NIH Funds and Lobbying Activities


NIH-funded awards are subject to a prohibition on using federal funds for lobbying activities (the actual language can be viewed here and here). While these prohibitions have been in place for a long time, we are taking this opportunity to raise the visibility of the topic particularly since we had some changes last year and are often asked about what is and isn’t allowed under the prohibition. We have just posted a reminder  in the NIH Guide, and a document on the NIH website providing additional guidance, including multiple examples of activities that can be done with federal funds and those that are restricted.

I encourage you to read the document, which differentiates the allowable and restricted activities for all types of grantees. I would like to highlight a few points.

The basis of the lobbying restriction is that no Federal funds can be used to influence members of the legislative or executive branch regarding either Federally- funded awards you may already have or regarding  the introduction, enactment or modification of legislation at the local, state or Federal level. Federal funds can be used to generate research that is going to inform policy but your analysis, study, or research should contain a balanced, objective exposition of the facts to enable the public or an individual to form an independent opinion or conclusion. Materials must be posted or circulated widely to a diverse and numerous audience on a nonpartisan basis and must not contain an overt “call to action.”

For example, it would be allowable to use NIH appropriated funds to inform the public on potential policy solutions and their impact, such as balanced, objective materials designed to educate community groups or the public on the extent that healthy food choices and indoor air quality policies can lead to health improvements. As I said above, these communications should be designed to allow individuals and the public to form an independent conclusion.

It would also be allowable to broadly share balanced, objective information across large groups of interested parties (such as groups of other non-government organizations (NGOs) or state/local governments), for example, meeting with an association of state or local education agencies to highlight evidence-based policy approaches to improve healthy choices in school lunches. But, of course, this information may not make an explicit call that such policy approaches be adopted.

It would not, however, be allowable to use NIH appropriated funds to encourage the public or other entities to support or oppose specific action proposed or pending before the US Congress or specific legislation or executive action by a state or local government (also referred to as grassroots lobbying).

Remember there are reporting requirements that are placed on the grantee institutions so make sure this is a collaborative effort between supported scientists and their institutions.

I know this is a rather nuanced issue. Again, I encourage you to refer to the NIH website for more information and examples  like those highlighted above. I hope this expanded guidance will be useful in answering any questions you may have on what you can and cannot do with NIH funds.


  1. Are NIH grantees and reviewers allowed to visit their representatives to advocate to them to stop the decade-long slide of below inflation support for NIH? To end the sequester? Are we allowed to write letters to our trade publications encouraging our peers top take similar actions?

    The form letters that our professional societies generate for us to conveniently sign and send dont seem to have help much the past few years.

    1. NIH is prohibited from lobbying. NIH grant funds cannot be used to support lobbying activities. As a private citizen you are free to pursue activities as you see fit provided you do not use NIH grant funds to do so.

      1. Thanks that’s very clear and helpful and confirms what’s in the document for me. I know NIH employees cannot do this and feel this is another reason PIs need to step up as concerned citizens to raise awareness of the needs and to help support or NIH colleagues who work so hard to help support us. Thank you for taking the time to reply.

  2. I suggest more improvement of NIH RePORT database. It should support both the Congress and the ordinary citizen to make informed decision. Data science models should be added in the database to predict grant awarding in different budget scenarios. The data science models will be on both national and local levels, so that people can understand how the different budgets will affect R&D in both universities and industries, investments in small businesses, and supports to undergraduates, graduates, and postdocs in national and local areas. The data models should also include the all grant applications, not just the funded grants. Then they can give more accurate and specific predictions on what will be funded. People tends to connect with and act on closer or more specific causes (such as funding cut will reduce postdoc number in half in a lab) than general or abstract terms (such as sequestration will decrease NIH budget by 5.8%). NIH RePORT database provides excellent data on biomedical research funding. It should also support decision-making in budget discussion to both Congress and citizens.

  3. Some Universities figure out accounting tricks to make sure their soft money faculty have 3-5% effort *not* on NIH grants. The reason being offered is that writing a grant application falls afoul of this lobbying rule. True?

    If so, the notion that people are only spending 60-100 hrs per year in NIH grant-preparing activities is absurd. So why bother with the fig leaf?

    This is the sort of issue that NIH should be resolving with Congress so that future authorization bills match better with reality.

    1. Without further information it is not clear how writing a grant application would violate Federal lobbying provisions. Recipients of Federal grants, cooperative agreements, contracts, and loans are prohibited by 31 U.S.C. 1352, “Limitation on use of appropriated funds to influence certain Federal contracting and financial transactions,” from using appropriated Federal funds to pay any person for influencing or attempting to influence any officer or employee of an agency, a Member of Congress, an officer or employee of Congress, or an employee of a Member of Congress with respect to the award, continuation, renewal, amendment, or modification of any of these instruments. These requirements are implemented for HHS in 45 CFR 93, which also describes types of activities, such as legislative liaison activities and professional and technical services, which are not subject to this prohibition. Further guidance may be found on the OER website at:

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