Watching the NIH ICs respond to the sequester and the CR

March 25, 2013

writedit said:

but with only 6 months left in the FY, this in fact translates into a 10% cut in their remaining appropriation. More than 80% of that appropriation is already committed to salaries, intramural research, and ongoing awards. This means that the small sliver left to make new awards takes the brunt of the cut.

I never like these types of analyses because they assume that the ICs aren’t anticipating the coming events. As if they are spending willy-nilly assuming they will get as much or more appropriated funds as they did in the past year. Now, maybe this is true but we can’t know for sure if their belt has or has not been tightened already in many areas. Maybe they have hiring freezes, we’ve heard some rumours about cutting back the travel budgets and maybe the Intramural labs are taking an early haircut. Certainly a smart manager would have been acting to assume the sequester, no? And for dang sure assuming a Continuing Resolution (CR) that held funding at the level of the past Fiscal Year where there was a budget.

One thing we can see is the IC by IC behavior from 1Dec to 31Mar in terms of rolling out new R01s and other mechanisms. I find that many ICs are indeed conservative under CRs with very few grants starting 1Dec (first possible start date for the Feb/Mar submissions) versus, say, what happens in the 1Jul (first possible start date for the Oct/Nov submissions) deadline. Instead, the 1Dec awards usually are held off (save for a trickle) until a new budget and/or (as now) a full year CR is passed.

One of my ICs of interest got out 20 new R01s in Jan, 10 in Feb and 7 in Mar, for example. None in Dec. They funded 173 new R01s in FY2012, 122 in FY2011 and 167 in FY2010.

Three (rounds) times 37 is 111. This value is ~90% of 123.

Now yes, of course, new R01s are only one part of the picture and it would not take very many shifts of Programmatic priorities to continuation grants, smaller or larger mechs, etc to throw off my example here. But let us, for arguments’ sake, credit that this is representative of their thinking.

This particular IC is acting as if they expected the sequester to be the rule of the day for FY2013. Right? They are funding conservatively up to this point in the year by only funding about 90% of the lowest local nadir in new grants, i.e., the FY2011 number. From this perspective, they have not pushed off the sequester burden into the “remaining appropriation”, i.e., the final 6 months. They have anticipated the whole year by their behavior in the first 6 months.

One can only hope that they have been similarly conservative with their other expenditures, of course. The one you would be seeing, DearReader, is the cuts applied across the board to the noncompeting renewals that have come due since December.

Are you hearing that budgets have been trimmed by 10% or that PIs are dancing in the streets with relief at getting their whole budget, unchanged from the proposal (or the cut they took last year, more realistically)?

I dunno, maybe I am just hoping that the sequester effects will be no worse than we already anticipated. Still, from the data that we can see, the ICs seem very committed to using budgetary reductions and conservative funding throughout the year to keep their behavior pretty steady and similar to what is predicted. It is very rare that one fails to see a small flurry of left-over money fly out the door for late pickups on Sept 30, from what I can recall. And I can’t ever remember a whoopsie where the number of funded awards for the third start date cycle in the FY crashes significantly downward.

NIH ICs are conservative in my experience and at least in this case it works to quiet our direst fears about the rest of the year.

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63 Responses to “Watching the NIH ICs respond to the sequester and the CR”

  1. Jim Woodgett Says:

    I wish Canadian health research was subject to sequester. Would be preferable to the 24% in across the board cuts in the latest round of funding at CIHR: http://www.cihr-irsc.gc.ca/e/46280.html

    I know, I know, be careful what you ask for… The NCI staff I spoke to last week didn’t seem to worried about the sequester although I think there is a real danger of it becoming the new normal. Once stuff gets cut and the politicians don’t see clear evidence of the Acropolis tumbling, its hard to get them to approve the old funding allotments.

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  2. Dave Says:

    They have anticipated the whole year by their behavior in the first 6 months.

