Fasten Your Seatbelts, Its Going to be a Bumpy Ride for Research Administrators!

With apologies to Margo Channing in All About Eve, as I start this article for the March edition of InfoEdge, the Sequester looms large in the US. If Congress allows the Sequester to take effect on March 1, there will necessarily be significant negative impact on research funding at universities, research institutes and hospitals. While the details of those impacts remain unclear, broadly there will be an ~8% across-the-board cut in all forms of research support. While some flexibility does exist at the agency level to determine how the cuts are enacted, it is widely expected that for most agencies both existing awards will be reduced and new awards will be fewer in number and reflect greater reductions in awards relative to requests.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) provides analysis of the anticipated impact of sequestration on their website as well as a comprehensive listing of sequestration resources.

Impact of Sequestration on Research-Related Agencies (AAAS)

Science budgets are faring somewhat better in Europe as plans are progressing for the European Union research and innovation program – Horizon 2020. Although originally targeted at €77.6 billion it appears that the program will receive €70.9 billion according to an article at Times Higher Education This does represent an increase from the €55 billion allocated in Framework Programme 7 (FP7), the previous EU research funding program. However, because the FP7 funding was backend loaded with €10.8 billion in 2013, the Horizon 2020 funding level for 2014 will be slightly less. Balancing this out to some extent is €2.7 billion in funding for the ITER international fusion project which was included under FP7, but will be covered outside the Horizon 2020 budget. Ultimately, funding for research in the EU is expected to hold steady going into 2014, although a final decision on the Horizon 2020 budget by the European Parliament is yet to come.

US Federal Grant Reform

On a different front, the comment period remains open through May 2, 2013 on the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) proposed reforms to Federal policies related to grants and cooperative agreements. A wide array of changes are being proposed including (from Danny Werfel’s post on the OMB website:

  • Harmonizing and streamlining all OMB guidance on grants from eight documents into one, while clarifying key differences for different entities;
  • Simplifying the reporting requirements that grantees must adhere to in justifying salaries and wages charged to grants;
  • Ensuring that Federal agencies better review financial risk posed by applicants and merits of an application before providing a grant;
  • Providing guidance to ensure robust oversight of sub-recipients;
  • Focusing more audit resources on preventing waste, fraud, and abuse; and
  • Holding agencies accountable for getting results and addressing weaknesses among grant recipients.

The changes proposed are numerous and wide-ranging. Some of the proposed changes are garnering cautious support (e.g., opening up access to the Utility Cost Adjustment to additional institutions), while folks continue to evaluate the implications of some of the other suggestions (e.g., combining circulars). To date, 14 comments have been posted. I’m certain many more comments will be posted as the comment period draws to a close toward the end of April, including those from organizations such as COGR and AAU. You can make personal comments as well as comment for your institution at

Public Access to Research Results

White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Director John Holdren directed Federal agencies with more than $100 million in R&D expenditures to develop plans to make published results of federally funded research freely available to the public within one year of publication. More information and a link to the memorandum itself is available at the OSTP website. Broadly, this new policy requires that other agencies funding significant research programs adopt an approach similar to the NIH’s policy. NIH also recently announced (NOT-OD-13-042), that effective July 1, 2013, non-competing continuation awards will be delayed if publications arising from it are not in compliance with NIH’s public access policy.

Interest in public access to government funded research results is not limited to the US. The Research Councils UK (RCUK) continues to flesh out the details of its open access policy. The RCUK policy requires “immediate and unrestricted access to the publisher’s final version of the paper”. The UK parliament has weighed in recently encouraging increased clarity in the RCUK policy and close monitoring of its implementation.

Similarly the Australian Research Council (ARC) recently published its new open access policy requiring “publications arising from an ARC supported research project must be deposited into an open access institutional repository within a twelve (12) month period from the date of publication.”

Sequestration Redux

And as I finish this month’s article, Congress and the President failed to achieve a resolution to our latest self-imposed budget crisis, and sequestration has begun. NSF announced ( that current grant (and most cooperative agreement) awards will not be impacted by the implementation of sequester, however, they anticipate as many as 1,000 fewer awards will be made in 2013 as a result of sequestration. NIH announced ( that the effect of sequestration would likely result in cuts to both non-competing continuations as well as the number of new awards being made. In a letter to institutional signing officials, Sally Rocky, Deputy Director for Extramural Research, said:

“… it is possible that your grants or cooperative agreement awards may be affected.  Examples of this impact could include: not issuing continuation awards, or negotiating a reduction in the scope of your awards to meet the constraints imposed by sequestration.”

NASA has weighed in on the impact of sequestration on their research awards with:

“At this time, NASA is taking every step to mitigate the effects of these cuts, but based on our initial analysis, it is possible that your contract, grant, cooperative agreement, or Space Act agreement may be affected. In addition, planned actions for new and existing work may be re-scoped, delayed, or canceled depending on the nature of the work and the degree to which it directly supports the Agency’s mission goals.”

The Society of Research Administrators (SRA) International has put up a webpage that is a great resource for information related to sequestration across federal agencies involved with research support.

We can only hope that our elected leaders will redeem themselves and come up with a long-term solution to the ongoing series of manufactured budget crises such that stable and reasonable research support can exist. Unfortunately, our US elected representatives are proving themselves wholly incapable of doing the very job they were elected to do – run the country.

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