expects institutions to monitor their expenditures carefully during this period.  All legislative mandates that were in effect in FY 2012 remain in effect under the CR, including the salary limitation set at Executive Level II of the Federal Pay Scale ($179,700), which was effective with grant awards with an initial Issue Date on or after December 23, 2011 (see NOT-OD-12-034 and NOT-OD-12-035).”

For grant applications that have just been reviewed, look for a delay (possibly lengthy) in funding decision pending the FY13 Appropriation (unless you are lucky enough to have a priority score well within the funding range.) For those in the gray zone (perhaps 7-16%, depending on your funding mechanism and your ESI status), you can expect a lengthy delay in the funding decision. Discuss your specific circumstances with your program officer.

The State of Despair Among Many NIH Grantees

I am on a flight returning from a trip to Washington DC. I was visiting friends and former colleagues from my days at NIH. Several of my friends are now running research labs at medical centers, one of whom has served on several study sections. Another former colleague has gone on to become a Program Officer at NIH. One person does public health education at NIH, and another is running a successful freelance business. Each of them was interested in discussing the state of NIH grantwriting, especially given that the preliminary summary statements from the previous grant cycle have just become available on eCommons. We are all disturbed by the pervasive feeling of despair that I hear among NIH grantees.

One concern I hear repeatedly from both grantees and NIH program staff is concern about the quality of the review process on study sections. There are those who feel that regardless of the quality of the proposal, the best scores tend to go to the big-name labs who already are flush with funding. (I have heard it suggested by more than one person that reviews would work better if proposals were submitted anonymously.) Some feel that while New and Early Stage Investigators are given better opportunities to obtain funding, mid-career researchers are left in the cold because of the tendency to dole out money for the big-name labs. Another concern I often hear is that there are “cliques” within a given field, and the power to award great scores rests in the hands of the “in group” in a study section, while those outside the clique remain unscored and unfunded. I sometimes hear grantees and even program staff at NIH complain that the Summary Statements are illogical or contradictory– or worse, unintelligent. (When I see Summary Statements that are illogical or contradictory, often it is because the grant was confusing. Poor writing is not always the cause of such reviewer responses. But you can decrease your odds of a confused or ill-informed reviewer by writing more clearly and concisely.)

Almost certainly, there is some element of truth to each of these concerns. But I hate to see such talk discourage promising researchers from entering or remaining in the field. One could speculate endlessly about how to game the system when it comes to NIH grantsmanship. I think a great deal of such speculation is wasted energy. I hear a lot of stories from people in the field about what has gone wrong with their career, their proposals, the myriad ways in which they have been screwed. Being a proposal writer is a bit like being a bartender at times. And I see grantees making a lot of poor choices that are directly within their control to change. Here are some suggestions based on the mistakes I see:

When it comes to interacting with your colleagues, do your level best not to make enemies. Areas of biomedical research expertise have become so narrow and esoteric that you cannot afford to antagonize anyone in the handful of researchers in your field. That said, given the level of desperation over the current funding climate, you probably also should play your cards close to the vest. Be careful with whom you discuss your ideas. Your draft Aims may be best discussed at departmental chalk talks, where you can elicit great feedback while also divulging your ideas to a larger group who may serve as witnesses later on that the ideas were indeed yours. (Yes, I hear lots of talk of researchers stealing each other’s ideas.) Be assertive. It pays to ask for everything and anything you need, as the worst you will hear is no. I have a client who requested funds for proposal writing support from everyone—her Chair, the Dean, anyone who would listen. She got a little money from each source that, together with a little money from her start-up, helped pay for help on a K01 and a Robert Wood Johnson proposal (she landed both.) Her colleagues have whined about the help she has gotten, and why haven’t they been offered such help? (The answer: They never asked.) More examples: If you have done the work, insist on being first or last author on the manuscript. Conversely, if you are not the PI on a grant, do not do all the work. You will get no recognition. Above all, behave with integrity– even when your colleagues do not.

I have a great deal of respect for researchers who remain in the trenches of biomedical research, continuing to apply for grants even in the current funding climate. Such work is much more difficult than what I do. Increasingly, medical research facilities are shifting toward the elimination of tenure while demanding that their faculty rely 100% on soft money. It is not for the faint of heart.