    I think it is fairly obvious that this has been going on, at least to anyone in the “grey zone” for funding, but I think looking at Rs alone is misleading. I suspect that other mechs will be bled in order to keep Rs as steady as possible despite the sequester. Who knows.

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  3. drugmonkey Says:

    It is indirect but the comparison between R01 and RPGs may contradict your confidence in the Rs (if you mean R01s).

    http://nexus.od.nih.gov/all/2013/03/22/more-applications-but-how-many-research-institutions/

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  4. Dave Says:

    You mean that they follow the same trends?

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  5. drugmonkey Says:

    I agree that they like to brandish stable R01 rates whenever possible. The recent trends for R01s versus all RPGs suggests that we’re down to fingernail clinging time and they cannot hold this line anymore. We may see a continued slide of R01s proper and an effort on the part of NIH to keep the attention on all RPGs.

    for the peanut gallery, from the NIH definitions site

    Research Projects

    Includes the following selected Research Grant and Cooperative Agreement activities:

    R01, R03, R15, R21, R22, R23, R29, R33, R34, R35, R36, R37, R55, R56, RC1, P01, P42, PN1, U01, U19, UC1, NIGMS P41.

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  6. Dave Says:

    Doubt it. To be honest if the paylines this year stay the way they are, then I would be very suspicious if any mechanism is able to keep the number of awards from taking a complete fucking nosedive. But, of course, looking at the number of awards without factoring in the decline in the value of each award is crazy. The NIH doesn’t seem to talk much about that I have noticed.

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  7. physioprof Says:

    All 2013 non-competing R01 grants (and other Rs?) were awarded at 90% of their previously committed budgets. If they just keep this cut intact, the consequences of the sequester to the ability to make new awards should be pretty modest. As someone with two competing R grants on the bubble, I sure as fucke hope they keep the non-competing cuts and award my fucken competing grants!

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  8. DrugMonkey Says:

    Right? This whole line of “it’s double plus bad b/c 6 months” is ridiculous!

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  9. Dave Says:

    This whole line of “it’s double plus bad b/c 6 months” is ridiculous!

    Sure, but it’s only ridiculous if they did not anticipate the changes from the beginning of the FY. Pretty much everyone on the planet thought the sequester would never happen and, even if it did, most thought the cuts would be restored promptly in the CR. None of that happened, so whether the NIH fully anticipated the extent of the cuts remains to be seen. At my main IC, they have been very conservative with paylines but they do not appear be cutting non-competing renewals anymore than they otherwise would and that might be bad news for new applicants for a while.

    My personal feeling is that they have over-reacted to the cuts and will probably have some left-over cash at the end of the FY. But, then again, maybe I’m just being hopeful.

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  10. joatmon Says:

    What is the payline these days? I have heard the rumor of 5%tile a week ago. Today, I just heard indirectly through my colleague that a 3%ile and a 9%tile didn’t get funded for their A1! Awful!!

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  11. NIH Budget Cutter Says:

    Long live the Tea Party!

    Let’s get rid of the NIH.

    How many of you will lose your jobs? It must suck… You’ve worked so hard–college, grad school, postdoc, and then finally get that professorship gig. But I hope that by now you realize it all has been a waste of time. Society does not need your Western Blotting, RT-PCRing, or “whatever you think you are important for” skills. Hmmm, coming to think of it, you guys don’t do anything in the lab anymore. Grad students, postdocs, and technicians do all the work. All you do is write grants; and you won’t be getting–or renewing–one of those for the foreseeable future. Most of you will fade, and no one will care.

    Say goodbye to your grants, one by one. This is only the beginning.

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  12. NIH Budget Cutter Says:

    And to all of you complaining about the NIH not planning or anticipating the sequester cuts:

    What about you? Where is your personal responsibility? Why did you not plan accordingly? The NIH and its funding issues caused by a pyramid scheme have been known for a while. What did you do about that? Nothing.

    Well, guess what? Game is over. Blaming the NIH will not save your ass…

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  13. Dave Says:

    Paul Ryan, is that you?

