NIH Stimulus Summary

Update: Kington himself has weighed in (also a memo distributed), with the mechanisms to be used in paying out awards summarized below.

Nature confirms the intel I’ve received from program officers at ICs throughout the NIH with regard to how the bulk of the undesignated NIH funding will be disbursed (see comment below with more details from Kington):

National Institutes of Health: $7.4 billion divided among the agency’s scientific institutes and centres will fund grants from a backlog of 14,000 investigator-initiated ‘R01’ grants already reviewed and categorized as “highly meritorious”. It will also fund new R01 applications for projects that could reasonably make progress in two years. The agency will add supplemental funding to existing grants and fund new “challenge grants” aimed at thorny problems.

“We are confident that we can spend the funds that Congress has allocated both responsibly and quickly,” says Raynard Kington, acting NIH director.

Advocates of biomedical research, who have lobbied fruitlessly for substantial NIH increases in recent years, were ecstatic. But they also cautioned against repeating history, in which a budget doubling between 1998 and 2003 was followed by five years of flat funding, leading to a glut of investigators and plummeting application success rates. “We’re hopeful that this represents a first step towards sustained growth,” says David Moore, senior director of government relations at the Association of American Medical Colleges in Washington DC.

Kington notes: “We are being very careful to focus on funding that only covers the two years of the stimulus package. There will be relatively little, if any, money that entails a four-year commitment.”

Nature also provides a nice synopsis of the stimulus pay-outs to the NIH:

Highlights: $7.4 billion will go to the institutes and centres. $800 million will remain in the director’s office, of which half may be used for initiatives under the Road Map for Medical Research, which focuses on cross-disciplinary, highly innovative and translational research. $1.3 billion will be spent on construction, repairs and shared instrumentation at non-federal research facilities. $500 million will fund high-priority repair, construction and improvement projects on the agency’s campus in Bethesda, Maryland.

and to NSF, DoE, NASA, NOAA, and NIST.



  1. BB said

    Kington notes: “We are being very careful to focus on funding that only covers the two years of the stimulus package. There will be relatively little, if any, money that entails a four-year commitment.”

    So what about funding RO1s then, so many of which are written for 5 years? If 2 years is alll they foresee funding, wouldn’t underwriting more R21s make more sense?

    See below. Any R01s approved for 4-5 years of funding would need to be reworked into 2-year projects to be eligible for stimulus funding (with no guarantee of renewal). One would presume that the NIH has a sufficient backlog of just-missed R21s that would certainly be a better fit for this emergency spending plan. -writedit

  2. writedit said

    Yesterday, Kington talked a bit (emphasis on bit) more about how the stimulus funding would work. The 14,000 proposals that have reached the second level of review and are considered fundable must comply with a 2-year spend-out period to be eligible for stimulus funding. If any of the proposals were initially designed for 4 years, they must be revised into 2-year projects to be eligible for the stimulus money. Funding will contain no implied or implicit commitment to continue funding the projects after 2 years.

    He reiterated the recommendation to watch the NIH Guide for notices on administrative supplements as well as the upcoming RFA the Challenge Grant with a shortened application process. This grant program may also have a thematic component, with ICs soliciting applications on specific subject areas (much like the Transformative R01s, no doubt). Although Dr. Kington was not definite, he said $100-200 million might be allocated, with awards of up to $500,000. He would not offer a specific number of awards, but he expected there would be an effort to disperse the projects across various geographic regions, but not based on any formula. He also expected this program to begin very quickly.

  3. BB said

    Maybe my R21 has a chance then, I hope!

