Excellent News Concerning Use Of ARRA Funds By NIH

Apr 05 2009 Published by under NIH Budgets and Economics

NIH just released information concerning the "Standard Terms of Award" for grants funded with ARRA "Stimulus" funds. These are the standardized terms that control how instutitions can use the funds they are awarded pursuant to grant applications. For those who give a shit, some details are inside the crack.


Importantly, it appears that--like regular NIH awards--ARRA awards will (1) allow carryover from one non-competitive segment to the next and (2) one-year no-cost extensions. The former means that if you have a two-year award and you fail to use your entire first year's budgeted funds during the first year, you can just go ahead and carry the unused balance into the second year, rather than having to return it to NIH. The latter means that if by the end of the two-year award you have not spent the entire budget, you will be permitted to extend the term of the award by another year in order to allow for the remaining funds to be spent, rather than returned to NIH.
Given the purpose of the ARRA--to "stimulate" the economy--and all of the public pronouncements by the administration that use of these funds was going to be subject to a lot of oversight to be sure that purpose is fulfilled, some of us have been concerned that ARRA awards would not allow this kind of usual budgetary flexibility. Given the unpredictability of scientific research, this news is a tremendous relief to PIs, departmental business managers, and institutional grants administrators.
One thing that *is* going to be a budgetary restriction that isn't ordinarily imposed, however, is that funds *cannot* be reallocated from a parent grant to an ARRA-funded supplement, or vice versa.

20 responses so far

  • Pinus says:

    Nice. I spoke to my program officer recently and he basically told me that he didn't think it anything would be suitable for me with the ARRA stuff. Bummer. Oh well, maybe I can slip my R01 in while everybody else is ARRAing it up.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Pinus: shhhhhhh!
    Everyone else: pay no attention to the crazy man, keep working exclusively on yer supplemental challenge whatnots. You can always get back to your R01s, oh in a year or so.
    /sekrit plan

  • pinus says:

    @DM
    YOU ARE RIGHT, TIME TO GET WORK ON STIMULUS WORK!

  • Dave says:

    I am not so happy about the news that NIH is allowing extensions and/or carryover for ARRA funding.
    First off, as a taxpayer, this is a subversion of the point of ARRA funds. Second, it's bad for the sustainability of biomedical science and represents more bad planning on the part of NIH. Basically, by allowing extensions and carryover, NIH is committing several billion dollars that it doesn't have to projects in 2011-2012. This means that, come 2011, one of the following (or a mixture of the two) will happen: 1) All the likely increases over the next couple years will already be required for sustaining ARRA commitments (which were reviewed less rigorously and/or which did not by definition meet as high a standard). 2) The funding rates for new projects will plummet to even lower levels as pre-existing commitments, plus those from ARRA funding, need to be filled.
    Either scenario exacerbates NIH's worst problems from 2004, will deliver a knock-out blow to young investigators already struggling (because it will come about tenure time for them), and will totally screw over anyone who might get a new job in a couple years when (hopefully) institutions start to hire again. More insidiously, it solidifies the 'rich get richer' white male dominated establishment because a lot of ARRA funds are being allotted to those who already have at least some funding, through supplements. Anyone with half a brain and funding will get all the supplements they can now and save them for 2011 -- which is basically a sort of free renewal to those currently doing well.
    Doesn't anyone at NIH think ahead? I am continually surprised at their ability to create train wrecks.

  • drdrA says:

    Dave-
    It was my impression that you can't carry over much of the budget (I thought this was usually equal or less than 25% of total budget) to a 1 year no cost extension anyway. This makes it seem to me that the vast bulk of ARRA budgets are going to have to be spent in two years time. Am I mistaken about that?

  • Dave says:

    drdrA: Yes, carryover is supposed to be limited to 25%, although exceptions are commonly made. Even so, depending on exactly how the ARRA funds are eventually distributed, this could be as much as $2.5 Billion because the stimulus bolus was so big. That's almost 10% of the annual budget, and would like I said totally absorb any increases that make it through congress over the next couple years. Or if there are not substantial increases to the NIH budget, then that money's gonna come from NOT funding new grants for 2011. Serious train wreck.
    Even if I am completely wrong and the ARRA rollover/extension policy has no effect at all, no one doubts that 2011 is going to suck for NIH applicants. All the normal annual applicants will be applying, plus everyone who was previously above the payline this year and got 2 years of ARRA funds, plus everyone new to the system. Even NIH institutes are warning people: http://www.niaid.nih.gov/ncn/recovery/later.htm

  • Dave says:

    drdrA: Yes, carryover is supposed to be limited to 25%, although exceptions are commonly made. Even so, depending on exactly how the ARRA funds are eventually distributed, this could be as much as $2.5 Billion because the stimulus bolus was so big. That's almost 10% of the annual budget, and would like I said totally absorb any increases that make it through congress over the next couple years. Or if there are not substantial increases to the NIH budget, then that money's gonna come from NOT funding new grants for 2011. Serious train wreck.
    Even if I am completely wrong and the ARRA rollover/extension policy has no effect at all, no one doubts that 2011 is going to suck for NIH applicants. All the normal annual applicants will be applying, plus everyone who was previously above the payline this year and got 2 years of ARRA funds, plus everyone new to the system. Even NIH institutes are warning people: http://www.niaid.nih.gov/ncn/recovery/later.htm

  • Dr Jekyll & Mrs Hyde says:

    Wow, that's a depressing link, Dave. Especially for, say, a second year post-doc who's thinking of submitting a K99 but won't be able to do so until she has some preliminary data from her second postdoc...oooohh, right around the end of 2010. Awesomes.