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  14. DrugMonkey Says:

    NBC- it usually works better when your trolling isn’t quite so ham fisted and obvious.

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  15. highdesert Says:

    If you want to see conservative, check out NIAAA. 11 new R01’s since 10/01/2012, if I did my reportering correctly.

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  16. Crystaldoc Says:

    NCI has been awarding noncompeting renewals for 6 mos instead of 12 (and with across the board reductions) since the beginning of the year, so that they could adjust the 2nd 6 mos depending what congress did. My new R01 starting April 1 took a 14% cut plus was awarded for 9 mos (April-Dec), 75% of full year reduced budget. I would call that anticipating …

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  17. physioprof Says:

    Long live the Tea Party!

    Let’s get rid of the NIH.

    Lolz. I’m sure all the redneck dumshittes are gonna refuse medical treatment for their excruciating diabetic neuropathy when years of chugging big gulps and twinkies catches up to them. FREEDUM!

    Like

  18. proflikesubstance Says:

    I can only assume that NIH took a similar strategy as NSF with the uncertainty. NSF only committed 80% of the budget for this fiscal until the CR finally got approved last week. Since NSF, in most cases, sends the entire budgeted amount to the PI on day 1, they can’t go back and cut current awards very easily. This is why they announced there would be 1000 less awards this year. When the sequester cuts hit, they were a non-factor because NSF had already put 20% aside and the 5% sequester cuts went to that pool. In the final CR, much of that was restored and so the agency only saw a modest cut to this year, but by planning for it the whole fiscal, the volatility was taken in stride.

    Let’s not act like this is the first year there has been budget uncertainty until the 11th hour. They know how to do this.

    Like

  19. The Lab Mix Says:

    All this thinking seems to line up with the behavior of the ICs, but I do find myself slightly skeptical that government agencies were able to plan this well…

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  20. Dave Says:

    ….but I do find myself slightly skeptical that government agencies were able to plan this well

    As long as they can keep lowering the paylines to accommodate reduced budgets, it’s easy for them. But I think we’re close to the bottom there as paylines really can’t get that much lower, so they will have to start making adjustments elsewhere if things continue. I think that will be much more difficult for them.

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  21. Ola Says:

    NIH will do what they have to do, to prop up paylines and keep the system running.

    IMO one thing they could do differently is the whole NI/ESI percentile bump. Back in the days of 15% paylines, a 10% bump for the young-uns amounted to a 66% greater chance of getting funded. Now in the days of 6% paylines (e.g., at NHLBI), the same 10% bump is still in place which means a young investigator has almost a 3-fold greater chance of getting funded. Taking this to its logical conclusion about 6 months from now (oldies at 1%, young-uns at 11%) would be an 11-fold difference. No-one seems to be questioning the wisdom of a fixed percentile bump for new investigators, instead of a sliding scale based on the underlying payline.

    Regarding intramural labs, having sat on one of their internal review panels almost 18 months ago, I can say that yes they are being cut. They get scored on a pretty standard scale, and going into the meeting we were told only the very top scoring labs would avoid some sort of budget cut (on the order of 10-15%). I can only imagine it’s gotten worse since then. Of course, the individual intramural PI budgets are significantly larger to begin with (on the order of 3-4 modular RO1s and up), so nominally they can “afford” to take a haircut.

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  22. mikka Says:

    “a 3%ile and a 9%tile didn’t get funded”

    I would have two heart attacks: one when I saw the percentile and a second, fatal one when they told me it wasn’t getting funded.

    Like

  23. Dave Says:

    NIH will do what they have to do, to prop up paylines and keep the system running.

    Like reduce paylines, for example??

    Like

  24. Grumble Says:

    My recent R01 renewal took a 10% haircut from what was promised in the previous NGA. Now, after salaries are paid for the year, I have $5,000 left to buy supplies and other necessities. That would have been $25,000 if it weren’t for the sequester – yet $25k is barely enough to cover all the non-salary expenses. What am I supposed to do now?

