From the Science Directorate

The National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) have funding programs to address specialized research proposals for investigating issues in the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11.

Attention Researchers: Emergency Grant Mechanisms Offered by NSF and NIMH

By Heather O’Beirne Kelly, PhD
APA Public Policy Office

Some behavioral scientists have asked whether there are special grant mechanisms in place at federal agencies for researchers interested in investigating issues in the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11. Both the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) have funding programs that can address such specialized research proposals.

NSF has an award category (Small Grants for Exploratory Research or SGERs) designed to expedite funding of “proposals for small-scale, exploratory, high-risk research in the fields of science, engineering, and education normally supported by NSF….” Individual NSF program officers have some flexibility in providing awards of up to $100,000 for 2 years (without external review) to fund “research characterized as:

  • preliminary work on untested and novel ideas;

  • ventures into emerging research areas;

  • application of new expertise or new approaches to ‘established’ research topics; [or]

  • having a severe urgency with regard to availability of, or access to data, facilities, or specialized equipment, including quick-response research on natural disasters and similar unanticipated events” [emphasis added]

As an example, a researcher conducting ongoing work in the area of stress and coping received a SGER following the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing from the Social Psychology program at NSF. More information about applying for SGERs may be found in NSF’s on-line grant proposal guide at www.nsf.gov/cgi-bin/getpub/gpg (see Chapter II, Section 11). Researchers are strongly encouraged to contact NSF program officers to discuss possible SGER proposals prior to submission.

NIMH has a Rapid Assessment Post-Impact of Disaster (RAPID) program “to provide a mechanism for research which requires rapid funding in order to permit access to a disaster area in the immediate aftermath of an event.” The program announcement notes that NIMH “recognizes that prompt assessment may be crucial to many kinds of mental health disaster studies, including those that focus on service seeking, on efficacy of outreach or prevention efforts, and on identifying high-risk victims on the basis of early response.” Information on this program can be found at www.nimh.nih.gov/grants/research/910004.cfm.

RAPID awards may not exceed $50,000 in amount or 2 years in duration and are non-renewable. RAPID proposals must be submitted within approximately 6 weeks of the identified disaster event. Inquiries may be directed to Farris Tuma at (301) 443-5944 or by email.

What Has Changed—and Has Not Changed—for Behavioral Science since the September 11 Attacks

By Patricia C. Kobor
Public Policy Office

The tragic events of September 11 have narrowed the focus of Congress and the Bush Administration in numerous ways. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center Towers and the Pentagon, Congress and the Administration are focused on improving public safety, mobilizing the U.S. Armed Forces and the National Guard, and aiding the most stricken sectors of the U.S. economy. Scientific advocacy organizations, including APA, are moving very cautiously in this newly transformed city, searching for ways that they can provide tools or resources to help Congress and the Administration navigate the terrain of a war on terrorism.

To enable the government to concentrate more fully on its new priorities, Congress and the Administration have announced that only a few pieces of legislation will be considered before Congress adjourns (adjournment is forecast for late October or early November). As this article goes to press, the 13 appropriations bills providing federal funding for government agencies and programs for fiscal year (FY) 2002 are yet to be enacted, though a temporary spending bill is in effect through October 16. Some of the spending bills will almost surely be combined into an omnibus bill to speed their passage. Eager to avoid fights over language that could delay passage of the appropriations bills, the appropriations subcommittees are under intense pressure to smooth out problems and leave off more contentious policy changes.

While some observers have worried that the anticipated 15% increase for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) might be reduced to cover other pressing national needs, it appears very likely that NIH will receive the next installment toward doubling its budget. The Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approved legislation on October 11 that would provide the Department of Health and Human Services with $54.2 billion, including $23.7 billion for NIH, $4.4 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and $5.2 billion for AIDS research, prevention, and care.

The committee's $23.7 billion recommendation for NIH represents a $3.4 billion increase over last year and is enough to keep Congress on its 5-year NIH budget-doubling track. However, the Senate figure differs by some $800 million from the $22.9 billion provided in the House Labor/Health and Human Services package.

Spending for bioterrorism preparedness measures had been cut slightly prior to September 11, but the bills approved by the House and Senate have provided healthy increases for those programs at CDC.

The Senate passed an appropriations bill that would give the National Science Foundation (NSF) $4.67 billion in funding, a 5.6% increase over FY2001, and the House-passed bill would fund NSF at $4.84 billion, a 9% increase. As this update goes to press, the Senate and House are meeting in conference to work out differences in the two appropriations bills. Whatever the compromise on NSF spending, the increase will not keep the agency on track toward doubling its overall budget within 5 years, an effort gaining momentum in the science advocacy community.

The non-Social Security surplus has been shrinking steadily as the country’s economic performance has been reduced (and with the delivery of tax cut payments). However, with the U.S. on war footing, concerns about spending part of the Social Security surplus have faded. Government spending has always been ramped up in times of war. The war context makes it likely that President Bush and Congress will be able to agree on increased levels of spending for education as well as health research.

Many pieces of domestic legislation have fallen down on the priority list, but the White House and Congress are still working to enact H.R. 1, a major reform bill for elementary and secondary education. The House and Senate have passed differing versions, and a conference committee is meeting periodically to work out differences. Diligent PSA readers know that the House-passed version of this bill contains the Tiahrt-Graham amendment, which would require prior, written parental consent for any survey or evaluation research in schools in which students are asked about risk behaviors and familial relationships. APA staff is working closely with Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and a large coalition of science, public health, and education groups to omit this amendment from the final bill or to blunt its impact with a science-friendly compromise. Because the bill is so lengthy and complex, it will require a significant time commitment for Congress to complete work on it before adjournment.

Washington is also adjusting to additional security measures. All federal buildings and sites, including NIH and CDC, are now on a heightened state of security that includes vehicle checks and ID checkpoints. At NIH, in addition to checking and fully inspecting vehicles of visitors, vendors, and contractors as they enter the campus perimeter, NIH security staff are conducting random checks of employees' vehicles, even if they have a valid NIH parking permit. Under a modified weekend schedule, doors to all NIH campus buildings, except for the Clinical Center (Building 10), will remain locked with card key access required for entry. Visitors to NIH must be met by an employee at the building entrance and escorted within the building. Guards have been posted at main exterior doors in some buildings with high traffic.

Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), Chair of the House Science Committee, has told university presidents that he feels that government-sponsored research and development probably does not require major redirection in the wake of the terrorist attacks, although he mentioned several research areas that seem more critical now. These include computer security research, which he called “an inadequately funded backwater in academia,” and the technical capabilities of law enforcement agencies. Boehlert also mentioned assessment and improvement of drinking water systems, response to chemical, biological, or nuclear attacks, and biometrics—the use of features of the human body such as retinal or iris patterns—to foil the use of false identification.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has dropped her plans to introduce legislation that would enforce a 6-month moratorium on foreign student visas. Because concerns about a moratorium were raised from the academic and research communities, Sen. Feinstein is instead pursuing other recommendations to improve and correct problems relating to poor implementation and enforcement of the student visa system. The issue arose after it became known some of the September 11 hijackers had entered the country on student visas, but never attended school.

APA’s Science Policy staff will continue to look for opportunities to share relevant psychological research with policymakers as they grapple to respond to the events of September 11. If you have suggestions please contact Geoff Mumford, Director of Science Policy.