Watching the NIH ICs respond to the sequester and the CR
March 25, 2013
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.