Archive for the 'NIH Budgets and Economics' category

Postdoc salaries and reinforcer value

One issue I've heard raised is that some PIs like to use salary differentials to reward the "good postdocs" with bonus pay.

Given the behaviorist education that lurks in my background, I am theoretically* in support of this notion.

The new salary rules may minimize such flexibility in the future.

Are you aware of labs in which merit of postdocs as interpreted by the PI leads to salary differentials?

Is this a legitimate complaint about the overtime rules?

Will PIs use the permission to work overtime (and be paid for it) as a workaround for merit pay?
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*Given my distaste for workplace bias and desire to be a fair manager, I have never used merit to decide postdoc pay. I stick to NRSA schedules and to institutional adjustments as appropriate.

40 responses so far

Never Ever Trust a Dec 1 NIH Grant Start Date: The Sickening

Mar 09 2016 Published by under NIH, NIH Budgets and Economics, NIH Careerism

As I noted in a prior post, the Cycle I NIH Grant awards (submitted in Feb-Mar, Reviewed Jun-July, Council Aug) with a first possible funding date of December 1 hardly ever are funded on time. This is due to Congress never passing a budget for the Fiscal Year that starts in October on time. The Congress sometimes goes into a stop-gap measure, like Continuing Resolution, which theoretically permits Federal agencies to spend along the parameters of the past year's budget. I find that NIH ICs of my greatest interest are highly conservative and never* fund new grants in December. The ICs that I follow almost inevitably wait until late Jan when Congress returns from their winter recess to see if they will do something more permanent.

New Cycle I grants then start trickling out in Feb, again, typically.

This year one of my favorite ICs, namely NIDA, has only just issued new Cycle I grants** this week, they hit RePORTER today.

March friggin 9th.

Six new R01 awards. Three K01, three K99s, one R15, one "planning grant" and three SBIR.

Even this is just a trickle, compared to what they should be funding for one of their major Cycles. I anticipate there will be a lot more coming out over the next couple of weeks so that they can (hopefully?) clear the decks for the Cycle II awards that are supposed to fund April 1.

I pity all those poor PIs out their waiting, just waiting, for their awards to fund. I cannot imagine why NIDA chooses to do this instead of at least trickling out the best score awards and the stuff they KNOW they are going to fund, way back in December***.
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*Statistically undifferentiable from never

**You can tell by clicking on the individual awards and you'll see that they (R01s anyway) end Nov 30 or Dec 31 for the initial round of funding. These are Cycle I, not upjumped Cycle II.

***Some ICs do tend to fund a few new awards in December, no matter what the status of Congress' activity on a budget.

7 responses so far

Congress let the NIH drop the HIV/AIDS set-aside: Implications for NIDA?

Dec 15 2015 Published by under Drug Abuse Science, NIH, NIH Budgets and Economics

Jocelyn Kaiser reported in Science Insider:

the National Institutes of Health (NIH) today announced it will no longer support setting aside a fixed 10% of its budget—or $3 billion this year—to fund research on the disease. The agency also plans to reprogram $65 million of its AIDS research grant funding this year to focus more sharply on ending the epidemic.

Whoa. Big news. This is an old Congressional mandate so presumably it needs Congress to be on board. More from Kaiser:

The changes follow growing pressure in Congress and from some advocacy groups for NIH to reallocate its funding based on the public health burden a disease causes.... some patient groups and members of Congress have recently asked why AIDS receives disproportionately far more than diseases with higher death rates, such as heart disease and Alzheimer’s....Last year, Congress omitted instructions asking NIH to maintain the 10% AIDS set aside.

Emphasis added. An act by omission is good enough for gov'mint work, eh? Congress is on board.

@jocelynkaiser was kind enough to link to relevant NIH budgetary distributions:

As you can see, NIDA devotes about $300M to HIV/AIDS research. The annual NIDA budget allocation is about $1B so you can see that something on the order of 30% of the NIDA budget is (and has been) devoted to this Congressional Mandate.

Wait, whut? What about that 10% mandate above? Yep, the HIV/AIDS money has not been evenly distributed across the ICs.

Now, I don't know exactly when and how all of this shook down. It was FY 1987 when the NIAID budget went up by something like 47% when other similarly sized ICs didn't see such a large percentile increase. Clearly 1986 was when Congress got serious about HIV/AIDS research. We can't assess the meaning of

AIDS has received 10% of NIH’s overall budget since the early 1990s, when Congress and NIH informally agreed it should grow in step with NIH’s overall budget.
...
NIH must treat AIDS dollars as a distinct pot of money within its overall budget. That is because a 1993 law carved out a separate HIV/AIDS budget, Collins says. And undoing that law would take action by Congress.

from this article. It is a little frustrating, to be frank. But...on to the NIDA situation.

