Impressions of the "no-cost extension" of your NIH grant.

Jun 02 2014 Published by under NIH, NIH Careerism, NIH funding

It has recently come to my attention that not everyone views the no-cost extension (NCE) of a NIH grant the same way I do.

When the interval of support is over for many of the NIH grant mechanisms, the PI (actually the University or Institute, of course) can request a NCE. This means that while the NIH is not going to give out any additional money past the original award, the University may continue to spend any un-expended funds. My experience has been that NCE requests, particularly the first year, are approved by default.

I am pretty sure that you are supposed to follow the usual rules for rolling money from one funded interval to the next funded interval, i.e., it is supposed to be only 25% of the prior year or less. Also, if you have a great excuse for why you have slightly more than 25% left over I would think this would not be a huge problem.

Personally, I have requested a NCE essentially by default for every grant award that permits it and assuming that the competing renewal has not been approved in time to keep the funded intervals rolling.

There are my own local institutional reasons for doing so, mostly having to do with moderate red tape factors.

I thought that it was sort of required in order to submit a competing continuation (now called "renewal") application. I have one grants management assurance that this is not the case but I would still want to check up on how that works. After all, with the new A2 as A0 rules, can't we just submit a competing continuation application for a grant which has been unfunded for 5 years? 10 years? Wait....google...google....NIAID says:

Is there a window of time that a PI can submit an application as a renewal? Must the original grant still be active?

No. The grant need not be active and there is no time limit for a renewal application. However, reviewers will probably be concerned by major gaps.

If a significant amount of time has elapsed, indicate what you have done in the interim. Highlight any preliminary data you may have obtained, and show that your planned research is current with the latest science.

OK, maybe I learned something this year. I mean, I'm sure I have read that before about renewals but somehow it never really connected up.

Also, for some reason maybe I thought that reviewers would be more confident that you were actively working on the project past the end date if you could say it was in NCE.

My question for the peanut gallery today is, how seriously do you take the NCE when you see it mentioned in a Biosketch or elsewhere in the grant proposal? Is it just meaningless...as in "of course they applied for a NCE, duh" or below notice altogether? Does apply only when it is a competing continuation / renewal of the grant which is in NCE?

In a related vein, does it "count" as current research funding? Do you see a grant in NCE and mentally chalk it up under the PI or other Key Personnel's "funded grants"? In the Biosketch does it go under "completed" or "ongoing" Research Support?

Do you assume it might be pending renewal if it is not the prior interval of the grant you are reviewing now?

19 responses so far

  • qaz says:

    Since the chance of getting a grant renewed is very low, I treat any grant that is not funded as not funded. I don't believe in "pending grants" any more than I believe in "pending Science papers".

    However, in my opinion an NCE is definitely an ongoing grant. I don't see why it wouldn't be. (In fact, I, personally, always try to plan spending for all my grants as lasting a year longer than originally budgeted. Since it can take a long time to get renewed. [See above.] ) Better to spend less now and have some stored for later than to starve while trying to get renewed. Every biosketch I've seen has NCE grants in "ongoing" (but marked as no-cost-extension).

    In terms of "working on the project" - the old concept of an "ongoing project" is dead in the water. (At least it is in all of the study sections I've seen.) No one cares that you are "working on a project". They only care that you have a good plan for the future. It is certainly true that renewal projects get some bonus for "good progress in the last cycle", but that's really about track record. I haven't seen any evidence that there needs to be any real connection with the old and new projects.

  • Joe says:

    I consider a grant in NCE to be current funding, but it is the final fumes. If you list more than one grant in NCE, it looks bad.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Why would that be bad?

  • Dave says:

    Yeh why does that look bad?

  • Comradde PhysioProffe says:

    Agreed with qaz in all respects.

  • Pinko Punko says:

    I just think that NCE indicates the grant is relatively recent. I don't think anything about it. In the current climate resuscitation of a grant under an old title with new data as a renewal a few years after it ceased to be funded, I would be fine with that. A gap is a gap, but the idea would be about the experiments looking forward, with some analysis of the productivity during the previous funding period, probably putting less weight on productivity during the gap, but there is already weight on the gap in terms of what the prelim data are.

  • Wowchem says:

    I have not met anyone that doesn't NCE unless they're rock stars. Damn, take a cycle off and NCE that grant. Plus in my mind, I use all students, there is always some holdup... Just let it ride

  • Eli Rabett says:

    The issue with an NCE is that the agency cannot provide any yearly supplement during the NCE period. This means that you cannot receive additional funds for that project during the NCE period. Whether this applies to renewals is another question that your Program Manager would have to ask but it depends whether they treat renewals as new awards or not..

  • Ryan says:

    All the experienced PIs at my institution where we are all on soft money use the NCE to buy time. As reviewers, their perspectives tend to be more along the lines of "Duh, take the NCE." than it being something noteworthy or remarkable.

  • yellowfish says:

    I just did my first progress report for my first R01, which means I'm a complete newbie at all of this. But, I had to use the new progress report forms, and the instructions were: " Is it anticipated that an estimated unobligated balance (including prior year carryover) will be greater than 25% of the current year's total approved budget? The "total approved budget" equals the current fiscal year award authorization plus any approved carryover of funds from a prior year(s). The numerator equals the total amount available for carryover and the denominator equals the current year's total approved budget." From talking to other people at my institution it seems like that is a change, because it wouldn't be possible, for instance, to be very frugal and save 20% per year and then have a full year of funding left for NCE, instead the most you can have left at any given point is 25% of one budget year. It's slightly off topic, but I was wondering what you make of this? (assuming I'm understanding the old rule right, and it is actually a change)

  • DrugMonkey says:

    25% carryover limit has always been in place as far as I know.

  • yellowfish says:

    Ah ok, I had thought that before it was 25% of the year you were in, and then after that whatever you carried over just kept being carried, so that in the end you might end up with multiple years of 25%'s saved up, and that now they count the previous carry over in with the calculations, so if you had 20% carryover in year 1, and then 20% in year 2, now it would count as 40%, whereas before that would have still been 20% because all calculations were limited to the current year. But, probably I misunderstood!

  • Heavy says:

    I use NCE's all the time and think nothing of it. Timing start and end dates for different grants is impossible.

  • clueless noob says:

    Since the NCE is technically part of the final year of the award (no increment in grant number), does the 25% carryforward limit apply? That is, if I only spend 50% of the Year 5 award, can I use the remaining 50% in the NCE year without prior authorization? Not that I'm planning anything of the sort.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    As far as I am aware the carry forward rules apply.

  • qaz says:

    CN & DM - Actually, I think the 25% rule does not apply to the first year of an NCE. You should check with your university. I think that the first year of the NCE only requires internal authorization, and I'm pretty sure that the 25% rule does not apply. If you need the NCE to carry beyond one year, you need to get NIH approval and then not only does the 25% rule definitely apply, you'll need to really justify why you haven't finished the project yet.

    My understanding is that the 25% rule is really about NIH giving more money if you haven't spent what they already gave you. So then (logically) the 25% rule would only apply for the years with changing numbers.

    Note: Standard "financial advice" rules apply - You should check with your internal accountants about the real legal rules.

  • physioprof says:

    The standard NIH terms of award do not include a 25% limit for automatic no-cost extension, but the specific terms of a particular award can be more restricted if the awarding IC decides to make them so.

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