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Why the delay? NIA's funding policy for fiscal year 2013

Dr. Robin Barr
Robin BARR,
Director, DEA,
Division of Extramural Activities (DEA)

Our fiscal year 2013 budget was finalized March 26, but we were unable to post our funding policy until May 8. This year, as in every other year, my team worked hard to get a funding policy published absolutely as fast as we could once we knew our budget. In previous years, we have been able to publish our funding policy more quickly. Why the delay this year?

1. Planning Time.

The NIA, along with all the other NIH Institutes and Centers (ICs), had to develop a plan for how we would allocate our budget across all the different activities that we support. Because of the sequester and other budget cuts, this was a painful process of allocating cuts to worthy science. The NIA’s overall budget, like that of every other IC, was cut by about 5.5%. There are many rules about how we have to go about achieving the required reduction. 

The planning problem goes back to the old saw: when you have seen one Institute at the NIH, you have seen one Institute at the NIH. Some ICs, like us, would suffer catastrophic cuts to their competing award budget if we protected noncompeting awards from cuts. Others would see their funding line for competing awards improve if they allocated most of the cuts to noncompeting awards.

Can you imagine how you would feel if you held a grant that was cut because of the sequester, and then you learned that the Institute that cut your grant is planning funding for another set of grants that is more generous this year than last year? Everyone agreed we needed to avoid that outcome. But that’s what would have happened if the NIH had used the same funding policy for all 27 Institutes. So the NIH made the decision to let the individual Institutes establish their own administrative cuts for noncompeting awards, including deciding whether to make administrative cuts at all.

We made cuts in NIA noncompeting awards, as did many other ICs. We tried to balance our reductions among both noncompeting and competing awards to cause little harm as possible.

2. Review of the Plan.

Our plan and all the other IC plans needed to be approved by the NIH Office of the Director (NIH OD). In most years, NIH OD consolidates our plan with those of the other ICs, and shares a central plan with the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The OMB then approves the central plan, and we issue our policy. The NIH had 27 plans this year, so it didn’t work this way this time.

The NIH is a part of the Department of Health and Human Services, which reviewed all 27 individual funding plans. The OMB also reviewed all 27 individual funding plans. Needless to say, reviewing 27 plans takes longer than reviewing one plan.

We don’t have the option of skipping these steps.

And so that is why we published our policy on May 8.

For more information about the NIH budget and spending, see the NIH Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tools (RePORT) site.

If I haven’t answered all of your questions about the delay, I hope you’ll post them in Comments, below. I will read every comment, and may do another post in response.

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Funding Policy