NIDA doesn't appear in the NIH tables until FY1993 because it didn't actually join the NIH until 1992. Nevertheless that history page on NIDA notes:

1986: The dual epidemics of drug abuse and HIV/AIDS are recognized by Congress and the Administration, resulting in a quadrupling of NIDA funding for research on both major diseases.

There are many ways of looking at this situation.

Some in the NIDA world who are not all that interested in HIV/AIDS matters complain bitterly about why "A third of our budget is reserved for HIV/AIDS". Our.

Another way of looking at this would be "If Congress mandated NIH devote 10% of its budget to HIV/AIDS but NIH did this by incorporating NIDA with its existing HIV/AIDS funding then the entire rest of NIH is shirking its response to the mandate on the back of NIDA".

And yet a final way of looking at this* would be "Dude, NIDA wouldn't even have this money if not for Congress' interest in funding HIV/AIDS research so it isn't 'our' funding being diverted to HIV/AIDS research."

Is this important? Yes and no.

The news is potentially huge for those who seek to get the HIV/AIDS funding via NIDA grants and for those who seek non-HIV/AIDS funding. It makes matters slightly better for the latter and worse for the former. Right? If there is no special set-aside, the latter folks now have at least a shot at that $300M that had been out of reach for them. This consequently increases the competition for those who have HIV/AIDS relevant proposals. Who are presumably sad right now.

But it all depends on what Collins plans to do with his newly won freedom. Back to Kaiser:

Francis Collins agrees: At a meeting of his Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) today, he noted that no other disease receives a set proportion of the NIH budget and the argument that AIDS still deserves such a set-aside is “not a defensible one.”

The end of the set-aside has “free[d] us up” to refocus NIH’s AIDs portfolio, Collins says.

However the article only then talks about $65M being reprioritized. What about the rest of the 10% of the ~$30B / yr NIH budget? No idea.

So I want to know a few things. Is the $300M in the NIDA budget that goes to HIV/AIDS part of this 10% overall NIH mandate? If so, will Collins try to claw that back for some other agenda?

If a miracle occurs and it stays within NIDA, will Nora Volkow use this new-found freedom to ease the pressure on the non-HIV/AIDS researchers by letting them (ok, "us") get a shot at that previously-sequestered pool?

Or will Volkow use it to pay for the latest boondoggle initiatives of ABCD and BRAINI?

The way I hear it, this latter is likely to happen because up to this point all other NIDA initiatives are being squeezed** to make ABCD and BRAINI happen.

Obviously I would prefer to see Volkow choose to use this new freedom a little more democratically by spreading the love across all of the portfolio.

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*this has been my view for some time now.

**this manifests, IME, as profound pessimism on the part of POs that anything in the grey zone (which is robust reality at no-public-payline-NIDA) will be picked up because all spare change is going to the two aforementioned boondoggles.

27 responses so far

Rockey Explains Indirect Costs

Oct 05 2015 Published by under NIH, NIH Budgets and Economics

11 responses so far

NIDDK tries to help its K-awardees succeed

Sep 11 2015 Published by under Careerism, NIH, NIH Budgets and Economics, NIH Careerism

NIDDK announced a Limited Competition: Small Grant Program for NIDDK K01/K08/K23 Recipients (R03)

The stated goal is clearly one of helping their new generation of hand-picked (ok, study section picked) scientists succeed.

Through the use of this mechanism, the NIDDK is seeking to enhance the capability of its K01, K08, and K23 award recipients to conduct research as they complete their transition to fully independent investigator status. .... The R03 is, therefore, intended to support research projects that can be carried out in a short period of time with limited resources and that may provide preliminary data to support a subsequent R01, or equivalent, application.

$50k direct for two years is what the R03 gets you. Not all that much for a launch to full independence but better than nothing. What does NIDDK think they will accomplish for the awardee?

Increased fiscal independence for the award recipient as a precursor to complete independence.

An opportunity for the recipient to generate additional publications and data to support a subsequent R01 application.

An opportunity for the awardee to demonstrate additional success in the peer review process during the course of their career development award.

Ok, the third one is easy- accomplished by definition and a benefit not to be sneezed at. Valid.

Increased fiscal independence? Well.....maybe. If the poor K-awardee is hooked up with jerk mentors, this may not be enough. If the PI is not a jerk, the K-awardee probably already controls this much budget from the surrounding projects. But sure, every bit of independent PI-status R-mech funding helps. Valid.

The middle one though. Helps to get a publication? Maybe. For some people. And depending on the other available funds, sure this will permit preliminary data to be generated. I'm giving this goal partial marks.

