Go back

NIH millionaires will face closer inspection

Research proposals to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) from investigators who already receive grants in excess of $1 million from the funding agency will receive extra scrutiny to ensure their proposals do not overlap with current work.

The Special Council Review (SCR) policy, intended to help the NIH manage resources more effectively, was announced on 20 August. The policy will see scientists who currently receive more than $1m in direct costs for research project grants subject to the new vetting either when they apply for grants or seek renewals.

The policy is due to take effect from the 2013 fiscal year, when approximately 90 applications for the September round will undergo special review.

The policy “responds to a growing need to address how to manage the funding of scientific research in fiscally challenging times”, said Sally Rockey, the NIH’s deputy director for extramural research, in a blog post.

Applications will be assessed on whether projects offer a unique opportunity to advance research that is both highly promising and distinct from other projects for which the principal investigator receives funding. Grant assessors, however, will be able to make exceptions to application of the policy—a caveat which recognises that some research, such as clinical trials, requires higher levels of support.

NIH decided to introduce the policy following a pilot scheme. The main change from the pilot is that the threshold that triggers the policy has fallen from $1.5m to $1m, though funding is now limited to direct costs only. The change was in response to concern from researchers that there were differences in indirect cost rates among institutions.

Rockey stressed the policy did “not cap” the total amount of funds an investigator could win. “Rather [it] is a special review to complement existing NIH policies that require monitoring all investigators’ activities for overlapping support”, she said.