  4. S Hyder said

    What does one mean by approved grants in 2008 to be funded with stimulus funding…..what percentile ranking would qualify as an approved grant?. Thanks

    The funds will be distributed to the ICs in proportion to their budgets, so how much higher up the payline each can go will depend on their cut of the stimulus wad. My off-the-cuff guess would be up to the 20th percentile or a priority score of 150. Of course, a program officer could find a higher scoring application highly meritorious for other reasons, such as meeting a high-priority need in his/her portfolio. The tricky part will be finding applications that can be cleanly cut to two years without major revisions to the science by the PI (which might then necessitate additional review to ensure meaningful data could still be obtained in that time frame using the rejiggered approach). R21s would be the natural mechanism to pick for these bonus stimulus awards rather than amputated R01s. Even if say $6 billion in R01 awards are made for just a 2-year period, the bill will come due when the stimulation ends. Of course, our friend Arlen Specter is also pushing to have the NIH budget ceiling raised to $40B in 2011, and we can hope but probably not take it to the bank (at least not a solvent one). – writedit

  5. S Hyder said


  6. pinus said

    I have had a few people suggest getting in as many R21’s as possible right now.

    As a ‘new investigator’ I am wary of wasting my new investigator good will on a 2 year grant. But, at the same time, two years of funding would be a big help.

    ahh decisions!

  7. writedit said

    From Acting NIH Director Kington himself (full message in his newsletter):

    Many types of funding mechanisms will be supported, but, in general, NIH will focus scientific activities in several areas:

    1. We will choose among recently peer reviewed, highly meritorious R01 and similar mechanisms capable of making significant advances in 2 years. R01 are projects proposed directly from scientists across the country.

    2. We will also fund new R01 applications that have a reasonable expectation of making progress in two years. The adherence to this time frame is in direct response to the spirit of the law.

    3. We will accelerate the tempo of ongoing science through targeted supplements to current grants. For example, we may competitively expand the scope of current research awards or supplement an existing award with additional support for infrastructure (e.g., equipment) that will be used in the two-year availability of these funds.

    4. NIH anticipates supporting new types of activities that fit into the structure of the ARRA. For example, it will support a reasonable number of awards to jump start the new NIH Challenge Grant program. This program is designed to focus on health and science problems where progress can be expected in two years. The number of awards and amount of funds will be determined, based on the scientific merit and the quality of applications. I anticipate, of the Office of the Director funds in the ARRA, NIH will support at least $100 to $200 million—but the science will drive the actual level.

    5. We will also use other funding mechanisms as appropriate.

    We are waiting for guidance from the Department of Health and Human Services and the White House, and no funding decisions have been made.

  8. writedit said

    NIMH update …

    The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) will receive approximately $350 million dollars and will use these funds to support basic and clinical R01 grants, supplements to existing grants, and grants funded through a new two year RO-1 program called the NIH Challenge Grants in Health and Science. The Challenge Grants program will support studies that address scientific and health research gaps that rapidly generate outcomes. This is an exciting opportunity to jumpstart many of the initiatives in the NIMH Strategic Plan while helping the nation’s recovery by providing jobs and research support for scientists around the country.

    The ARRA stipulates that all stimulus money must be spent within 2 years, requiring NIH and NIMH to establish an unusually quick turnaround for high-impact, short-term projects. In addition, there will be extensive reporting requirements for these funds, so that the outcomes of this extraordinary investment can be monitored. In the next week, NIH and NIMH will announce specific initiatives and mechanisms by which these funds will be invested. We urge you to closely monitor developments as disseminated through the NIMH Web site.

    In addition, more information about the ARRA and NIMH’s plans may be found in the NIMH Director’s Corner on the Web site.

  9. writedit said

    They NYT has a little ditty about NIH spending on shovel- & beaker-ready projects with some hints about how a few institutions will be spending their share (which they seem to assume is in the bank already) … and a bit more from Kington:

    Dr. Kington of the N.I.H. provided only a broad outline of the agency’s new financing priorities. And while he insisted that the health institutes would rely on its traditional method of committee reviews for approving grant proposals, he also said that agency administrators would have unusual discretion in financing proposals.

    Even politics — long taboo in agency financing decisions — could play a role.

    “We will be sensitive to geographic distribution,” said Dr. Kington, who emphasized that the money was intended to stimulate “the nation’s” economy.

