Back in the day, the Congress offered to throw a little Recovery and Reinvestment cashola at scientists via inclusion of the NIH in the ARRA. Yay!, right?
Of course, scientists being the idiots that they are, they immediately started crying and moaning. "Oh, the timeline for submission was too short". "Hurry-up of the review process" was a problem. And above all else "We can't do *anything* with only two years' worth of funding, we need to shore up our regular R01 paylines! Aieee!".
I thought this was stupid. More money into the research enterprise is a good thing, in my view. It displayed a shocking lack of can-do attitude and imagination on the part of scientists to react the way they did. Especially, since one heard a lot of pushback on the two things that Congress was trying to make people do (not just scientists, everyone) with the ARRA funds. 1) Create jobs. 2) Buy stuff. Yes, two years and then a cliff (really? a cliff?) is hard when it comes to hiring research techs but, you know what? I see research techs in my geographic location out of work now and again because yet another small biotech folded or got absorbed by BigPharma. It seemed to me that ARRA funds would have come in handy to hire some of those folks. I'm sure they wouldn't have complained about the short-duration when they were otherwise unemployed. Or the undergrads who were graduating in an environment of pinched new hiring. Some of them would have thought two years a pretty decent deal- heck, half of the research tech applicant pool I see straight out of undergrad are "thinking about" grad or professional school anyway.
Also a good time to stock up on some fancy new (or run of the mill) science kit. Lord knows the usual science vendors were hammering my email box once the news of the NIH dole of ARRA funds hit the streets. (And, um, fighting with each other like small children.)
Don't get me wrong, there were some problems. The variety of fast-distribution mechanisms meant that the rich (i.e., those institutions with lots of NIH funding already) made out like bandits from the ARRA. The investigators who were best know, had existing grants to supplement and/or could crank out the applications were best able to land the "new" dollars. And that was not so good, I'll readily admit.
I didn't follow a lot of the programs but I'm sure they were very uneven in terms of meeting Congress' two golden intentions. Hire. Buy. No doubt a lot of the ARRA grant funding just went to the same-old. To pay the salary of people already on the books and to buy consumables rather than big-ticket equipment that, I assume, was the big interest of Congress. Still, money entered the system that would otherwise not have. Good deal.
Question is, were we prepared for the reality of the crash-back-to-bad-budget levels post-ARRA? Rumor has it that the National Cancer Institute (update: Varmus link; not a rumor "NCI made a decision in 2009 to use appropriated dollars in FY2011 and FY2012 to extend some of the grants that were originally awarded with ARRA funds.") was not.
Part of NCI’s added budget pain comes from their funding ARRA awards for 4 instead of 2 years, taking the latter 2 years out of future appropriations. Since the appropriation has not gone up since ARRA, NCI has had less $ available for new competing awards.
What? And another rumor I hear claims NIA has done the same thing...MADNESS. What in the heck were they thinking? We had just come past a similar episode of apparent lack of planning at the peak of the doubling interval when political will to continue substantial annual increases to the NIH budget evaporated. There was some similar IC pain in dealing with the tail of the out-years of 4-5 year grants funded right at the end of the doubling.
Why on earth would they turn right around and make the same mistake?
Sure this can't be true, is it? Did some of the ICs really commit to four years on ARRA two-year proposals?