Never, ever, ever, nuh-uh, no way, ever trust a Dec 1 start date!

Dec 15 2009 Published by under Mentoring, NIH Budgets and Economics

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.

34 responses so far

  • I landed an NRSA the year Congress was really dragging their feet. Theoretically the start date would have been December; the budget for the fiscal year was not approved until mid to late Feb. the following year. Most certainly an interesting introduction to NIH grant cycles.

  • Orac says:

    That wouldn't happen to have been 2005, would it? I got snagged in the same delay. My grant didn't start until June 1 that year--nearly a year after I had gotten a fundable score.

  • expat postdoc says:

    I got hit with the same problem on my NRSA, which had a score of 107 😛
    I knew that the score was fundable but I couldn't tell my PI that I had the money coming during the budget being in "continuing resolution". Luckily, he let me start on the latest date possible after it was official funded (and they gave me the full 3 years, which was nice) and kept funding me in the meantime (based on our original 2 year postdoc contract).
    Incidentally, I just negotiated a different position in a different country (group leader) and the extra salary that I am leaving behind became a good negotiating chip for extending the duration of their baseline offer.

  • Oh, it was indeed, Orac. It was a great heap of fun b/c my grad adviser had submitted a competing renewal on an R01. Like I said, an interesting intro to NIH funding.

  • BikeMonkey says:

    I had a grant pushed back to early Feb once back in the mid-naughties

  • rzg says:

    Actually, I've got a new grant (NIDCD) that will get funded as of Jan 1... so some of us did sneak through.

  • Rob says:

    Most institutions will allow you to start spending money even if the award letter hasn't officially arrived, but yet the grant is funded.

  • Dude, you have fucked this one up big-time.
    (1) ICs definitely fund new grants under continuing resolutions. It's just that they apply a very stringent payline so they don't get fucked later.
    (2) The process by which non-competing awards are initially funded at a discount and then later restored once a real budget is passed is not "mysterious".
    Why the fuck are you engaging in this FUD shit?

  • 123123123 says:

    My fellowship was

  • expat posdtoc says:

    lol at #9:
    try being at a foreign institution where they don't ever deal with the NIH.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    PP- no shit? new grants sneak out? well I stand corrected. I thought that was just happy talk.

  • Tired of your entitled Attitude! says:

    FYI, those are EARLIEST POSSIBLE START DATES! They are not promises and you do not have an award until you get the Notice of Award. Stop complaining! If you get funded at all, you are one of the lucky ones. There are plenty of other people out there who get none. I don't think they would complain about the start date in January, February, March, etc. Don't ask for the money if you don't like the way it works. It's FREE money, you aren't charged interest nor do you have to pay it back and no one is going to beg you to take it. Congress would be more than happy to spend the money that is allocated for medical research on something else and you are just giving them more reasons to reduce the NIH budget.

  • Stork says:

    I agree with Tired of your entitled Attitude! In fact, grants are essentially gifts. To complain that your Christmas present might arrive late is very ungrateful. Especially to the 85% of applicants who got coal this year.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    grants are essentially gifts
    For this to make any kind of sense you would have to apply the same logic to any other Federal expenditure. Did you say this about the up-armoring for HumVees back in the early days of the Iraq war? Would you say this if federal funds for certain federal programs in your local elementary school were delayed? Would you say this if Medicare benefits were cut 18% just because a budget wasn't in place? The list goes on and on.

  • Anonymous natural products pharmacologist says:

    And if you even got it on Dec 1, good luck getting your post-award contracts & grants admin to establish an account code for a Jan 1 hire.

  • Tired of your entitle Attitude says:

    There are two types of grants the federal government makes - mandatory and discretionary. NIH grants are discretionary grants and therefore subject to selection through a competitive process, terms and conditions, etc. Medicare is a example of a mandatory grant and therfore does not follow the same process for award.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    What you call discretionary and "mandatory" makes no nevermind to the point at hand. Government interests are government interests. One is no more a "gift" than another.

  • Tired of your entitled Attitude! says:

    There are some extremely good federal assistance law classes out there that you can take so that you can learn what the differences are and why the process of allocating funds differs between mandatory and discretionary grant programs. I think it would be a highly enlightening experience for you.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    I doubt it. i am fully aware of the difference. What I am unaware of is why you consider *any* Federal program to be a "gift".

  • Tired of your entitled Attitude! says:

    I guess anytime I'm given taxpayer dollars to do something and I don't have to pay it back or produce a deliverable, I consider it a gift. Would you have more success petioning a bank for a loan to do your work? I don't think so and then you'd have the added burden of paying it back, with interest. But, you an always go to the private sector instead of relying on federal grant money and I wish you much luck in all your endeavors, regardless of how you fund them.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    dude, scientists have to produce a deliverable. admittedly the only stick the gov has to deploy is "no *more* grants for you if you fuck up too badly" but is this really any different than military procurement, new computer software for the FBI and the like?

  • El Picador says:

    Deliverables? So I guess Congressional salaries are "gifts" eh?