    Grant proposals that scientific review committees have already deemed worthy will receive top priority for the financing, Dr. Kington said. Nearly all such proposals seek four years of financing, but agency administrators will pick out the grants for projects that they believe could be completed in two years.

    A significant share of the new money will be used to bolster grants that have already received some financing, Dr. Kington said. Some of this supplemental financing will be approved by committees and others by administrators.

    And agency administrators will “soon” send out instructions on how universities can apply for grants in special areas that will be given priority by administrators, Dr. Kington said.

    Of course, the article starts out with a plea for immediate hiring … with no indication as to where Universities et al. were to secure the funding to keep paying these salaries beyond the two stimulated years:

    The acting director of the National Institutes of Health begged university administrators on Wednesday to avoid even applying for stimulus money unless the universities planned to hire people almost immediately.

  10. writedit said

    NSF has its own shovel-ready mechanism at the ready for just such a stimulating opportunity: Grants for Rapid Response Research (RAPID). Since leaving sunny Va, I’ve been restricted to health sciences research, so NSF has sort of (but not entirely) fallen off my radar, and I hadn’t taken sufficient notice when this was recently rolled out. Talk about perfect timing … NIH could take a page from the NSF playbook and perhaps provide an R56 mechanism to which PIs can apply.

    The RAPID funding mechanism is used for proposals having a severe urgency with regard to availability of, or access to data, facilities or specialized equipment, including quick-response research on natural or anthropogenic disasters and similar unanticipated events. PI(s) must contact the NSF program officer(s) whose expertise is most germane to the proposal topic before submitting a RAPID proposal. This will facilitate determining whether the proposed work is appropriate for RAPID funding.

    * The Project Description is expected to be brief (two to five pages) and include clear statements as to why the proposed research is of an urgent nature and why a RAPID award would be the most appropriate mechanism for supporting the proposed work. Note this proposal preparation instruction deviates from the standard proposal preparation instructions contained in this Guide; RAPID proposals must otherwise be compliant with the GPG.

    * The box for “RAPID” must be checked on the Cover Sheet.

    * Only internal merit review is required for RAPID proposals. Under rare circumstances, program officers may elect to obtain external reviews to inform their decision. If external review is to be obtained, then the PI will be so informed in the interest of maintaining the transparency of the review and recommendation process. The two standard NSB-approved merit review criteria will apply.

    * Requests may be for up to $200K and of one year duration. The award size, however, will be consistent with the project scope and of a size comparable to grants in similar areas.

    * No-cost extensions, and requests for supplemental funding, will be processed in accordance with standard NSF policies and procedures.

    * Renewed funding of RAPID awards may be requested only through submission of a proposal that will be subject to full external merit review. Such proposals would be designated as “RAPID renewals.”

  11. […] February 25, 2009 at 12:26 pm · Filed under Funding Opportunities, NIH Advice, NSF Info, Research News The Chronicle of Higher Education offers a nice contrast on how the NSF and NIH differ in their planned distribution of ARRA funding. […]

  12. Yersinia Pestis said

    With all due respect to R01 applicants (I am one of them, by the way), the short time span for appropriation and spending suggests that other mechanisms should be targeted instead. These are: R03s (small grant), R21 (exploratory research), R43 (SBIR Phase I). These applications are characterized by shorter time span, so they are ready to be funded and the planned research carried out, without unrealistic squeezing 5 years into 2 year windows.

    Here, here. I wholeheartedly second the notion. – writedit

  13. iGrrrl said

    pinus, my understanding of both the R21 and the R03 is that they do not disqualify you as a new investigator for a subsequent R01 application. That said, many I/Cs view the purpose of the R21 as a way to support established investigators who want to take on a higher-risk project for which they don’t have R01-level preliminary data. In fact, for some program officers, a junior faculty member treating the R21 as a bigger budget R03 is a point of irritation.

