Funding Operations for FY2013


Today we announced NIH policies for fiscal operation for the remainder of the 2013 fiscal year (FY). These policies implement the continuing resolution signed by President Obama on March 26, and also incorporate the provisions of the sequester (formally known as the 2011 Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act).

NIH has a $29.15 billion budget for FY 2013, which is a decrease of approximately five percent from appropriations in FY 2012. In the face of this reduced funding, we remain dedicated to fulfilling our mission to support critical research that leads to improved human health and reduced burden of diseases and disabilities. We also remain aware of the crucial need to support the future of biomedical research and new investigators, and we will continue to manage our research portfolio with that need in mind.

Some key points from the guide notice:

  • NIH will continue many of the same policies established in FY 2012, including National Research Service Awards (NRSA) stipend levels, salary limits, and other legislative mandates in effect for FY 2012.
  • Some non-competing continuation awards were already made at reduced levels (as described in an earlier blog post.) These reductions may be partially restored, but NIH institutes and centers (ICs) likely will be required to issue all non-competing awards at levels below the FY 2013 commitment indicated on the notice of grant award.
  • NIH will make fewer competing awards.
  • The policy set forth in FY 2012, which discontinued inflationary increases for future year commitments, remains in place, but adjustments for special needs will be considered.
  • NIH will continue the targeted support of new investigators, aiming for a success rate on new (type 1) R01 equivalent grants comparable to that of established investigators.

The guide notice is available here, and NIH ICs’ respective approaches to meeting this budget will be available on the NIH extramural financial operations page as they are posted.

I realize many of you will have questions about specific awards, and your grants management contact (as listed in your notice of grant award) will work with you on those. I also understand that this budget will be difficult for you, your research programs, and those who work with you. I want to be sure to let you know that I appreciate your patience as we worked through the complex budgetary landscape leading up to this announcement.


  1. Is there a mechanism table available, either for NIH overall or for each IC available to see how these cuts are distributed?

  2. Thanks Sally for the article and Jeremy for the link, biotechnology research seems to be the most impacted (-12.7% FY 2013 vs 2012), do you know why?

  3. Sally – Your post says, “NIH has a $29.5 billion budget for FY 2013, which is a decrease of approximately five percent from appropriations in FY 2012.” The actual total is $29.15 billion, $1.7 billion lower than FY2012, or 5.5%.

    1. Thanks for catching this typo Pam. That is correct: as announced in the NIH Guide notice NIH has a $29.15 billion budget for FY 2013, a decrease of about five percent from FY 2012.”

      We’ve updated the blog post to reflect this – thanks again.

  4. Instead of passively accepting these budget cuts, perhaps the scientific community should challenge the validity of the sequester premise. Recently, the study by Harvard economists Reinhart and Rogoff, claiming to show slowed economic growth at government debt to GDP ratios of 90%, has been shown to be flawed not only in it’s data analysis, but also in it’s design and lack of peer review. If anything, their study comes to the opposite conclusion. Given that, it would seem pertinent to question the need for cuts altogether. Newer economic models indicate that governments issuing a sovereign currency with flexible exchange rate are mechanistically without solvency risk, with inflation a risk once full private sector employment is achieved, irrelevant in a recession. The models are elegantly simple, and are in agreement with empirical evidence. Columbia Law School is currently hosting a year-long Symposia series addressing this specifically.

    1. While your argument makes sense, it is likely to have little impact on Congress. They respond mostly to what their constituents want. Right now, few of their constituents are telling them that funding NIH is a high priority.

      In my own district, a Tea Party member was recently elected to the House. This person is a medical professional and was trained in my college. I have made some effort to determine his views on funding NIH at greater levels, but still have no idea regarding his position on the matter. I do know that he wasn’t elected to increase government spending, his platform was based on reduced spending. The issue is no longer what Congress thinks, it’s what the majority of voters think. Convince voters nationwide that NIH funding is of the highest priority and Congress will follow.

    1. The mechanism table (also available on the NIH Office of Budget website) shows -4.1% and -3.2% changes, respectively. Additionally, NIH recently posted a fact sheet about the sequester, describing the effects on intramural research.

