Now Showing: Budget Testimony

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As part of the budget development process, I submit testimony each year to the House and Senate appropriations committees. My most recent statement is now online, as are previous ones.

This year, we decided to try something different and also offer a video version of the testimony. We deliberately kept it simple and want to know what you think of it.

Download free QuickTime Player Link to external web site to view the following video.

Dr. Jeremy Berg's Appropriations Subcommittee Statement on the Fiscal Year 2010 Budget - May 21, 2009

Do you like having the option of watching a video in addition to reading the text? Should we keep doing this? Do you have suggestions for other approaches we should consider?

Changes to Peer Review—the Reviewer’s Perspective

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NIH has posted a video on the Enhancing Peer Review Web site that details recent changes to the peer review system from the reviewer’s perspective. Running about 13 minutes, “What Reviewers Need to Know Now”, (Transcript [PDF, 79KB]) offers valuable information for current and prospective peer reviewers. You’ll find other resources in the PowerPoint presentation and related links that accompany the video.

Dr. Alan Willard discusses What Reviewers Need to Know Now - March 19, 2009

Many aspects of the new peer review system are already being used in study section meetings. If you have participated in any of these meetings, I am very interested in your comments and reactions.

I’d also like to mention that NIH’s Center for Scientific Review, NIGMS and other institutes and centers have a critical need right now for reviewers to help evaluate the tremendous number of applications submitted in response to Recovery Act funding opportunities. If a Scientific Review Officer asks you to participate on a review panel, I hope that you’ll agree to serve if at all possible.

Businesses Can Apply for New Technology-Oriented Recovery Act Grants

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Recovery Act Logo - Recovery.govNIH has announced two new, technology-oriented Recovery Act funding opportunities targeted to businesses:

  • The Small Business Catalyst Awards for Accelerating Innovative Research (R43) will speed innovation by supporting early-stage ideas with commercial potential that promise to greatly advance a technological area within the NIH mission—not merely lead to incremental improvements of existing technologies. NIH plans to award 20 to 25 one-year grants, each up to $200,000 in total costs. Applications from small businesses with no prior NIH Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) or Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) support may receive funding priority.

If you’re interested in applying for either opportunity, send your letters of intent by August 3, 2009. Please feel free to contact me offline with specific questions.

Early Notice: New Microbial-Host Interactions Grants

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Microorganisms are everywhere–in and on our body, and in our environment. We know that these microbial communities affect our health and the health of plants and animals that we depend on. Yet, we know very little about the physiology and ecology of these communities and their interactions with their hosts.

Today, the NIGMS Council approved a new grant program that will focus on studying the basic principles that govern microbial community structure and function within a host. Research under this program will advance our understanding of the basic biology of microbial communities. It also has the potential to provide clues for developing new strategies to promote human health and treat or prevent diseases.

Once the funding opportunity has been published in the NIH Guide in early August, we will post it on the Feedback Loop site. In the meantime, I encourage you to send me comments and start thinking about applying.

Comment Notification

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We’ve been posting lots of comments and replies to Feedback Loop entries, particularly ones about Recovery Act funding opportunities. So that you can automatically receive alerts when comments have been added, we’ve set up a special “Comments” RSS feed. To sign up or learn more about it, go to https://loop.nigms.nih.gov/index.php/comments/
feed/
.

Feedback Loop Blog Sidebar - Comments (RSS)

If you have questions about administrative supplement requests, be sure to skim the comments to “Tips for Requesting Recovery Act Administrative Supplements” and “Clearing Up Confusion about Supplement Length and Budget Limits” for information that may apply to you.

Explaining Recovery Act Faculty Recruitment

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Recovery.gov - NIGMS InformationWe’ve received a lot of questions about the Recovery Act faculty recruitment funding announcement. In addition to posting the questions and answers in our Recovery Act FAQs, I thought I’d share them here on the Feedback Loop.

What is the intent?

The intent is to contribute to startup packages for junior faculty so that they have a good foundation for becoming independent, tenure-track faculty members who are competitive for NIH awards.