So...my analysis says this is basically well intentioned and will slightly help the awardees to move up the career arc. It isn't anywhere enough, in my view. I'd rather see something R01ish for this purpose. If NIDDK really wants a hard launch, that would be smarter and more successful.

9 responses so far

A medium sized laboratory

How many staff members (mix of techs, undergrads, graduate students, postdocs, staff sci, PI) constitute a "medium sized laboratory" in your opinion? 

36 responses so far

Salary Cap and the BRDPI Inflation Estimate

Jul 16 2015 Published by under Fixing the NIH, NIH Budgets and Economics

Wow. I last used the BRDPI estimate of inflation in the cost of biomedical research to illustrate how the full modular grant ($250K direct) had not changed and therefore purchasing power had eroded.

Jeff Mervis at Science has a blockbuster observation.

To remind you, the BRDPI is this:

The annual change in the Biomedical Research and Development Price Index (BRDPI) indicates how much the NIH budget must change to maintain purchasing power. The BRDPI was developed and is updated annually by the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), Department of Commerce under an interagency agreement with the NIH.

That link also leads you to the data tables where you find the annual rates stretching back to the 50s.
BRDPI-rate

The Mervis article highlights the historical low for FY2012 and reminds us of the cut in the salary cap (maximum amount of an Investigator's salary that can be charged to NIH grants)

Congress passed a spending bill in December 2011 that lowered the salary ceiling for investigators on a standard NIH grant from $199,700 to $179,700.

and concludes with a caution:

NIH enjoys strong support in Congress, and the realization that biomedical inflation largely tracks salary trends, not the sticker price of essential lab equipment and supplies, is unlikely to have a major impact on policy debates. Still, it may behoove biomedical lobbyists to think twice before citing the cost of high-tech science as a rationale for pumping up NIH's budget.

Yeah, I hear that. Let's peer a little closer though.

The NIH Office of the Budget January 2015 overview [PDF] futher anticipates that salary cap is a major driver of the inflation index.

The modest BRDPI growth rate of 2.0 percent for FY 2014 reflects the effect of the NIH extramural investigator salary limitation (“cap”) of $181,500 and an increase on salaries of Federal civilian employees of 0.75 percent for that fiscal year.
The projected 2.2 percent growth for FY 2015 assumes a one percent increase for Federal salaries starting in January 2015, as well as an increase on the extramural investigator salary cap to $183,300.

OK, let's route ourselves back to the NIH Office of the Budget report from January 2013 [PDF] which indeed draws an explicit link.

The modest BRDPI growth rate of 1.4 percent for FY 2012 reflects the effect of the reduction of the NIH extramural investigator salary limitation (“cap”) from $199,700 to $179,700 for that year and the continued freeze on salaries of Federal civilian employees.

However, it also goes on to note other contributions:

The BRDPI growth rate was also adjusted for the growth of stipends and related expenses on fellowships and training awards. In addition, the FY 2012 BRDPI growth is lower than the growth for FY 2011 because the rate of growth of prices for several input categories slowed down in FY 2012 compared with the growth during FY 2011. For inside NIH activities, the categories with slower growth in prices include travel, transportation, printing and reproduction, ADP and other IT services, instruments and apparatus, laboratory supplies, office supplies, utilities, repairs and alterations of facilities, compensation rates for consultants and support contracts. For extramural activities, fringe benefits, travel, equipment, supplies, patient care alterations and indirect costs each showed slower price growth during FY 2012 compared with FY 2011.

Wait. Sooooo, everything contributes a little bit? This seems out of step with Mervis' column. Wait, wait....the 2013 overview continues....

Primarily because of the freeze on Federal civilian employee salaries and the cap on compensation of extramural investigators, the rate of growth of the BRDPI during the years FY 2011 through FY 2013 has been relatively low compared with its historical relationship with general inflation as represented by the growth of the GDP Price Index.

Primarily. So that circles us right back to the reduction in the extramural cap and elimination of Federal civilian salary raises. [You might ask why the Federal civilians did not also suffer salary reductions, merely freezes, eh?] But if we take this as a valid and intended connotation then it would seem Mervis has it right. The salary issues are huge.

I wonder why they didn't just find the dollar figure. How many Investigators funded by the NIH in a given year are paying up to the cap? Multiply that by you favored reduction or increase and boom, you can translate that into new R01s.

The annual Salary Cap numbers can be found here. It seemed to steadily increase from 2005-2010, including that 2008-2009 interval that produced the most immediately prior reduction in the BRDPI. So why didn't salary cap drive the BRDPI that year?

