Leaders at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) today were trying to point out the silver linings in the flat 2013 budget that President Barack Obama proposed for the $30.7 billion agency yesterday. Even without an increase, they say they will be able to fund 672 new grants and competitive renewals – an 8% increase, to 9,415 such grants, over 2012 levels.
That is possible partly because of “churn” in the system, says agency director Francis Collins. More grants than usual are expiring, partly because average grant length has fallen over the last several years (see chart). The very churn that is helping make new grants available also has a flip side, however: the agency predicts that in 2013 it will actually be funding fewer total research project grants: 34,252, compared to the 34,357 it was supporting in 2012.
The agency is also taking active steps to scrape together new grants. For instance, it is instituting a policy of having institute advisory councils give extra review to new awards to any principal investigator who holds grants cumulatively worth $1.5 million or more in a given year. In 2013, the agency will also cut 1% from 2012 levels for existing grants.
“That is not a decision that we make lightly,” Collins said today on the NIH campus. “My sense is, talking to most grantees out there, that they are willing to absorb that change.” Success rates for NIH grant-seekers are at a historic low of 18%, and agency leaders project an increase to just 19% in 2013.
Collins also says that the balance between basic and clinical research at the agency remains steady, with the former representing about 54% of the agency’s budget. Collins says the budget request for an 11%, $64 million boost to the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences doesn’t mean that overall emphasis at the agency is shifting from basic to translational. “That’s a small number compared to the overall $31 billion” the agency receives, he says.