    I’m getting very close to having to let someone go.

    Like

  25. DrugMonkey Says:

    Ola- your thinking on ESI needs to incorporate the reason for the bump in the first place. Their “chances” include their probability of getting the sub10%ile score from study sections. Hint: it is lower than for established Is.

    Grumble- exactly. My continued point is that these “reductions upon funding” and CR related cuts…all done to artificially enhance the payline…mean people’s jobs are gone. This needs to be a talking point.

    mikka- there are very likely some nonstandard issues at work for the 3%ile skip. 9%? Might be a bubble score these days, sadly enough.

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  26. DrugMonkey Says:

    Oh and joatmon, there is no one single payline across the NIH. Each IC differs…and many pretend that they don’t have a payline. (This is false…they have a payline for internal purposes, they just don’t publicize it. That way a 3%ile that doesn’t get funded requires no special comment! Slick)

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  27. Joe Says:

    What Grumble said. We, too, got cut 10%. Congresscritters are sniping about White House tours and increased security lines at airports. Do they realize they’ve cut medical research 10%?

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  28. Dave Says:

    My continued point is that these “reductions upon funding” and CR related cuts…all done to artificially enhance the payline…mean people’s jobs are gone. This needs to be a talking point.

    So so so so true, but people will lose jobs one way or the other. It’s swings-and-roundabouts, isn’t it? The choice, though, is in who gets to keep their jobs and who doesn’t. Reductions upon funding allow the PI to stay afloat, but jeopardize everyone else around him/her.

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  29. Lee Says:

    At a recent meeting I spoke with some Investigators at NIOSH, in which no furloughs were going to be issued. The administration was going to make up the difference by cutting extramural funding. Admittedly, NIOSH doesn’t have a huge extramural program, but it sucks if you have something pending.

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  30. Dave Says:

    Do they realize they’ve cut medical research 10%?

    Most GOPers really don’t care. Their attitude is that the government should not be paying for scientific research and that the private sector should be picking up the slack. We all know that is insane, but these are fundamental differences between the political left and right that are not going away anytime soon. I also have little hope that the US population will vote out these GOP nuts in the mid-terms, so we should settle in for this new normal.

    Worth noting though that Obama has done little to help NIH/NSF funding over the years, despite an awful lot of rhetoric even up to his recent SOTU address. Most of it this can be blamed on GOP obstructionism, of course, but he made a HUGE mistake by separating the original fiscal cliff and the sequester in the new year and played right in to the GOPs hands. He made another mistake by not insisting on reversal of the sequester in the CR even if that risked a shutdown, and he continues to be deluded that a “grand bargain” will take care of all of this and he will get his discretionary spending back.

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  31. Dave Says:

    The NIH should be issuing across-the-board furloughs. No doubt about it.

    Like

  32. Jonathan Says:

    If that happened you’d all sit around complaining that “My grant got a 1%ile score but the IC is too short staffed to process anything and I’ve still not received the money yet.”

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  33. Joe Says:

    @Dave “Most GOPers really don’t care. Their attitude is that the government should not be paying for scientific research and that the private sector should be picking up the slack. ”

    I’m sure you’re right, but this was not the traditional position of the GOP. Many repubs were involved in the NIH doubling (with the idea of helping biomed research). As the GOP considers its path forward, I hope they will realize they need to be FOR something, not just obstructing and cutting everything and will consider biomed research as something to be for. Besides, it helps their buddies in big pharma as well as looking to cure the diseases affecting their base (crazy old white dudes).

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  34. Ola Says:

    @Joe
    The Democrats are a party of bad ideas, but the Republicans are a party of NO ideas

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  35. drugmonkey Says:

    people will lose jobs one way or the other.

    Not exactly. When you have a 10% reduction in year 3, chances are that someone’s been hired on that project already. Therefore, an existing job goes away. When you have a new project fail to fund, there is only a *theoretical* job that has been taken away. Nobody has been hired for it yet. Perhaps no different from the bird’s eye view of the overall economy but it should hit hard as a talking point for individual Reps.