  14. Virgil said

    As is typical in these situations, everyone at NIH itself appears to be running around like headless chickens not having a clue! I spoke to my program officer at NHLBI last week, and all they would tell me (a currently RO1 funded researcher) was to keep looking at the website and wait for an RFA. Here are a few of the problems with the misinformation flying around….

    -There is no confirmed funding mechanism.

    – There is no confirmed application process. It could be a ‘phone call to a program officer, a 3 page form, or a paragraph in an e-mail (all 3 have been presented elsewhere as THE mechanism).

    – There are no details on exactly who will get what. NHLBI seems to be behind the curve on this, whereas NIAID has issued lots of materials to its funded investigators.

    -The amounts vary hugely. “Supplements” to existing RO1s are being touted as $100k max, others are talking $500k challenge grants.

    -Some people say that supplements can be used for equipment, while others are flatly saying no equipment and the SIG mechanism must be used for that. The SIG program itself is slated to get a big chunk of the ARRA money. The NCRR website (which administers shared instrumentation money) has absolutely nothing about the stimulus money.

    Bottom line, nobody has a freakin’ clue when, where, and how this money will be distributed, and that’s just within NIH itself. Outside of NIH it is complete chaos. People are running around making a big fuss all about this, but nobody actually knows what to do in order to apply. I for one, will be paying no more attention until some actual concrete information comes out from the institutes themselves!

  15. writedit said

    NIAID has a nice tutorial on the ARRA stimulus funding plus its strategy for spending this money, and the NIH has a Website under construction for the NIH Challenge Grants in Health and Science Research program.

  16. writedit said

    Inside Higher Ed has an interesting article on Funding Science, Smartly that comments on the pitfalls of rapid infusions of cash such as this stimulus bill.

    Steady growth rather than occasional bursts and busts would be better for the scientific enterprise, [NAS President Ralph] Cicerone and several lawmakers at Tuesday’s hearing agreed. “Bouncing around from year to year is terribly destructive,” [Rep. John, R-Tex] Culberson said, suggesting that the spending subcommittee propose legislation that would create an independent panel of scientists and engineers that would make annual recommendations to Congress — separate from the process in which the executive branch proposes a budget each winter — “with no political agenda.” [Rep. Alan, D-Va] Mollohan, the chairman, was noncommittal about the idea.

    Pressed by Mollohan and others for how much money the government ought to be spending on science research and education, Cicerone was clearly reluctant to throw out figures; danger loomed that he would look either greedy or unambitious in appearing to speak for the science establishment.

    But he made clear that he would welcome a way of ensuring growth for federal spending on science, perhaps, he said, through a mechanism that tied spending to “the number of highly competitive proposals” agencies receive, to ensure that there is enough money to cover all research proposals that scientific peer review processes grade above a certain level.

  17. whimple said

    According to my PO from NCI, the NCI is NOT going to back to programmatically pick up grants that have already been scored, but that missed getting paid. Dunno how this affects other institutes.

    Ouch. NIAID has it’s pick-up funding guidelines posted online, and I’ve heard NHLBI is going back to award grants up to various percentiles, but I don’t see a lot of commitment to this on the IC Websites. – writedit

  18. writedit said

    Science asked Obama’s Science Advisor, John Holdren, about the ARRA reporting requirements. I think we all share his concern:

    Q: Are you concerned that reporting requirements for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the $787 billion stimulus package) will hamstring U.S. scientists? Or is that the price to pay for this massive influx of funding?

    J.H.: There’s clearly a tension there. When you do something as big as the recovery package, there’s tremendous pressure to make sure that you don’t just push the money out the door without any attention to assessment and evaluation. But the other side of the coin is that you don’t want to burden people who are doing good work with a degree of reporting requirements that impair their productivity in any significant way. So it’s a fundamental tension, and I’m not sure that we’ve got it exactly right. … If you overburden researchers with reporting requirements, then you’ve done a bad thing. And we’ll try to avoid that.

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