On December 23, 2011, President Obama signed the bill authorizing funding for the federal government through September 30, 2012. Passage and signing of a budget for fiscal year (FY) 2012 was welcome news, allowing NIA and other federal programs to move forward with planned activities in this fiscal year.
The bill provides FY 2012 funding at levels similar to FY 2011. For NIA, that translates into a total budget of $1.1021 billion. Of that, approximately $548 million is committed to noncompeting, previously awarded grants and about $150.6 million is available for new grant awards.
“We know that the research community in aging has been closely watching the NIH budget, NIA’s in particular,” said NIA Director Dr. Richard Hodes. “While this is another year of constrained resources, we appreciate the support and anticipate preserving or even improving paylines in 2012.”
There is some indication that measures put in place to open up opportunities for investigators are paying off. The very latest data from NIH covering success rates—a measure of the chance that an application will be paid—for the fiscal year just ended, show that the FY 2011 success rate for NIA R01s, a primary category of investigator-generated grants, was 17.6 percent. That compares with last year’s success rate of 16.8 percent and shows NIA’s ranking to be in the middle of all NIH institutes, whose success rates ranged from 10 percent to 34 percent.
The initial NIA paylines for FY 2012 continue the paylines set in 2011. Research project grants (RPGs) requesting less than $500,000 in direct costs will again be paid through the 11th percentile. Early-stage investigator (ESI) R01 applications will be paid through the 16th percentile and other new investigator-eligible R01s will be paid through the 14th percentile.
Again as in FY 2011, RPG applications requesting $500,000 or more in annual direct costs will be paid through the 8th percentile, these ESI applications (for R01s) will be paid at the 13th percentile and other new investigator R01 applications will be paid at the 11th percentile.
The NIA will reconsider the payline toward the end of the fiscal year and investigators should look at the website  at that time for more information.
The NIA is redoubling efforts to provide such information to grantees, potential grantees, and its broader community of organizations and individuals regarding funding, paylines, success rates—on grants-related policies overall. “We want to make sure that everyone has the most accurate and current information in this regard,” Dr. Hodes noted. Institute officials have been concerned that, in some cases, rumors and speculation about NIA funding policies and grants programs have misinformed the community. They urged checking the Institute website for updates as the funding year moves forward.
Specific policies thus far in 2012
Dr. Robin Barr, director of the NIA Division of Extramural Activities , outlined a number of strategies important for investigators to be aware of. Specifically:
- In early 2011, NIA established a dual payline process. This involved separate paylines for Research Project Grants (RPGs) requesting $500,000 or more in annual direct costs and those requesting less than $500,000 in annual direct costs. Each NIA division has a limit on the total annual amount that it can accept for these large applications.
“These management strategies have resulted in an increase in our payline for 2011,” said Dr. Barr. “The success rate for the Institute—the percentage of applications funded—went up in 2011. In addition, the average size of the NIA award decreased over the last 2 years. This means that, while the awards may be a bit smaller, we are funding more grants than we did in the past few years. We’re encouraged by this and hope that the research community is, too.”
- NIA has also exempted small grant applications (R03s) and exploratory/developmental applications (R21s) from consideration for the 18-percent administrative cut applied to other RPG awards. R03s provide up to $50,000 per year in direct costs for up to 2 years. R21s provide up to $275,000 total direct costs for up to 2 years.
“While the R01 is the award that many researchers aspire to, it’s important to know that the R03 and R21 mechanisms represent opportunities that should be considered,” Dr. Barr noted. “In most cases, we are funding R03s and R21s at 100 percent of the full study-section recommended amount.
- Applications from new and early-stage investigators  will continue to be given special consideration during peer review and at the time of funding. They can continue to expect a payline that is about 5 percentiles higher than that for established investigators. Further, peer reviewers will be instructed to focus more on the proposed approach than on the track record and to expect less preliminary data than would be provided by an established investigator.
Current policies will continue in FY 2012 . In addition, to continue to optimize resources, NIA will be interested in applications involving secondary data analysis. NIA has a number of databases in several different areas that can be accessed, including the Health and Retirement Study and the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative. NIA is working with investigators to bring other resources online and expects to have more data available within the year. “By using existing data resources, researchers can expand the scope of their project. This can be helpful to new investigators who often lack preliminary data and even to established investigators beginning a new project,” Dr. Barr said.
“Looking ahead to FY 2013, it’s difficult to predict what’s in store,” Dr. Hodes said. “Whatever lies ahead, we will manage our funds to meet scientific opportunities and support investigators in aging research. Our investment in the lives and health of older Americans is critical to older people and to the nation.”