The Bringing Efficiency to Research (BETR) Grants program is an ongoing focus of the I2SL University Alliance Group (UAG). Through BETR Grants, UAG aims to promote efficient spending of federal funding supporting academic research by effectively reducing direct and overhead costs of research through sustainable practices and facilities.
Since it has been a while since we had our last UAG/BETR Grants conference call and we will not be having a call on Monday, I thought I would send some updates that have come out over the summer related to the Bringing Efficiency To Research Grants (BETR Grants) topic. Forgive me that all items below are connected to NIH; there has been a lot going on with NIH of interest and there also have been individuals at NIH that have been willing to hear about BETR Grants so I have great interest in NIH.
I have included the email I sent out in June (below this email) to provide some more information for those who have just joined our group over the summer.
Here are the items I wanted to share:
- “NIH abandons grant cap, offers new help to younger scientists” http://science.sciencemag.org/content/356/6343/1108 -“After fierce pushback from many researchers, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, is dropping a 1-month-old plan to spread funds to more investigators by capping the amount of support any individual scientist could receive. Instead, NIH is creating a new fund that will eventually devote $1 billion a year—about 3% of the agency’s current $34 billion budget—specifically to funding proposals from early- and midcareer scientists. The new plan, unveiled on 8 June, is a stunning shift from the earlier policy, which would have limited a principal investigator’s support to the equivalent of three standard R01 research grants. The new program will free up funds for about 2400 grants for younger scientists, far more than the original cap plan.” [many thanks to Susan Vargas for sharing the link to this article]
- You can read more about this new NIH initiative here: https://www.nih.gov/about-nih/who-we-are/nih-director/statements/launching-next-generation-researchers-initiative-strengthen-biomedical-research-enterprise
- If you are interested in more background on the plan that NIH had previously proposed and why they were proposing it, please see #2 in the June email below this email message.
- How does this relate to BETR Grants?: Both NIH initiatives (the new plan or the old plan) are aimed at spreading NIH’s budget so it can reach more scientists, specifically early and mid-career scientists who are hurting the most for funding during these hypercompetitive times for federal research dollars. NIH’s research found that currently ~40% of extramural funding is going to ~10% of the scientists, primarily senior scientists. If NIH encouraged or expected scientists applying for NIH federal funding to be efficient with that funding by implementing BETR Grants ideas (www.i2sl.org/betrgrants) then that would also free up funding to spread among more scientists. But right now the system is missing opportunities to encourage actions that would benefit efficiency with direct and indirect costs such as equipment sharing, space efficiency and energy/water efficiency.
- “House bill gives NIH 3% raise, blocks cuts to overhead payments” http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/07/house-bill-gives-nih-3-raise-blocks-cuts-overhead-payments “The National Institutes of Health’s (NIH’s) budget would get a modest 3.2% raise, to $35.2 billion, in a draft spending bill released by a House of Representatives committee.” “…the Trump administration had proposed cutting NIH’s budget by $7.5 billion, a drop of 22% from this year’s level. The White House had argued that this could be accomplished without much impact on number of grants or research overall by slashing how much NIH compensates universities for “indirect costs,” the administrative and facilities costs associated with the direct costs of a project, from 28% of its overall extramural research spending to a flat rate of 10% of a total individual grant.”
- Like the House, the Senate also does not appear supportive of NIH cuts or cap on funding for overhead (indirect) costs…read more here:https://www.aamc.org/advocacy/washhigh/highlights2017/480964/062317senatepanelslamsadministrationsnihbudgetrequestfaproposal.html
- With regards to proposed NIH cuts and cap on overhead (indirect cost) funding, Secretary of HHS Tom Price said “…the agency’s budget can be trimmed by finding “inefficiencies,” including the overhead payments.” “The Trump budget, he explained, is “trying to … be the first step in this process” of getting “a bigger bang for our buck.” “ http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/03/trump-wants-2018-nih-cut-come-overhead-payments
- How does this relate to BETR Grants?: As universities point out, they do not receive enough funding from the federal government now to cover all the overhead (indirect) costs associated with federally funded research on their campuses. As a result, universities are cost sharing these expenses with the federal government. Additionally, scientists are facing very tough competition for federal grants. So, cutting federal research funding would be very hurtful to a system that needs every dollar it can get right now. However, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to address inefficiencies to 1) enable federal funding to support more research and 2) ensure that overhead costs are kept as low as possible (which would benefit to both federal and university budgets). That is the intent of BETR Grants…to benefit efficiency in direct and indirect costs to maximize the use of federal funding in support of research while also minimizing the environmental footprint of research. Considering that this is the not the first time that indirect costs has come under scrutiny, perhaps universities would be more likely to embrace BETR Grants ideas to demonstrate their efforts for prudent use of federal dollars and also to make their research operations as efficient as possible in case there is ever a cap placed on the “Facilities” portion of indirect costs (a.k.a. Facilities and Administrative (F&A) Costs) like the 26% cap that was placed on the Administrative portion of F&A in 1991.
- A sustainability section (section 1.8) has been included in the NIH Designs Requirements (DRM) Manual released Dec 2016.
- It is my understanding that the DRM impacts universities when they receive NIH federal dollars for new buildings or lab renovations, but not research grants that support the day to day operation of labs. Please correct me if I am wrong.
- Here is a July 217 article in ALN on the new DRM. It is exciting to hear that a notable update to the NIH DRM are “requirements that reduce a facility’s carbon footprint”.
- The NIH Regional Seminar, which is offered by NIH twice per year, has been suggested by a colleague of mine at CU Boulder as a good place to encourage BETR Grants, specifically the incorporation of actions for efficiency in grant proposals described by our BETR Grants webpage: www.i2sl.org/betrgrants. I agree because:
- This is a place where scientists and research administrators go to learn about writing and preparing NIH grants
- Additionally, if you look at the NIH attendees (https://regionalseminars.od.nih.gov/baltimore2017/faculty/), these are certainly people that we should be talking to about BETR Grants as well. Some of these individuals also attend the FDP meetings that I have been lucky to attend twice in the last two year, but there are certainly many more NIH employees attending these seminar with whom we could share the BETR Grants effort.
By the way, likely other granting agencies also offer these type of seminars where BETR Grants could also be shared.
Talk with you on our next conference call in September. Hope you had a wonderful summer!
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