The most teeth grindingly annoying NIH grant round to submit your application is the Feb/March receipt dates. The reason being that the earliest possible (read, intended unless other things go wrong) start date is for December 1. A trainee comment over at Medical Writing, Editing & Grantsmanship blog is finding this out the hard way:
I really didn't expect that NIH would be tied up in a way that would push back my start date. Does anyone know if this is a common thing? It seems crazy to me that NIH would just assume that all potential postdocs were independently wealthy and about to handle a funding gap of a month or more. Or is it standard that a postdoc would already be supported by a particular institution even if the NRSA funds are held up? This is quite an introduction to the vagaries of NIH!
Yep, welcome to the club homes!
Here's the deal. The official US government fiscal year runs from Oct 1 to Sep 30. Consequently if the current congress has not passed an appropriations bill that funds the NIH by Dec 1, grants that are supposed to be funding for that start date cannot be started. There is no money appropriated for this purpose.
So the NIH has to wait.....and wait....and wait.
Congress has been known to delay passing appropriations for the NIH until they come back from their winter break, pushing things back into mid to late January. As things are dragging along in CongressCritterville, they usually have already decided to pass a continuing resolution to keep the lights on. So the NIH can decide to limp along and the ICs send out some notices about their policy to fund noncompeting awards that have a pending renewal date. (Usually for a stinging little budget reduction that you can allegedly get back at a later date via some mysterious process.)
New grants don't get funded under continuing resolutions as far as I know. For sure not at the same rate as when a budget is in place (e.g., the April and July start dates).
This can be really stressful no matter if it is a research award or a 3rd percentile fellowship at a new postdoctoral training location.
There is a take home message. Never, ever count on getting that NIH award until the Notice of Award has been issued. Never.