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Recycling: not just a good thing for the environment

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

As many people know, the federal budget situation in recent years has led to late starts in our annual award process. When we do not know how much money we will have for the year, we don’t make many awards. And as you’d imagine, when we are without a budget, it is hard to develop a payline for the year. One unintended consequence of these delayed starts is that we have made a very large share of our awards towards the end of the federal fiscal year. So our awards are stacked up in September—how do we untangle that traffic jam?

The September pile-up is bad for grantees and bad for us.

When so many of our awards are concentrated close to a fiscal year boundary (that’s September 30), there is a very real danger for those grantees. Some delay or error in an award—and these things can happen—could mean that the fiscal year could actually close before we could make the award. Approved awards that miss the fiscal year deadline don’t necessarily get support in the next year, and so that wonderful award for a deserving applicant might not happen. Highly rated research would suffer. Not to mention the lab staff and trainee salaries that might not be paid, too!

And for grants staff, program officers, and others at the NIA, this September traffic jam means extremely heavy workloads in the last quarter of the fiscal year.

One solution—we recycle grants.

What is grant recycling?

It might not mean exactly what you imagine.

Grants usually have a 12-month cycle. A multi-year award gets renewed on a schedule that is tied to its initial award date. In other words, September starts stay September starts throughout the years of the award.

But recycling moves the award date. So, one year of the grant becomes a short year, and the grant subsequently renews in a different calendar month. Nevertheless, the money stays the same. So, although for one cycle the “year” is nine or ten months, NIA still awards the full year (12 months’ worth) of award money.

What’s the effect of grant recycling on you and your research?

The recycling has two effects for grantees:

  • Carryover balance, but it won’t be counted against you. First, recycling is likely to create a carryover balance, in which funds are carried over to the next grant year. We have alerted staff to discount that balance. In other words, program and grants staff will not consider it indicative of a problem of some kind. Read NIH standard terms of award regarding carryover of unobligated balances.
  • Project end date shifts, but this is negotiable. The second effect occurs after a lag. Recycling means that the official project end date becomes two or three months earlier than indicated in the initial award. In other words, the project is technically a little shorter than planned. We are managing that effect, too. Grantee institutions have the authority to grant no-cost extensions for the first twelve months beyond the project end date, in most cases. NIA staff can approve no-cost extensions beyond that and a shortened cycle may be considered as a mitigating factor in considering whether to approve these no-cost extension requests. Read NIH standard terms of award regarding extension of final budget period.

We are recycling a lot of our award starts this year. If you are a grantee and you haven’t already heard from us about this, you may soon.

Have I answered your questions about grant recycling? If not, please submit a comment below.


Read next:

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

Funding Policy Pay Lines

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