30 responses so far

Ronald Germain Explains How To Fix The NIH

Continue Reading »

99 responses so far

Newt Gingrich to the rescue! (Again)

Apr 22 2015 Published by under Fixing the NIH, NIH, NIH Budgets and Economics

Newt has called for substantial increases in the NIH allocation

15 responses so far

McKnight posts an analysis of NIH peer review

Apr 08 2015 Published by under NIH, NIH Budgets and Economics, NIH funding, Peer Review

Sortof.

In his latest column at ASBMB Today, Steve McKnight attempts to further his assertion that peer review of NIH grants needs to be revamped so that more qualified reviewers are doing the deciding about what gets funded.

He starts off with a comment that further reveals his naivete and noobitude when it comes to these issues.

Reviewers judge the application using five criteria: significance, investigator, innovation, approach and environment. Although study sections may weigh the importance of these criteria to differing degrees, it seems to me that feasibility of success of the proposed research plan (approach) tends to dominate. I will endeavor to provide a quantitative assessment of this in next month’s essay.

The NIH, led by then-NIGMS Director Berg, already provided this assessment. Ages ago. Try to keep up. I mention this because it is becoming an obvious trend that McKnight (and, keep in mind, many of his co-travelers that don't reveal their ignorance quite so publicly) spouts off his ill-informed opinions without the benefit of the data that you, Dear Reader, have been grappling with for several years now .

As reported last month, 72 percent of reviewers serving the HHMI are members of the National Academy of Sciences. How do things compare at the NIH? Data kindly provided by the CSR indicate that there were 7,886 reviewers on its standing study sections in 2014. Evaluation of these data reveals the following:

48 out of 324 HHMI investigators (15 percent) participated in at least one study section meeting.
47 out of 488 NIH-funded NAS members (10 percent) participated in at least one study section meeting.
11 of these reviewers are both funded by HHMI and NAS members.

These 84 scientists constituted roughly 1.1 percent of the reviewer cadre utilized by the CSR.

This tells us nearly nothing of importance. How many investigators from other pertinent slices of the distribution serve? ASBMB members, for example? PIs from the top 20, 50, 100 funded Universities and Medical Schools? How many applications do NAS / HHMI investigators submit each year? In short, are they over- or under-represented in the NIH review system?

Anyway, why focus on these folks?

I have focused on the HHMI investigators and NAS members because it is straightforward to identify them and quantify their participation in the review process. It is my belief that HHMI investigators and NIH-funded members of the NAS are substantively accomplished. I readily admit that scientific accomplishment does not necessarily equate to effective capacity to review. I do, however, believe that a reasonable correlation exists between past scientific accomplishment and capacity to choose effectively between good and poor bets. This contention is open for debate and is — to me — of significant importance.

So confused. First, the supposed rationale that these elite scientists are readily discernible folks amongst a host of well qualified so that's why he has used them for his example, aka the Street Lamp excuse. Next we get a ready admission that his entire thesis he's been pursuing since the riff-raff column is flawed, followed immediately by a restatement of his position based on..."belief". While admitting it is open to debate.

So how has he moved the discussion forward? All that we have at this point is his continued assertion of his position. The data on study section participation do exactly nothing to address his point.


Third, it is clear that HHMI investigators and NIH-funded members of the NAS participate in study sections charged with the review of basic research to a far greater extent than clinical research. It is my belief that study sections involving HHMI investigators and NAS members benefit from the involvement of highly accomplished scientists. If that is correct, the quality of certain basic science study sections may be high.

Without additional information this could be an entirely circular argument. If HHMI and NAS folks are selected disproportionally for their pursuit of basic science (I believe they are, Professor McKnight. Shall you accept my "belief" as we are expected to credit yours? or perhaps should you have looked into this?) they of course they would be disproportioanlly on "basic" study sections. If only there were a clinically focused organization of elite good-old-backslappers-club folks to provide a suitable comparison of more clinically-focused scientists.

McKnight closes with this:

I assume that it is a common desire of our biomedical community that all sources of funding, be they private or public, find their way to the support of our most qualified scientists — irrespective of age, gender, ethnicity, geographical location or any other variable. In subsequent essays, I will offer ideas as to how the NIH system of grant award distribution might be altered to meet this goal.

Nope. We want the funding to go to the most important science. Within those constraints we want the funding to go to highly qualified scientists but we recognize that "the most qualified" is a fool's errand. Other factors come in to play. Such as "the most qualified who are not overloaded with other research projects at the moment". Or, "the most qualified who are not essentially carbon copies of the three other folks funded in similar research at the moment".

This is even before we get into the very thorny argument over qualifications and how we identify the "most" qualified for any particular purpose.

McKnight himself admits to this when he claims that there are lots of other qualified people but he selected HHMI/NAS out of mere convenience. I wonder if it will eventually trickle into his understanding that this mere convenience pollutes his entire thinking on this matter?

h/t: philapodia

51 responses so far

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