  • Luigi says:

    Just heard there were about 15,000 applications for the 200+ challenge grants alone. If you sat this one out, pat yourself on the back and feel a bit better.
    BUT keep in mind that there will be almost 15,000 new applications directed at high priority NIH things ready to be revised and submitted as full-fledge R01s later this fall and winter. Plan your submissions over the next year accordingly. The next round is a key deadline, or maybe mid 2010 before the 2011 glut.
    But of course I am just talking out of my ass. No one knows the future.

  • Neuro-conservative says:

    Luigi - What is your source for this number? I have heard numbers like that as a worst-case scenario if nearly all eligible investigators submit.
    But the deadline is still 10 days away and I doubt that 15,000 people have already completed their submissions this far in advance. Thus, I assume your number must only reflect a guess pulled out of the hat?

  • Luigi says:

    Good question, NC. I was told this number by someone asked to review a pile of them. This reviewer implied that the number came from the SRA.
    Since the number reflects my personal expectations, I perhaps did not put it through the skepticism filter as well as I should have, and I'm glad you reminded me to do that. But still, that's what I heard, and I bet it's in the ballpark. Maybe higher. I have been told by two people that deans/dept heads where they are expected a challenge grant submission from everyone. I personally was encouraged by a PO to apply but told nonetheless that the grants will be 'very competitive'. Several other people have told me that SRAs or POs told them that the competition for challenge grants will be very intense.
    Of course, the competition could be very intense because there will be lots of applicants. Or it will be very intense because (as some suspect, including me) that many of the challenge grants have already been earmarked for certain labs/projects. Or everything I am saying could be wrong and the competition might not be intense at all. Whatever. Decide for yourself. I'm just some dork on the internet.
    As for my personal story: I downloaded the application and outlined a challenge grant with a colleague, but we decided not to apply. We decided not to apply because we didn't think it would be worth our time. It's not like we're not applying. We could use the money, for sure. But one has to decide priorities. I have 5 proposals floating about right now. 2 to private agencies (one overseas), 2 to NSF, 1 to NIH. And support in a colleague's competitive supplement (there will be a lot of those too, from what I hear). So I'm all up for writing proposals. That's what scientists do.
    Oh, yea, wait. I forgot we are supposed to also do science.
    At least that's what I heard.
    But c'mon. When are we supposed to fit that in?

  • Let's put it this way. My institution alone is submitting ~250 hundred challenge grants. My understanding is that ARRA requires some degree of geographic/institutional distribution in the allocation of stimulus funds. Do the math.

  • whimple says:

    My institution alone is submitting ~250 hundred challenge grants.
    I'm sitting this one out. I did get involved with a group of people, and we outlined a project, but there just isn't enough time for us to make it a cohesive proposal. Still, the brainstorming was good, and the new personal interactions we made are good. We're going to break the challenge grant proposal into a couple of pieces and submit the pieces as some combination of R21s/R01s. I suspect this is going to be a pretty common strategy, both for people that kicked around submitting an RC1 and didn't, and for the thousands and thousands of people that submitted an RC1 that won't get funded.

  • Luigi says:

    We're going to break the challenge grant proposal into a couple of pieces and submit the pieces as some combination of R21s/R01s. I suspect this is going to be a pretty common strategy, both for people that kicked around submitting an RC1 and didn't, and for the thousands and thousands of people that submitted an RC1 that won't get funded.

    Yea, I agree.
    Which increases my overall cynicism when it comes to biomedical science careers in this country. Basically, this new bolus of NIH money has:
    1) Preserved the unsustainable pool of applicants for another couple years.
    2) Trained everyone even better to juggle multiple proposals, prep applications in record time, and work multiple angles to fund themselves.
    3) Rewarded the individuals, institutions, and bureaucracies that most contributed to the problem in the first place.
    It's like we're all in a hole, and NIH is yelling "Dig faster! We're never going to get out unless you all DIG FASTER!"
    Ugh.

  • Yeah - I'm sitting this one out too. My proposal is only half finished and I never got around to even thinking about the budget. With everything else that's going on around me right now, I had to prioritize and realized that the other deadlines I had (teaching, exams, meetings, breathing, sleeping, etc) were more crucial than having a 1 in a bugzillion shot at a Challenge Grant.

  • Dan says:

    I got it in on the 20th and fixed error and resubmitted it on the 22th. Guess what, there were 8265 submissions in these two days, >4000 a day! As we approach the 27th, it could easily be 10,000 a day for the next few days. So the estimation would be 10,000 pre-22th, and 50,000 from 23rd to 27th. So that's a total of 60,000 CGs. As CPP told us that his institution submitted 250, as there are 3000 research institutions in this country, if each one submits on average 20, it would be 60,000. So my math tells me a total of 50,000-100,000 CGs is very real to compete for the "at least" 200 CGs, that's 1 in 250 or 1 in 500 odds. Even NIH sees a lot of "good science" and decides to double the awards, it is still ~0.8-0.4% success rate, way way lower than the 30% success rate for average R01s. I guess most of us will be disappointed in July.

  • Dr. Feelgood says:

    i skipped the CGs....I am working my program guy for an equipment administrative supplement due May 15 for NIDA. pick your battles baby!
    Doc F

  • I am feeling sanguine about my decision not to fuck around with CGs.

  • Neuro-conservative says:

    Dan -- Where are you getting those numbers? My grants office does the actual online submission at grants.gov (thankfully) -- does it provide some sort of ongoing tally that is visible to submitters? P.S. I have heard of estimates ~60K submissions coming from program officers.

  • Dan says:

    Neuro-conservative - There is a tracking number when the grant is submitted. The thing bugs me is - of the $10.4B ARRA fund NIH got, only $200M is advertised for CGs. It's like they have a full bucket of worms, but only put down one as bait to stir the entire pond of fish....

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