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As the budget year turns: Waiting is the hardest part

Robin BARR [Former NIA Staff],
Division of Extramural Activities (DEA).

We’ve come around again to the start of a new fiscal year (FY), and that means it’s time for an update on where the NIA budget currently stands and an attempt to forecast the climate for funding in FY 2020.

First, a recap of FY 2019: Last year was special. We had received a full-year budget by this time of year and had quickly established funding lines that remained for most of the year. But unfortunately, we are back to the familiar circumstance in which we do not yet have a budget as the fiscal year begins and instead operate under a  continuing resolution (CR).  We must therefore start this year by drawing funding lines that reflect our worst-case projections for the final NIA budget. Readers of this blog have seen this game play out previously, and I have little doubt that this year will be any different. But play the game we must. Such are the rules.

Pay lines and percentiles

That means we start with a single-digit pay line for our general allocation. The pay line for applications on Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias is at a more generous 28th percentile. That reflects our substantial buildup and now turnover of Alzheimer’s funds (from grants that are ending), so that even with conservative projections we can afford the 28th percentile. We subtract percentage points for large applications and add percentage points for early-stage and new investigators. Career awards begin at a pay line of 18 in the general allocation, and 28 in the Alzheimer’s allocation. Full details on all these pay lines (and more) are on the NIA website.

You can imagine a crotchety older guy sitting next to you in the bar going, “In my day, even the FINAL funding lines did not rise out of single-digit percentiles!” Cold comfort indeed! Those of you with applications scoring at the 10th percentile or at 19 for a career award are understandably anxious about whether your application will be paid. We are also a little frustrated. The only real comfort I can provide now is that these lines come from our more conservative estimates. Above all, don’t be discouraged. There is hope for your application!

Keep the faith, and keep those applications coming!

In this spirit of uncertainty, I issue a plea to keep your applications rolling in. What holds us back is the inability to finalize a budget across the entire government. Even with that disagreement, we see continuing enthusiasm for the research supported by NIA and, more broadly, NIH. Your reputation for discovery and advances in health remains the bedrock of that support.

Only with your continued efforts can we further these discoveries. We still lack answers to too many questions about aging. And the central mysteries of that notorious scourge of our later years—Alzheimer’s and its kindred dementias—remain to be revealed.

The CR ends on November 21. I am hopeful that we will have a full-year budget at NIH after that date. Until then, it is a matter of watching and waiting. Urge patience for those around you who seek evidence of your success. Though we have so far always received a final budget, and in recent years a more than generous final budget, sometimes the waiting is prolonged. In the meantime, we welcome your comments and questions on this year’s budget process below.


Submitted by JJ on October 16, 2019


I wonder if you could provide some information regarding if and how SBIR fast track awards transitioning from Phase 1 to phase 2 will be impacted due to a potential lower payline?

We do not expect an impact on fast-track transitions. If you have questions regarding your transition, please contact me ( and/or your program officer.

Todd Haim, PhD, Chief of the Office of Small Business Research, NIA

Submitted by LEONARD - HAYFLICK on October 16, 2019

If, as is universally believed that, "the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer's Disease is aging" then why does the NIA budget priorities lack emphasis on funding the etiology of Alzheimer's greatest risk factor?
L. Hayflick, Founding Member of the Council of the NIA
Founding Chair of the Executive Committee of the Council of the NIA
Past President of the Gerontological Society of America

Submitted by J on October 16, 2019

Does NIA have a resource to explain how to determine whether research qualifies for the AD-specific paylines?

The short answer is – contact your program officer. An internal NIH system codes applications according to a predetermined fingerprint. That yields a preliminary rating. Then human reviewers apply a final rating after eliminating false positives and adding false negatives.

There is no simple way for an applicant to tell the coding, so be sure to contact your program officer.

Submitted by NH on October 18, 2019

Had I reliably scored above 9% throughout life, I would have become a dermatologist, not a geriatrician.

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