  • Tired of your entitled Attitude! says:

    El Picador - by electing Congressional representatives, taxpayers have hired them to do a job. These aren't grants. While you may not agree with how they do their job, they are entitled to a salary for their time and effort like any one else. If you don't like the job they are doing, work to get someone else elected when the time comes.
    DrugMonkey - It's completely different - those are contracts, not grants, thereby requiring a deliverable. A contract for vaccine development does require a deliverable - H1N1, for example. A grant to study a disease in the hopes that a vaccine may someday be available (HIV/AIDS, for example) does not require a deliverable, just reasonable progress on specific aims. Even negative results to hypotheses still reflect positive progress. The bottom line is, you don't have to accept the federal money if you don't want to accept the conditions. It's your choice to apply for federal grant money and no one will fault you for going to the private sector if you don't want to play by the government's rules. But you can't just expect the money to fall out of the sky into your lap. I reiterate, there are many people out there who were not fortunate enough to be selected for funding and they would gladly change places with you right now. Be thankful. You could be in a much worse position than not getting your funding on December 1, or the full level of funding you requested.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    easonable progress on specific aims. Even negative results to hypotheses still reflect positive progress.
    I see no fundamental difference in terms of a deliverable here.
    you don't have to accept the federal money if you don't want to accept the conditions. It's your choice to apply for federal grant money and no one will fault you for going to the private sector if you don't want to play by the government's rules. But you can't just expect the money to fall out of the sky into your lap.
    again, no different from any other Federal service or outlay. You don't have to accept Medicare or interstate highways or wtfever you choose. it is a *choice* to use a good from the government. so by your logic, all of those are "gifts" for which the taxpayer should be humbly grateful. /shrug.
    Be thankful. You could be in a much worse position than not getting your funding on December 1, or the full level of funding you requested.
    who said I wasn't thankful to the US taxpayer for supporting biomedical research through the NIH? Or are you suggesting I should be thankful that Congress can't do their damn job and get a budget passed on time each year?

  • Also Tired of the Entitled Attitude says:

    Bitter much?
    Again full circle back to mandatory vs. discretionary grant programs. Interstate highways are mandatory, a research project that is funded out of millions of applications, is discretionary. Two different unrelated pools of MONEY.
    Please can I ask this quesion... Why is there the expectation that the federal government should subsidize your livelihood? I'm actually asking because I am curious, as a research administrator, why PIs balk at submitting reports and gripe about applications, when in reality you get close to millions over several years in "gift" money to run a lab and all they ask is for a yearly report? What other profession on earth has that kind of flexibility?
    Other people work on commission and if they don't produce they get nothing. Really in the case of grants there are no "deliverables". You don't promise a cure for AIDS and they don't expect one from you, they just expect you to try.

  • Wow. I think those 'tired of the entitled attitude' need to take a breath-or maybe a nap since they're so tired?
    My point, at least-and others' points, as I interpreted-was that the situation described is not uncommon. But if you have no experience with NIH funding cycles (which many trainees do not, even if they have assisted with writing grants), then the apparent delay is foreign, confusing, and even unnerving. And it's nice to have bloggers out here who discuss these topics.

  • frog says:

    Also Tired of the Entitled Attitude:
    Yeah -- those damn elitists parasites who aren't grateful that we let them live, doing nothing but thinking all day, playing with their rats, and having drinks on the beach.
    They also drink lattes and drive volvos.
    But when Palin is in power, it'll be OUR TURN! OUR TURN!
    Hahahaha! They'll learn their lesson then... (Just remember to keep your left arm down so they don't out us...)

  • Tired... says:

    Do you have a sponsored projects office or a mentor? Are they not helping you understand the process, if you are a first-timer? The information is there, readily available and yes, it can be confusing, but whose responsibility is it to make sure you understand?

  • Anonymous says:

    Do you have a sponsored projects office or a mentor? Are they not helping you understand the process, if you are a first-timer?
    Hmm. I detect I note of sarcasm. Yes-of course there is a sponsored projects office. The first time I heard of it was from my PI's admin, about a week before I was supposed to submit my grant. It resided in a far off building and was basically a source of required signatures. There is, of course, a 'mentor' involved as well, but no, they don't always/often help navigate the process. There are many possible explanations.
    The information is there, readily available and yes, it can be confusing, but whose responsibility is it to make sure you understand?
    A damn good question. I'm generally in the take-responsibility-for-your-own-shit camp, but sometimes we noobs need a little help.
    so thanks, DrugMonkey, for helping out the little noobs!

  • btw-#29 was from me. oops.

  • [...] 1 start date for NIH grant applications submitted in Feb/Mar and reviewed in Jun/Jul. In “Never, ever, ever, nuh-uh, no way, ever trust a Dec 1 start date!“, I discussed the fact that Congress’ failure to pass an appropriation bill on time for [...]

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  • […] I noted in a prior post, the Cycle I NIH Grant awards (submitted in Feb-Mar, Reviewed Jun-July, Council Aug) with a first […]

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