Scientific Research Funding Gets Significant Boost in Economic Stimulus Legislation

Congress has delivered to President Barack Obama a hard-fought legislative package including tax cuts and targeted spending designed to boost the flagging economy.

Congress has delivered to President Barack Obama a hard-fought legislative package including tax cuts and targeted spending designed to boost the flagging economy. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (H.R. 1) weighs in at $787.2 billion. Spending on scientific research is an important feature of the legislation. An intense lobbying effort by Nobel laureates, health and scientific organizations, including APA, helped make the case that research provisions would provide short-term and long-term economic benefits.

National Institutes of Health (NIH): The conference agreement provides $10 billion for NIH. Of this amount, $8.2 billion is directed to the Office of the Director, with $7.4 billion to be transferred to the Institutes, Centers, and Common Fund, and $800 million retained for the Office of the Director. Most NIH institutes and centers (ICs) would enjoy record-breaking budgets in FY 2009.

The conference agreement provides $1.3 billion for the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR), with $1 billion for "competitive awards for the construction and renovation of extramural research facilities" and $300 million for "shared instrumentation and other capital equipment." The conference agreement also provides $500 million for the Buildings and Facilities account to be used for construction and renovation of NIH intramural buildings.

To read the bill’s provisions about NIH, see pages 153-156 of the Conference Report - Division A.
National Science Foundation (NSF) – H.R. 1 includes $3 billion for NSF (compare to the FY 2008 budget of $6.1 billion). $2 billion will go to research grants distributed through NSF’s regular peer review process. The bill also provides $300 million to the Major Research Instrumentation program, competitively awarded instrumentation grants for university researchers, and $200 million to restart the Academic Research Infrastructure program, for competitively awarded laboratory construction grants.

$100 million will go to the Education and Human Resources Directorate, including $60 million to the Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program, $25 million to the Math and Science Partnerships program, and $15 million to a new Professional Masters Science Program authorized in the America COMPETES Act. Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) spending of $400 million would accelerate the construction of major research facilities with unique capabilities at the cutting edge of science.

H.R. 1 also includes funding for research at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration ($1 billion); Department of Energy ($1.6 billion to the Office of Science); Department of Defense ($200 million for energy-related research); and other scientific agencies.

A detailed breakdown of stimulus appropriations with comparisons to earlier year budgets appears on the website of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

The AAAS also provides a good analysis of the tensions within scientific agencies about how best to spend this unprecedented infusion of new funds: “The final stimulus bill challenges the major R&D funding agencies to spend these large stimulus appropriations quickly, while at the same time spending them well. The final stimulus bill does not contain provisions in earlier versions of the bill requiring nearly all of the funding to be awarded within 120 days of when the President signs the bill into law, but the intent remains to spend the money as quickly as possible to provide immediate economic stimulus. Nearly all of the money is designated as FY 2009 money, and most agencies are now allowed to obligate funds until the end of September 2010, and spend out the money even after that if necessary.”

Agencies are certainly under pressure to spend the money quickly, but accountability measures are being established to keep track of how the money is spent and how many jobs are created. Watch for a recovery.gov site to provide real-time public disclosure.

Acting NIH Director Raynard Kington, MD, PhD, explained in an interview for National Public Radio why scientific research was a good candidate for stimulus spending, with so many peer reviewed projects approved but unfunded.

In response to action alerts from APA, members spoke out on the research provisions in H.R. 1. Some made phone calls to their Senators in support of the Specter amendment, ultimately approved, to provide $10 billion total to NIH. Others phoned to maintain funds for the National Science Foundation in the bill. Although NSF funds were dropped out of the Senate version of the bill, the conference report added the funds back.

Check out future issues of SPIN as APA Science Government Relations staff help track the expenditure of research funds in the stimulus legislation, and share news about any changes in research management that may accompany the passage of H.R. 1.