February 18, 2009

NIH Outlines Spending Plan for $10.4 Billion of Economic Recovery Package Funding

By jnurse

Today in a briefing at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Acting NIH Director Raynard Kington provided an outline of the plan his agency will utilize to spend the $10.4 billion provided in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. However, Dr. Kington mentioned many times during the briefing that the details of the plan are still being worked out within NIH and the Office of Management and Budget. NIH plans to obligate the funding provided within two years and does not assume that funding will be added to the base budget.  He added that there will be no across-the-board percentage increases in grants or programs. 
 
Dr. Kington emphasized that use of the economic recovery money would not be business as usual; there will be unprecedented reporting requirements, such as information on economic impact and the number of jobs created and retained as a result of a research grant. 

Dr. Kington described the funding streams in the bill as follows:  

  • $8.2 billion for research activities, of which $7.4 billon is to be allocated across the NIH Institutes, Centers, Divisions, and the Common Fund (which includes cross-cutting activities such as the NIH Roadmap); $800 million will remain in the Office of the Director; 
  • $1 billion for extramural construction, repairs, and alterations through the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR); the review process for construction and renovation projects has not been determined (operating funds will not be provided); 
  • $300 million for shared instrumentation;
  • $500 million for construction and improvements on the NIH campus; and
  • $400 million transferred from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality for comparative effectiveness research. 

Research funding will be allocated in three general ways:

  • Funding of grant applications from FY08 and FY09 that were judged to be “highly scientifically meritorious” but not funded.  Among the criteria of the selection process will be whether meaningful progress toward project goals can be achieved with two years of committed funds, rather than the usual four years of funding.  
  • Supplements to existing grants to accelerate and/or expand their work.  This may include added equipment, training positions, and summer jobs for students.  Such additions will not be made by formula, but will be based on scientific opportunity and public health needs.  The new money will not be used to restore cuts made to project proposals during earlier negotiations.  
  • NIH Challenge Grants.  There will be a “reasonable” number of awards made under this new program aimed at supporting cross-cutting research. The Institutes, Centers, and Divisions will have an opportunity to identify areas in which they would like to see applications.  NIH will issue a Request for Applications for the program soon.  

Funding will not be provided in a lump sum, but over a two year period. Given that we are dealing with funds intended to stimulate the nationally economy, geography will be a factor in awarding funding. Additionally, there will be some focus on new investigators and junior scientists. When asked if the grants would have carryover authority, Dr. Kington reminded participants that the money was intended as “a short-term stimulus” and said universities should not ask for money they didn’t think they could spend in two years. Dr. Kington explained that in rare cases, no-cost extensions may need to be granted. However, he also explained that at the end of two years, grants that have not been spent will draw scrutiny by government and result in significant embarassment to the scientific community. Dr. Kington did not give a timetable for the release of further details, but given the two-year timetable for use of funds, he expects details to be laid out in the next few weeks.

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