This certainly has been a tough year for the research community supported by NIH. We started off the year on a continuing resolution with the threat of sequester looming. In March sequestration began, and we had to update our fiscal plan to accommodate reduced spending by making fewer competing awards, and in most instances issuing non-competing awards at levels below the expected FY2013 commitments. The impact of the sequester is not just limited to this fiscal year, but as Francis Collins and I blogged about, we will continue to feel the effects into the future.
Then there was the federal shutdown in October that closed much of NIH for several weeks, and severely affected our application award and review cycles, causing a scramble among NIH staff and reviewers to get research back on track by rescheduling missed review meetings, and more. The one silver lining that came out of the shutdown is the shining examples of dedication and perseverance – particularly by those involved in the peer review process – to rally so that all missed review meetings could be rescheduled in time for January Advisory Councils as originally planned. Once again, a sincere thank you for your patience during that incredibly frustrating time.
Throughout we’ve been working hard to keep research moving, this has been a landmark year for NIH in so many ways. We issued several funding opportunities for $147 million funded by the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013 to recover losses to NIH-supported research resulting from Hurricane Sandy, including helping to restore damaged research and facilities.
We have made significant progress implementing the Advisory Council to the Director recommendations in three main areas. Recommendations on big data have translated to initiatives such as the Big Data to Knowledge Centers of Excellence and more. We are supporting efforts to enhance diversity in the scientific workforce by establishing a national collaborative forum through which awardee institutions, in partnership with the NIH, will develop and implement novel and innovative programs to engage individuals from diverse backgrounds. In both these cases, we have or are bringing on high-level leaders to take these programs to the next step. Earlier this month we announced Dr. Philip Bourne will join NIH as our first-ever permanent associate director for data science. And as I’ve blogged about often, we have implemented and are continuing to implement ACD recommendations on biomedical workforce initiatives. This includes the flagship BEST program, a program designed to prepare trainees for diverse career opportunities, which already issued its first awards. Other changes stemming from the ACD recommendations range from work to acquire better data on NIH-supported scientists, encouragement of individual development plans for trainees, expanding NRSA F30 and F31 fellowships to be offered by all NIH ICs, and a plan to increase postdoctoral stipends sometime in 2014.
We have continued pilots of innovative resources such as SciENcv and PubMed Commons. Together with the family of Henrietta Lacks, we navigated new territory, developing a plan to allow biomedical researchers access to valuable genomic data while protecting the privacy of Henrietta’s family members. And of course we announced the BRAIN initiative and its new funding opportunities, an exciting development towards fully unlocking the mysteries of the brain.
As we put 2013 behind us and go into the new year, even in the midst of an uncertain budget climate I am confident that we will persevere and continue moving forward, keeping in mind how truly exciting our science is and celebrating all that we do to improve lives through research. I hope you all have a wonderful 2014!