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Director’s Message: Navigating the Next Fiscal Year

We started the new fiscal year (FY) contending with the government shutdown. Now that the Institute is up and running again I wanted to share with you how we managed last year’s sequestration cuts, where the NINDS budget stands for FY 2014, and how we plan to address the budgetary challenges before us. We are now operating under the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2014 (H. R. 2775/Public Law 113-46), or CR, that will fund our operations through January 15, 2014 at the FY 2013 level. As in prior years, NINDS will issue most non-competing research grant awards at approximately 90% of the previously committed level indicated on the most recent Notice of Award. Since we do not yet have a budget for the current year, we have not been able to establish a plan for funding new and competing grants in FY 2014. Once Congress appropriates our FY 2014 budget, we will develop a funding plan for them and hope we will be in a position to provide upward adjustments to the non-competing award amount.

There is a great deal of uncertainty surrounding what our final FY 2014 budget will look like. The across-the-board federal spending cuts known as sequestration began in March 2013. As a result, the FY 2013 NINDS budget was $1.53 billion, which represented a $92 million decrease, or approximately a 5.5% cut, compared to FY 2012. These sequester cuts are maintained in the current CR; whether sequestration is continued in FY 2014 remains to be seen. If it is continued, a second round of cuts is currently scheduled to take effect in January 2014. I describe below the funding strategy we implemented for FY 2013 and explain our rationale – if the sequester remains in place we will likely apply many of these same strategies to the new fiscal year. 

In FY 2013, we chose to make small reductions in nearly every part of the NINDS budget including extramural grants, the intramural research program, and research management and support (RMS) - the expenses associated with the Institute’s day-to-day operations, including the review, management, and evaluation of grants and contracts. Because we moved aggressively to find efficiencies and streamline our operations, have been conservative in starting new initiatives, and several large programs have come to a close, new and ongoing NINDS programs did not have to bear the full brunt of the 5.5% cut last year.

Investigator-initiated scientific discovery is the core of our efforts to understand, treat, and ultimately prevent neurological disorders. In recent years, we have worked hard to raise and stabilize funding success rates for investigator-initiated research, with special attention to new investigators, and this continues to be one of our top priorities looking ahead to FY 2014. Therefore we made strategic decisions in FY 2013 to enable us to fund new and competing R01 and R21 extramural grants up to the 14th percentile, where percentile indicates the relative rank of the application in a given study section. Most important for accomplishing this goal was reducing our commitment to many grants funded in previous years by 3.5% from the most recent Notice of Award. Since only one quarter of our budget for extramural grants is available for new grants in any given year, we decided that it would be neither fair nor wise to apply the entirety of this major budget cut only to those grants newly funded in FY 2013. We have heard the warnings that this would be “a bad year to have a good idea”.  We worked hard to find ways to fund as many good ideas as possible, committing $130 million to funding for unsolicited applications.

We also worked to address unmet, mission-critical scientific opportunities and public health needs across many scientific and disease areas. We decided not to cut funding for a few key areas, including ongoing clinical trials, milestone-driven translational projects, small business grants, and NIH trainee salaries. We set aside $130 million for training activities (fellowships, career development awards, training grants), for supporting a less restrictive payline for new and early stage investigators’ R01s, for special initiatives (RFA/PAs), high program priority awards, and major clinical trials. For example, in 2013 we launched the Parkinson's Disease Biomarkers Program, a collaborative effort to accelerate the search for diagnostic and progression biomarkers for Parkinson's Disease, as well as the Stroke Trials Network, a new coordinated network to conduct clinical trials in stroke prevention, acute treatment, and recovery.

Consistent with the cuts in extramural program, the budgets for the intramural research program and RMS were reduced by 3.5%. As in every fiscal year, however, the fixed expenditures paid from the intramural NINDS budget such as administrative salaries, rent, facilities, and NIH Clinical Center costs cannot be reduced. Because of these fixed costs, a 3.5% overall cut from the intramural budget translates to an 8.5% cut for individual laboratory budgets for research conducted at NIH.

These cuts all take their toll, slowing progress on ongoing projects and reducing our ability to capitalize on current and emerging opportunities – opportunities for fundamental discovery and opportunities for clinical studies that can help us reduce the burden of neurological disorders and stroke. These are challenging times for those who have committed their careers to scientific research. I recognize that these budget cuts create significant hardships for investigators, and that the uncertainty of funding in 2014 and beyond can be especially discouraging to graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and talented scientists and clinicians trying to gain traction at the beginning of their research careers. We must continue to send the message to them that the opportunities for discovery in neuroscience have never been greater, and that even in tough economic times, the US taxpayer’s investment in neuroscience research, estimated at $5.4 billion/year, is unequaled – an important sign that a career in neuroscience research is not only possible but valued.

We must work together to ensure the best and brightest scientists can continue to make the groundbreaking discoveries in basic, translational and clinical neuroscience research that contribute to the intellectual strength of our country, drive advances in the prevention and treatment of devastating neurological disorders, and provide significant benefits to the US economy.

Last Modified November 12, 2013