Why does this use the P30 mechanism?

For technical reasons, this funding opportunity uses a research core. Despite the use of this mechanism, NIGMS does not intend our awards to be anything like a conventional resource or service core.

How will applications be reviewed?

Applications will be reviewed by standard NIH review procedures, in this case a special emphasis panel. Reviewers will consider the institutional selection process and environment, including how candidates will be identified and selected, the departmental and institutional track record for attracting junior faculty and programs available for their professional development.

Please note that we do not intend to make awards based on area of science or specific faculty candidates (more on this later).

How do I format the application?

It is difficult to address application requirements using the standard format of Aims, Background, Preliminary Data and Design and Methods sections. My suggestion is to play it straight! For example, include the history of the search in the Background section and describe the recruitment process in the Design and Methods section. Using subheads also helps.

Should I include a description of the general resources for the whole department, or a general description of what the resources might be for a new faculty member?

My best advice is to frame it in terms of what would be relevant to the area of research–computational clusters, 2P microscopes, MALDI-TOF spectroscope, etc.  Departmental resources are undoubtedly sufficiently multi-purpose that you can make access to them a positive feature of your application.

Can we use the award to support more than one recruitment effort?

Yes, but bear in mind that our intent is to produce competitive startup packages in cases of demonstrable need.

Can we use the award to support collaborators and/or co-investigators?

No, funds should be for the support of the new faculty member.

Would a junior faculty recruit who has recently (within the last month) received and accepted an offer be eligible for funding under the P30 mechanism?

No, the funding opportunity announcement specifically precludes this.

Is it appropriate and/or expected to identify potential specific new faculty candidates by name and with a brief description of credentials?

Specific identities are not appropriate, but you should describe the characteristics of the desired applicant pool—high-impact publications, prestigious awards, etc.

The funding opportunity announcement states “describe plans for how their research ideas will be selected, developed and conducted as pilot research projects.” Does this mean we should include funds for supporting pilot research projects in the P30 application budget?

Pilot research projects per se should not be proposed.  Rather, you should discuss the general research context and how the interests of a candidate will align with and expand your strategic vision.  You should discuss drivers of your funding timeline—when you anticipate the recruit to start, anticipated salary, equipment needs, etc.

Scientific Workforce Development, Diversity and the Power of Basic Research

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As part of our strategic plan, Investing in Discovery, we pledged to “expand and extend the NIGMS commitment to facilitating the development of a diverse and inclusive biomedical research workforce” and “adopt a comprehensive, systems-based approach to address future workforce development issues.” In keeping with these goals, we convened a workshop to examine the benefits and feasibility of developing computational models of the biomedical workforce that would aid in program development and evaluation. Based on the discussions, we issued a new request for applications last week to develop computational models of U.S. scientific workforce dynamics. I encourage individuals or groups who are interested in this challenging area to consider applying, and I and others at NIGMS are looking forward to interacting with these researchers once awards are made.

The scientific workforce was also a focus of last week’s address by President Obama to the National Academy of Sciences. He made many important points about the ways that science impacts society, as well. I have included several excerpts below.

The President spoke of the potential impact of basic research, the need to support it and its benefits, saying:

No one can predict what new applications will be born of basic research: new treatments in our hospitals, or new sources of efficient energy; new building materials; new kinds of crops more resistant to heat and to drought.

History also teaches us the greatest advances in medicine have come from scientific breakthroughs, whether the discovery of antibiotics, or improved public health practices, vaccines for smallpox and polio and many other infectious diseases, antiretroviral drugs that can return AIDS patients to productive lives, pills that can control certain types of blood cancers, so many others.

Because of recent progress — not just in biology, genetics and medicine, but also in physics, chemistry, computer science, and engineering — we have the potential to make enormous progress against diseases in the coming decades.

As you know, scientific discovery takes far more than the occasional flash of brilliance — as important as that can be. Usually, it takes time and hard work and patience; it takes training; it requires the support of a nation. But it holds a promise like no other area of human endeavor.

