New policy will speed up

Sean Madigan

Itemizing a detailed research budget can be cumbersome for investigators who want to concentrate on the scientific merit of a project.
Now, in an attempt to reduce notification time in reviewing grant applications, the National Institutes of Health announced last week it is changing its budget-writing policy.
The new system, known as the Modular Research Grant Application and Award Initiative, will allow researchers applying for less than $250,000 to submit only a limited budget. Researchers will be asked to submit budget costs such as salaries, administration and equipment in $25,000 increments. All grants requesting more than $250,000 will still have to submit a detailed budget in accordance with the old system.
Even for smaller departments such as biochemistry, which has up to 60 grants at a time, this application process is a welcome relief.
“Ideally you’re not supposed to evaluate the cost of the project on the first pass, but rather the scientific merit,” said Dr. Charles Moldow, the Medical School’s associate dean of research programs. “It makes sense for small grants, but I think if you ask for $1.5 million they (the NIH) would want to know how you are spending it in a fairly detailed manner.”
Normally, once a grant proposal is submitted it takes nine to 10 months for review. By eliminating the required detailed budget the NIH hopes the turnaround time will be reduced to six months.
“Anything that will speed up the process is not bad,” Moldow said.
Although the new system will not affect the majority of the Medical School’s grant proposals, Moldow said the new system should help younger investigators with smaller grant proposals.
The NIH recently awarded the University with a five-year, $5 million grant to start a drug addiction research center for cellular and molecular biology. Grant applications like this are not included in the revised process.
Detailed budget requests, like those initially submitted for larger grant applications, will not be asked for until after the grant is awarded for those projects that qualify.
Dr. James Koerner, a biochemistry professor in the Medical School, said he believes although this change is a step in the right direction, it will not completely simplify the process.
“Preparing one of these is an enormous expenditure of time,” Koerner said. “It takes a couple hundred man-hours of time with both direct and indirect costs.
“You write down all these budgets, but you can’t predict what’s going to happen. The bottom line is that most of them (grant proposals) have stereotypical costs to them. I think they’re trying to get rid of these semi-fictional and stereotypical budgets we submit.”