In these tight fiscal times, federal agencies are in search of the most effective management strategies for increasingly limited resources. The National Institutes of Health (NIH), like many federal agencies, is worried about future funding levels. NIH has recently begun evaluating existing and novel ways of allocating resources to ensure the most effective and fair distribution of its approximately $31 billion annual budget.

NIH has released information on possible programmatic changes, and the agency is encouraging feedback from the extramural research community. Proposed changes include limiting the number of research program grant (RPG) awards per investigator, the total amount of awards per investigator, the size of awards, or the amount of salary support paid by NIH.

One proposed change would be to reduce or limit the size of each award. NIH estimates that reducing the size of each award by $25,000 would allow the agency to award an additional 616 competitive RPGs and increase the success rate from 20.5 percent to 21.7 percent. RPGs currently average $414,000 per year for 4.3 years. This method could involve decreasing the percentage of large ($1 million) and medium ($500,000) RPGs awarded and increasing the number of small ($250,000) grants awarded.

A second option would be to limit the number of awards per principle investigator (PI). There are currently no limits on the number of RPGs per PI. Compared to FY 2010, limiting PIs to three RPG’s could create an additional 264 competitive grants, and raise the success rate by 0.5 percent. A two RPG limit per PI could result in 956 new competitive grants awarded and raise the success rate by 2.0 percent.

The third proposal would limit the amount of funds per PI. Currently, about 20 percent of investigators funded by NIH receive 50 percent of the awarded funds. Limiting individual PIs total funding from NIH to $1 million could save $3.1 billion, which could be used to create approximately 2,000 competitive grants at an average cost of $400,000 each. NIH estimates that an $800,000 limit per PI could result in 2,400 new awards, whereas a limit of $400,000 could allow the creation of 4,400 new awards.

A final option proposed by NIH would involve limiting the portion of PI’s salaries that can be funded by NIH RPGs. Limiting this would direct more RPG funding to research and research resources.

NIH was motivated to create these proposals to increase the applicant success rate, which has dropped from 32 percent to 21 percent over the past decade. NIH estimates that a 10 percent reduction in its research budget could result in a proposal success rate of 12.3 percent.

Further information, including interactive graphs and statistics, can be found on the NIH Office of Extramural Research website at NIH is encouraging comments and feedback at


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