The President challenged scientists to “use your love and knowledge of science to spark the same sense of wonder and excitement in a new generation,” adding:

So I want to persuade you to spend time in the classroom, talking and showing young people what it is that your work can mean, and what it means to you. I want to encourage you to participate in programs to allow students to get a degree in science fields and a teaching certificate at the same time. I want us all to think about new and creative ways to engage young people in science and engineering, whether it’s science festivals, robotics competitions, fairs that encourage young people to create and build and invent — to be makers of things, not just consumers of things.

He also spoke of the need to “create research opportunities for undergraduates and educational opportunities for women and minorities who too often have been underrepresented in scientific and technological fields, but are no less capable of inventing the solutions that will help us grow our economy and save our planet.

I recommend taking the time to watch, listen to or read his entire presentation.

Justifying the NIGMS Budget

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Every year, we develop a Congressional budget justification that supports our appropriation request for the upcoming fiscal year. We just posted our FY 2010 budget justification. It contains both retrospective and prospective information that might interest you, including:

  • Director’s Overview
  • Program Descriptions and Accomplishments
  • Budget Mechanism Table
  • Budget Graphs

Clearing Up Confusion about Supplement Length and Budget Limits

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Recovery.gov - NIGMS InformationI’d like to address several questions about supplement length and budget limits that were submitted after my last post on requesting Recovery Act administrative supplements.

Supplement Length

You can request a Recovery Act administrative supplement for the remaining active period of a current award. The supplement should not exceed two years if you have more than two years remaining on your award.

Please note that after July 15, 2009, NIGMS will only consider requests for one-year supplements. Also note that you can invoke a no-cost extension (NCE) of your grant through the Commons when your grant is within 90 days of its end date. This applies only to the first request; subsequent ones must be reviewed by NIGMS.

Let’s look at two scenarios:

Situation Approaches
Your award is within 90 days of its end date in Fiscal Year 2009 You may invoke a one-year NCE through the Commons and then submit an administrative supplement request with the same end date as the NCE
Your award end date is in FY 2010 If your grant is already in an extension, you should request support not to exceed the current end date. If you think you need additional time as you approach the 2010 end date, you can request another extension and another administrative supplement.If your grant is active but not in an extension, you can in your supplement request state your intent to invoke an extension and request support through the projected end date.

NOTE: Your institution is responsible for processing the NCE at the appropriate time.

Budget Limits

Formally, you may request any amount for an administrative supplement that fits within the scope of the parent grant and can be justified accordingly. In practice, this means that supplement awards are almost always much less than annual budgets.

As for equipment, $100,000 is a longstanding threshold. But in today’s world, there are many examples of equipment used by a single lab that cost north of that amount, and we will carefully consider such requests. We look at the total amount requested, whether it’s for one piece of equipment or several.

Tips for Requesting Recovery Act Administrative Supplements

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Recovery.gov - NIGMS InformationAs you may well expect, we’ve had a vigorous response so far from grantees inquiring about submitting requests for the Recovery Act administrative supplements funding opportunity.

We think we’ve set up a pretty good system to expeditiously process requests—once they are complete.

If you’re thinking about submitting a request, you should know:

1. A complete package on the first submission makes everyone’s life easier, and

2. We have our own NIGMS-specific requirements.

Our experience to date is that submissions need to be clearer about:

1. How the proposed activities fall within the current aims (i.e., are not a change in scope), and

2. The money stuff—other current and pending support, including Recovery Act requests; current status of funds and expenditure plans.

We also need a brief (25-word) summary of the proposed activity that indicates its public health relevance, as appropriate. HHS intends to post this text on its Recovery Act Web site. Some examples are in our guidance document.

I get many questions about whether there is a deadline for administrative supplement requests. We need your submissions by July 15, 2009 for FY2009 funding consideration. Please don’t wait until the last minute to send us your materials. Getting them in early is in everyone’s interest.