But if you choose to remain, you must work to develop an extraordinarily thick skin. Proposal writing is an iterative process. With each submission, you use the Summary Statements to hone your grantsmanship. You work to find a great Program Officer in an institute that is a good fit for your work, and then you work with the PO to figure out how to tailor your research to fit the funding priorities and interests of the institute. If you are suspect of the quality of your study section, shift your focus and request a different one. There is little use in dwelling on your fears (real or not) about the inequities and injustices in the review process, at least not while you are putting together a proposal submission. Your energy is best spent on improving your proposal and your grantsmanship on that submission, to the best of your ability.

How Will The FY11 Appropriation Affect NIH Funding?

The NIH has issued a notice stating how the FY11 appropriation will affect funding. The Appropriation Act for FY11 allocates $30.9 billion to NIH, which is nearly 1% less than the amount NIH received in FY10 ($31.2B).  As a result, “Modular and non-modular research grants, from all ICs, with the single exception of NCI, will be reduced to 1 percent below the FY 2010 award level.  Inflationary adjustments for recurring costs on non-competing research grants in FY 2012 and beyond will be set at the 2 percent level, calculated based on the adjusted FY 2011 level.”  The policy does not apply to K awards, SBIR/STTRs, and NRSAs. However, “Awards that have already been made in FY 2011 which are impacted by this policy may be revised.”

As for NCI, research grants will be reduced to 3% below FY10 levels. “Inflationary adjustments for recurring costs on non-competing research grants in FY 2012 and beyond will be set at the 2 percent level, calculated based on the adjusted FY 2011 level.” (Does not apply to Ks, SBIR/STTRs, nor NRSAs.)  Again, awards made in FY11 may be revised based on this policy.

NIH anticipates that its ICs will award 9,050 new and competing Research Project Grants (RPGs). It will be up to each IC to apportion its extramural grant money in accordance with their funding priorities. (Future inflationary adjustments for recurring costs on competing grants will be 2%, and awards made in FY11 may be revised.)

New Investigators submitting R01 equivalent awards will be funded at rates comparable to those for established investigators submitting new R01 equivalent awards. NRSAs will get a 2% increase on stipends.

What Do We Know About The NIH Appropriation in the FY11 Budget?

The government shutdown has been averted for now, and it looks like we may finally have a budget soon for FY11 (now that we are more than 6 months into the federal year.) So what do we know so far about the NIH appropriation?

A brief funding history: Between FY98 and FY03, the NIH budget doubled (from roughly $15 billion to about $30 billion.) Of that budget amount, about 85% is distributed as extramural grants. As a point of comparison, the NSF budget is just over $7B and the EPA grew under the current Administration from over $7B to just over $10B, but they are in line for cuts this year. After the NIH five-year doubling period (i.e., since FY03), the NIH has experienced level funding (sometimes less), when adjusted for inflation.

The FY10 NIH Appropriation was $31.3B.  The current Administration favors a budget increase for NIH in FY11—their NIH FY11 Appropriation recommendation last February was $32.25B (Click here to see the President’s FY11 NIH Budget Request, broken down by Institute). Last summer, both the House and Senate HHS Appropriation Subcommittees approved a $1B increase for NIH for FY11 (i.e., the same as the Administration’s budget request to Congress.)

Hopefully, the budget will pass soon and those funding levels will be finalized and made available to NIH. Meanwhile, those who submitted grants during Cycle II last year wait. Those with the highest scores have received their funding decisions—I have a client who was awarded an R01 competing renewal in a timely fashion. Others who were notified of the award had to wait to find out the award amount—I have another client who learned unofficially last fall from the Program Officer that her K01, which received a wonderful score, would be funded, but she only recently learned that it would be funded for four years (we were delighted with that outcome.) Yet another client with an R21 that has a borderline score still awaits her funding decision for a grant submitted last spring.

And what about FY12, which begins Oct 1? In February, the Administration recommended a 3% increase in the NIH budget, which when adjusted for inflation would represent level funding. However, that funding recommendation is extremely unlikely to clear the House this summer.

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