    If that happened you’d all sit around complaining that “My grant got a 1%ile score but the IC is too short staffed to process anything and I’ve still not received the money yet.”

    Furlough the POs, save the GMSzzzz!!!!!!

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  36. Grumble Says:

    ‘If that happened you’d all sit around complaining that “My grant got a 1%ile score but the IC is too short staffed to process anything and I’ve still not received the money yet.”‘

    No, only 1% of us would be doing that.

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  37. Grumble Says:

    “Many repubs were involved in the NIH doubling (with the idea of helping biomed research).”

    That majority has been voted out – the current class of Repub whack jobs is far more reactionary than at any time in the past.

    Actually, with the Dems, the Repubs who favor biomedical research (and other government investment) make up a clear majority in Congress. The problem is the structure of power in the House, where the Tea Party fucktards have the ability to block anything. It’s only when Boner is willing to risk his speakership and permit a vote on a bill that will get majority Dem support that any bill gets passed. So the Tea Fucks have an effective veto that is at least as powerful as the President’s.

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  38. Lee Says:

    “Furlough the POs, save the GMSzzzz!!!!!!”

    If they furlough the PO’s, then they would have a valid excuse to avoid my emails/phone calls and not go to my IRG session…

    Like

  39. AP Says:

    My PO is worthless. If she were to be furloughed it would have zero impact on me and, I suspect, every other person for whom she is PO.

    It pains me when I meet with other POs who visit campus and they are 50x better than my PO. Most POs are people who failed at acquiring or keeping TT positions, so you would hope they would at least empathize/communicate well with the PIs in this year of total uncertainty and outrageously low paylines.

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  40. drugmonkey Says:

    My PO is worthless. … Most POs are people who failed at acquiring or keeping TT positions,

    I can’t imagine why your PO might not want to have much to do with you.

    Like

  41. Dave Says:

    Boner risk his speakership????? More chance of him developing some kind of nasty toxicity from that wood stain he likes to slap on his boat-race. The fucking dude cried tears of pride when he got re-elected by his douchey members. So, yeeeeeeehhhh, probably not much chance of that.

    But otherwise you are spot on Grumble.

    Like

  42. rs Says:

    My PO is worthless. If she were to be furloughed it would have zero impact on me and, I suspect, every other person for whom she is PO.

    They are still better than much of useless administration universities has. Does anyone realizes that many of the administration receives close to $200K- $ 250 K (real numbers). Adjuncts get paid 2-7K per course and post-docs 40K. Its time universities take burden and remove these extra fat and invest in real things which matter for the universities (research and education).

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  43. rs Says:

    Just to add that I was talking about various directors, associate directors associated with medical school, director of university learning, director for spousal hiring etc etc.

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  44. DrugMonkey Says:

    Director of spousal hiring? Really dude? Really?

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  45. rs Says:

    yes, these are real positions, which were announced in job ads recently in big mid west research universities.

    Just for curiosity I checked the salary of one of the associate director of bioinformatics (who basically manages hardware purchase for big databases) and was surprised to see that its close to $200K (more than most of the full professors in the university). No one is watching these things look like.

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  46. rs Says:

    There are two sources of money in the university system, endowment and NIH indirects. Both depends on the reputation of the university which is built by scholarship done by faculty and built it over the years. But in most cases, faculty has no access, information or control over this money and they get happy when 5 20K bridge funding awards are announce for them to work extra hard.

    There are some nice surprises in this list if you have time to go through the list (more fat seems to be in office of vice chancellor for research (OVCR) and office of technology management (OTM)). Maybe there are other areas which I skip.

    http://data.illinimedia.com/salaries

    Like

  47. AcademicLurker Says:

    Interesting list. Are all those highly paid professors of Surgery and Anesthesiology being paid from university funds or is most of the money derived from their practice?

