ARRA Overstimulating the NIH

Update: NCRR has made the planned Webinar presentations available. In addition, NCRR has rescheduled the videocast for Monday, March 23, 2009, 1:00 – 2:30 p.m. EDT. (send questions to See the full notice for more details.

Good night. NCRR had to cancel its planned Webinar on the C06 and G20 RFAs for stimulus-funded construction projects and core facilities, respectively. When they finally yanked the Web connection, 1,416 people had logged in to the Webinar site … and listening to the chatter on the teleconference line, it seems a lot more people had been attempting to join the conversation unsuccessfully. (NCRR will record and post a video archive of the aborted live presentation.)

Does the NIH have any inkling how many applications are about to come flooding in for this money? My initial estimate for Challenge Grant applications had been about 30-35K (assuming every currently funded PI submitted 1-2 applications plus lots of non-traditional applicants), but I think that might need to go up to 50K. Probably more.

The burden of distributing these monies will be astounding, exceeded only by the subsequent burden of reporting quarterly on all these awards for the following 2 years. Three months pass very quickly. I have had the lovely experience of supporting a University institute that was required to submit inane quarterly progress reports (financial and programmatic) designed to make the sponsoring office (in HHS but outside the NIH) look good to sustain Congressional support. A good chunk of the grant budget supported an FTE staff member who did almost nothing else than work on these quarterly and annual reports. Job creation, I guess. Still, I’m getting a little worried wondering about the impact of ARRA on the normal functioning of the NIH …



  1. Jetson said

    Of course you realize that “normal functioning of the NIH” is an oxymoron.

    I did consider putting “normal” in quotes … and I really do feel for everyone in Bethesda-Rockville-et al. – writedit

  2. Enrique said

    50K applications to possibly be submitted. How many will actually be funded? $200 million total / up to $1 million per funded application = 200 grants? Wha?!?! 0.4% funding rate?

    I suspect a lot of ICs will spend some (much?) of their stimulus wad on additional Challenge Grant applications so they can take advantage of the reporting infrastructure set up by the OD for this program. So, more than 200 applications will be funded, but not nearly enough to make the payline attractive. Still, you can’t win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket – and these 12-page tickets are not a tremendous burden for anyone with an unfunded project concept lying around to recycle … which is why the submission rate will be so incredibly high. The luckiest applicants are all the shared instrumentation PIs who had been working on proposals for the March 23rd S10 deadline well before the stimulus windfall was announced. -writedit

  3. I’m not so sure. I’m at an R1 and see a lot of equipment requests going in but precious few challenge grants. Most people seem to realize that there just aren’t that many of them going to be funded, and that in a review process this expedited, decisions will be arbitrary. Why bother?

    No matter the odds, you can’t win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket. If these were involved applications, the effort would not be worth the low likelihood of pay-off. However, they are not burdensome to prepare, especially if you have an unfunded grant application to recycle or a fledgling exploratory idea. Even better, at BICO, the process of matching collaborators in response to some topics will have larger rewards in terms of the long-term development of new and very novel R01 applications inspired by March stimulus madness. Plus, I look at any grant application preparation effort as good practice that no one puts in without proper motivation. No complaints here if you sit this one out. – writedit

  4. Enrique said

    would a previously “unfunded grant application” even merit funding under this grant mechanism, as it seems to be more competitive than R01?

    Probably depends on the summary statement comments. If the significance and potential impact on the field were deemed high, then I would certainly encourage you to convert it to a Challenge Grant application (should be minimal effort, comparatively speaking), paying close attention to proposing what is feasible in 2 years and what will create/save the most jobs and stimulate the economy. -writedit

  5. D said

    WriteEdit said “….what will create/save the most jobs and stimulate the economy.”

    I get the feeling that a lot of applicants don’t fully appreciate this last bit. This isn’t going to be your “typical” NIH funding process. NIH is under a lot of pressure to be able to show that they spent the money exactly as Congress requested. With the appeals process suspended, the Institutes will have a lot more latitude over what they will fund and with quarterly milestones publicly posted, they will use it. That means spreading the wealth (that is more to the the Midwest and South) and funding projects that can spend the money fast. That means new hires, not just transferring people between grants.


  6. writedit said

    Update from NCRR:

    NOTICE: Due to overwhelming demand, the March 16 Web seminar regarding ARRA C06 and G20 funding opportunities did not occur as planned. NCRR is now working to reschedule the Web seminar and will provide new information in this space, as well as directly to those originally invited, when it becomes available. In the interim, we invite you to view frequently asked questions about these opportunities, accessible from the links on the right side of this page.

  7. writedit said

    NCRR has made the planned Webinar presentations available.

    In addition, NCRR has rescheduled the videocast for Monday, March 23, 2009, 1:00 – 2:30 p.m. EDT. (send questions to

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