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NCI’s New Fiscal Year Brings Old Fiscal Challenges

, by Dr. Norman E. Sharpless

NCI Director Dr. Norman E. Sharpless

Credit: National Cancer Institute

UPDATE: January 14, 2021

NCI received its fiscal year 2021 appropriation from Congress in late December 2020. Based on our funding level, NCI is revising FY 2021 paylines as follows. Further information will be provided in the days ahead.

  • R01 Grants for Established Investigators – 11th percentile
  • R01 Grants for Early Stage Investigators – 16th percentile
  • R21 Exploratory Grants – 9th percentile
  • Non-Competing Grants – paid at 100%

At the stroke of midnight on September 30, NCI began a new fiscal year and faced an old financial challenge: how to prudently plan for the next 12 months of Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 when NCI knows what its funding will be for only the next 72 days.

Whenever Congress and the President can’t agree on a budget before October 1, NCI and other federal agencies begin the new fiscal year with short-term funding from a continuing resolution, or CR, to use Washington-speak. The current CR that funds NCI programs expires on December 11. For more details about continuing resolutions and the challenges they bring, I encourage you to view our December 2019 Bottom Line Blog.   

Consequences of a CR for the NCI Grants Community

What does this budget uncertainty mean for the NCI science community? Until December 11, and possibly longer, NCI doesn’t know how much funding we will have for the current fiscal year. I say possibly longer because Congress sometimes enacts a second or third CR that extends budget uncertainty into January, or beyond.

Given this situation, the most prudent approach is for NCI to adopt a conservative, provisional spending plan. This interim plan only makes funding commitments that NCI can sustain until we eventually receive our overall budget for the year. NCI is not facing this dilemma alone. Other NIH institutes and centers experience the same challenge.

NCI Provisional Competing Grants Policy 

The budget uncertainty has significant consequences for the grantee community. Although NCI will reconsider its provisional policies when we receive our final appropriation, the interim grants policies displayed below reflect a cautious approach during the continuing resolution period.

NCI Interim Paylines FY 2021 Competing Grants Table

We hope to improve paylines when NCI receives its final appropriation and we have greater financial certainty.  

NCI Provisional Noncompeting Grants Policy

The situation for noncompeting grants echoes the budget outlook for competing awards. Fiscal uncertainty dictates a cautious approach, so NCI will pay most noncompeting grants at 95% until the fiscal situation becomes clearer. 

To be specific, NCI is issuing noncompeting awards at the 95% funding level for the following grant types: R01, R21, R24, R33, R35, R37, DPI, P01, P20, P50, U01, U10, U19, U24, U54, U56, UG1, UG3, UH2, and UH3. The 95% policy only applies to these specific grant mechanisms, and the policy only applies to the noncompeting awards issued while a CR is active. For more details about these and other NIH grant mechanisms, please see the NIH Grants and Funding page. 

Additional details about these provisional grant policies appear on the NCI website, including a list of noncompeting grants exempt from the provisional 5% reduction. When NCI receives its final appropriation, we will update our policies and assess whether we can restore noncompeting grants to 100% and improve paylines for competing grants. 

Please continue to follow the NCI Bottom Line Blog, where we will update these grant policies after we receive our final appropriation for FY 2021.

In closing, I want to offer my heartfelt thanks to all in the cancer community for your tireless dedication to advancing science and the nation’s health at this especially challenging time.

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