Broad details released about the agency's strategy to distribute funds
After weeks of intense negotiation, Congress sent a final economic stimulus plan, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), to President Obama following approval in the House by a vote of 246-183 and in the Senate by a vote of 60-38. The $787 billion package is one of the largest ever approved by the body. It was signed into law on February 17 during a ceremony at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science in Denver, Colo.
The new law invests $10 billion in the National Institutes of Health (NIH), including an estimated $1.2 billion allocated to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Of that amount, $8.5 billion is allocated specifically to NIH research and $1.5 billion to extramural facility improvements. The funds will be available for two years, through September 2010. NIH Acting Director Raynard Kington, M.D., Ph.D., has said that the agency expects to spend as much of the funds as possible in Fiscal Year 2009 in order to hasten the short-term economic purpose of the funds.
The unprecedented influx of funds presents a rare challenge for the NIH, which has operated with an essentially flat research budget since 2002. In an open briefing to the biomedical advocacy community on February 17, Kington offered some broad insight into how the NIH is preparing to distribute funds and emphasized that the strategy will represent a significant shift from business as usual. He explained that funding mechanisms will be used as appropriate, but, in general, the NIH will focus on supporting scientific activities in the following three areas:
- Supporting meritorious R01's that have already been reviewed but not yet funded. There will be a two-year commitment of funding for applications that can demonstrate that significant scientific advances will result after the two years.
- Supplementing existing grants and expanding research related to original goals. Kington emphasized that the funds will not be considered a means to restore cuts from previous funding decisions.
- Funding new NIH Challenge Grants. The NIH will issue a Request for Applications (RFA) in the near future calling for new, highly innovative, cross-cutting ideas. Projects will receive grants of up to $500,000 per year.
Kington suggested there will be sensitivity to geographic distribution of money and that many decisions will be made with an overarching goal of supporting young investigators. He also described what will be an "unprecedented" level of multi-layered reporting requirements to ensure accountability, transparency and to prove the positive economic impact of the funds. In the near future, NIH will post information about its role in the recovery and impact on http://www.recovery.gov/.
The acting director repeatedly emphasized that the funds were approved by Congress as a special short-term infusion and that the $10 billion should not be considered as a permanent addition to the NIH budget or for use in out-year commitments.
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