    Like

  48. AP Says:

    Very interesting List. I have to admit I get excited even when 10K pilot awards are thrown out there. I do sometimes wonder what the hell all of these administrators do? Our administration has grown something like 200%, while faculty lines have increased like 5% in the last decade. Ridiculous.

    I think the Medicine Professors get mostly paid from practicing and seeing patients.

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  49. rs Says:

    I think you need to go beyond medicine professors around in the range of $150-250K range to see interesting people out there. These numbers are what university pays. If you are paid from grant or departmental resources, you will not show up in this list.

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  50. rs Says:

    AP: thats the point. University don’t have money for teaching or research, but they have money to pay fat administrators and quite handsomely.

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  51. neurony Says:

    According to the all-knowing business folk, the research institution sky is not falling (at least not for investors), and the admins should be safe due to the “ace in the hole” (see third to last paragraph). Wow.

    http://chronicle.com/blogs/bottomline/federal-budget-cuts-will-have-limited-impact-on-universities-moodys-says/

    Like

  52. mikka Says:

    “the all-knowing business folk”

    Oh yeah, Moody’s. They’ve never been wrong assessing risk.

    No one is safe.

    Like

  53. Grumble Says:

    ” I do sometimes wonder what the hell all of these administrators do? ”

    They administer $10k pilot grants.

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  54. Dave Says:

    “I never like these types of analyses because they assume that the ICs aren’t anticipating the coming events. As if they are spending willy-nilly assuming they will get as much or more appropriated funds as they did in the past year. Now, maybe this is true but we can’t know for sure if their belt has or has not been tightened already in many areas.”

    Yea, I agree that when they’re anticipating a money shortage, they cut back right away. But this leads to surpluses if/when extra money comes in. Since they’ve already made their extramural commitments by the time they’ve figured out they have a surplus, they have to spend the money on stupid stuff to ‘balance’ the budget. Peer-reviewed extramural science will always be NIH’s last priority when the budget is unpredictable.

    NIH is a bloated inefficient mess. Not entirely their fault, but definitely our problem.

    Like

  55. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    You don’t know what the fucke you’re talking about. ICs always make a flurry of extramural awards at the very tail end of the fiscal year to spend out their appropriations. For example, as disclosed in its most recent council minutes, NINDS paid a bunch of October council round grants at the very end of fiscal 2012 using fiscal 2012 funds. (This is possible because they have expedited council approval where a subset of council members approve grants for funding electronically prior to the in-person council meeting.)

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  56. DrugMonkey Says:

    Yeah and funding the 16%ile award on 30 Sept when they originally ended at 15% is hardly “stupid stuff”.

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  57. I was actually kind of surprised at this given the usual funding cycles, but here is what the NINDS council minutes from January say:

    NINDS paid almost all grants from October 2012 Council from its FY12 budget allocation[.]

    Sounds like they were really planning ahead on sequestration, as this means they funded what ordinarily would have been about one third of the 2013 grants in 2012. I guess this helps explain why NINDS has been able to maintain a 12%ile R01 payline in 2013 (which is what I was told it is) despite sequestration.

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  58. drugmonkey Says:

    but they were really tightly cranked down for the actual FY2012 rounds then? This is the kind of bullshit that keeps the grant churning rolling. They should have funded more 2012 grants to keep the applications lower in FY2013, FY2014!

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  59. physioprof Says:

    I guess they figured they would share the expected pain of 2013 sequestration over both the 2012 and 2013 fiscal years, by cranking down on both 2012 and 2013 awards. If they spent all that money on 2012 grants by loosening the final payline, then the 2013 payline would have to be even worse.

    2012 payline was 15%ile as it was. I have been told the 2013 payline is 12%ile. If instead of paying 2013 grants with 2012 funds, they loosened the 2012 payline further, then the 2013 payline would be even lower. I think from the standpoint of equity and perceived fairness, they try to do everything possible to keep the paylines from varying too much from year to year.

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  60. DrugMonkey Says:

    This is because they refuse to grasp the *per-Investigator* success rate factor. Idiots.

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