NSF vs NIH Handling of Stimulus Money

The Chronicle of Higher Education offers a nice contrast on how the NSF and NIH differ in their planned distribution of ARRA funding.

While the NIH plans to “tweak its science-based distribution guidelines to ensure the largess some measure of geographic parity”, the NSF will not. Similarly, the NSF will not rush to spend its wad in the 2 years but will consider longer term projects.

The NSF’s honest assessment of this entire SNAFU is reassuring actually:

Mr. Bement [NSF director], concluding a two-day National Science Foundation board meeting dominated by questions over its grant-making priorities in light of the stimulus bill, described his decision to avoid outside considerations as largely a result of having little choice.

The foundation has no ability to evaluate the effects of its grant-making decisions on job creation, especially 10 to 15 years in the future, he told the board.

The intent of Congress and the White House with respect to the stimulus appears deliberately opaque, one board member said.

Dan E. Arvizu, director of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, told the board that he spoke with a Capitol Hill staff member in an attempt to understand the intentions of lawmakers with regard to use of the stimulus money. “The quote I took away from that,” Mr. Arvizu said, “is, ‘the stimulus package is not to be understood.'”

It could be the NSF’s status as an independent federal agency (versus part of a federal department, such as HHS) permits this extra latitude. Of course, the NIH insists politics is not involved either:

Dr. Kington said the NIH would be “sensitive to geographic distribution, not because of politics but because this unique funding for medical research is intended to stimulate the economy while advancing science,” said John T. Burklow, an NIH spokesman. “There will be no political considerations in NIH’s final funding decisions,” Mr. Burklow said. “Final decisions will be based on sound science and programmatic objectives.”

But as The Chronicle points out:

The House version of this year’s stimulus bill urged a geographic distribution of the research spending. But the Senate version, and the final version passed by both chambers and signed by Mr. Obama, did not.

The decision on whether to comply with the intent expressed by the House therefore was left largely for the agencies to resolve—and to take the political risk if their decision is later seen as hindering attempts to deal with the nation’s overall economic woes.

Arlen Specter is pushing to raise the NIH budget ceiling to $40B in 2010, and I’m sure NIH officials want to facilitate support for this increase any way they can. Please, sir, can I have some more. Certainly NIH stimulus funding recipients should be prepared for an incredible reporting burden so the NIH can demonstrate its responsiveness to acheiving Congressional goals for this money.

3 Comments »

  1. BB said

    “Certainly NIH stimulus funding recipients should be prepared for an incredible reporting burden so the NIH can demonstrate its responsiveness to acheiving Congressional goals for this money.”
    OK, I’ll do my part if the NIH uses ARRA money to fund my R21.

  2. Neuro-conservative said

    Any insight on the Kington newsletter that was pulled down and replaced by boilerplate?

    Probably just too much of a moving target in terms of trying to keep the information fresh. – writedit

  3. writedit said

    Here is a memo Kington distributed last week and covers the same points in the removed newsletter.

    Here is a summary of Kington’s public presentation on stimulus funding on Feb 18 (so not up to the moment current, but the Q&A is interesting).

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