  5. Dear Sally, et al. – I am asking this question in all sincerity. As a new investigator who has done everything I can to position myself for my first R01 submission (including R21 funding) … is it even worth submitting an R01 proposal for consideration at this moment in time? What are my chances (seriously) in terms of getting a full five year study funded as a new investigator submitting to NICHD? A senior colleague told me he thinks that I am “wasting my chances” even submitting an R01 proposal right now given the current budget situation. I hate the thought of stalling my career, and possibly losing my job, but is it really even worth going through the motions of submitting a proposal if next to nothing is getting funded? It breaks my heart to even ask this question, really, but am I part of a doomed lost generation of new investigators?

    1. Hmmm, my thoughts:
      1) What choice do you have if an expectation for your job is to procure funding? You might start with foundation sources, but eventually you will be expected to be successful on the federal level.
      2) If you don’t submit, you are guaranteed to not receive a grant.
      3) If the problem is that there are too many applications for available money, then you have increased the chances for that senior colleague if you follow his advice.

    2. Newbie,

      I think it’s tragic that you are asking this question. Part of me hopes you’re a troll. The other part of me is weeping.

      If you intend to be a leader in your field, and if you are doing research that encumbers resources and people, there are few scenarios where you will not need to be independently funded.

      What the current situation really means is that it will take multiple grant proposals in order to refine your technique and solid preliminary data. Also, the new investigator “break” is real and the horrific paylines we currently enjoy apply mostly to established investigators outside of this definition. So you have hope.

      But don’t limit your scope to the NIH – think about your research in terms of foundations and intramural proposals. Being entrepreneurial is more important now than ever. Think hard about what your strengths are and play to those, offset your weaknesses by seeking out helpful collaborators.

      You should also do a self assessment. It’s true that not everyone is wired to engage in this process, absorb the heartbreak of rejection, and endure. Only you can whether you have such mettle..

  6. @New Investigator – what does “wasting your chances” even mean? You don’t lose NI status (and hence, slightly gentler paylines) until you are awarded an R01. So either your grant doesn’t get funded, but you retain your NI status and maybe the next one gets picked up, or you do get funded! Certainly “going through the motions” is better than not doing anything and definitely losing your job, no?

  7. New Investigator,

    I am assuming you are within the first year or two of your position. Write the best grant you can (give yourself 3 months). Give it to colleagues as a pre-review. Make alterations. Submit. Get feedback from the study section. Repeat for each cycle until you are funded. The best way to get better at writing grants is to write grants. But, do not let grant writing stop you from writing your papers. You need both, to secure funding and to secure tenure.

  8. As a Professor of Biomedical Engineering, having advised dozens of graduate students, and taught hundreds of undergrads, I am finding it impossible to advise *any* to enter the field of academia. I consider it disingenuous, if not unethical. There are much better ways to spend your God-given talents… and time… I myself have sacrificed too many Thanksgivings and Christmas’s working on proposals that turned out to be highly meritorious, but just outside the anemic paylines. This past cycle was the last straw… having received a score of 24 on an STTR from my peers, and even asked to submit JIT paperwork… to learn that, oops… the payline shifted from 30 to 20. (The second-to-last straw was a 150-page U54 *paper*proposal submitted last fall which was administratively withdrawn because Section 4 of 7 Sections was 3 pages over the limit.)

    Try as you might to empathize with us, NIH, you have NO idea how hard we work, nor the sacrifices we make, jumping through flaming hoops to find a cure for cancer, treat heart in infants, and generally alleviate human suffering. I myself am seeking another line of work.

    1. Too true, and NIH does not care – I think I understand why. NIH has the overall mission to undertake the best research and promote cutting edge science to improve human health (paraphrasing). I don’t think our problems amount to a hill of beans to NIH as long as the science gets done. I even doubt that a major retrenchment that sees smaller academic medical centers go away would get much attention. The only thing that will get society’s attention will be when the enterprise is so stripped of resources that no one goes into academic science anymore, and America loses its prominence in science and engineering (and even there, mom and pop probably won’t care whether their pill comes from the US or overseas). The overemphasis on “translational” science has shot us in the foot, because now if there’s not a clinical endpoint to a research project it is considered useless.

      And this isn’t just sour grapes – I just scored within the payline on my R01 and have a long track record. But I fear for the future if we continue down the current path, folks.

  9. To New investigator: Like the first responder, not sure why a sincere post would be put on this blog but let’s presume sincerity. Your email implies you have achieved R21 funding. That means you have an academic position in an institution that understands the NIH funding game at some level and that you likely had decent enough training and success to mount some level of academic career. Your question has two implications. Either your question is limited to pure strategy or you are re-thinking your career choice.

    On pure strategy, common sense guides some of your approach. With 9% paylines, if you are exactly average you need to submit 6 grants to get >50% chance of funding. You presumably have some institutional funding with some finite guarantee for x years. When that money runs out, you either have an RO1 or you are changing jobs (for 95% of those with academic jobs in 2013). I would submit to you that the math implies you need to be submitting in a one year time frame, given that most applicants revise and resubmit and you have to get that done before the startup money is gone. So look hard at what you would write. The R21 means you had promising data. Is it now published in a journal with an impact factor above 10? If so, get writing on the RO1. Study sections REALLY want to fund you. The preference for new investigators is real, and within study sections even more supported psychologically. We in study sections want our students (children) to succeed. If not, give yourself one year to get the best possible paper and submit it, because you will be wrestling with with the journals for 12-15 months before you get an acceptance that could lead to the RO1.

    (I submit as my credentials for this basic advice a career as an ex-academician who had an 18 year RO1 funded career serving on NIH study sections throughout.)

    If you are seriously considering not submitting an RO1, then you have to be re-considering your career choice. A combination of reminiscence and schadenfreude led me to this blog (via a Google to see just how bad paylines have gotten), with some self-amusement. You and anyone else considering an NIH RO1 funded career in 2013 owes it to yourself to give some serious thought about its future. Paylines are not going up. (Reference the US debt and current state of hopeless red versus blue politics. Rage all you want but at some point raging is just wasting your energy.) On average, to get my career you migt have to write at least 45 grants to have a 50% chance at an 18 year career, based on the number of grants I got. That is 3-4 grant applicaitons per year, of which 27 will lead to a very painful email telling you your whole career is dubious. The career is comfortable enough, but look around you at your older peers reaching the ends of their careers. How many have funding? How many are spoken of in hushed terms as “a problem” for their chairmen/chairwomen to support? (Do not ask for advice from your chairman/woman. Show no vulnerability.)

    Three years ago, after a wonderful sabbatical to re-tool – I jumped. Into Pharma. It is terrific. I should have done it sooner. Pharma has lots of worries too and is shrinking so my point is not to jump to pharma. My point is to list all of the other things you might do instead of hunting for that first RO1 and think HARD about doing them now. Look at a biotech company. The companionship of people in these worlds has felt lots friendlier than in adacemics. They work in teams. The science is probably better than the tiny narrow project you were taught in an academic track frankly, although you have been brainwashed not to believe this statement. (If your family has no idea what your R21 is about – keep that in mind.) Teach. Get a health career. Write. Move to an administrative position now so you have time to get promoted. If you weigh all of those other options against writing the RO1 and none wins, keep trying until you get the RO1 or the money runs out. Read the Fortune magazine review of the 50 worst careers and pay note to what it says about a career in research science. The insularity of your training in academic science may have trapped you. It is unlikely that you are getting sufficiently broad advice about alternatives to your academic track. There is a big wondeful world out there that does not revolve around RO1s. Think about it.

    Why post to this silly blog? To tell Dr. Rockey that the NIH owes more to all those graduate students and postdocs who will not get an RO1 than their limited efforts to increase funding of first RO1s. They owe some counselling to the new investigators below the payline to discuss realistic prospects for success. A new applicant with a 75%ile grant who has no institutional funding and no papers with >impact score of 10 is not going to succeed. They need some career advice to move on. Otherwise, the NIH is running something that meets some of the descriptive criteria of a Ponzi scheme.

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