For the last six months, the rheumatology research community has been buzzing about the “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act” (ARRA), a stimulus package signed into law by President Barak Obama in February that has injected billions into federally funded research grant programs. The extra dollars are a welcome boost to a tight funding environment, but several aspects of the stimulus package funds make the ARRA grants a unique mix of challenge and opportunity.
Infusion of Dollars
The ARRA stimulus program injected approximately $10 billion into the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Of this, around $8.2 billion was appropriated for extramural scientific research. The rest was to be spent on various items such as repair, renovation, or construction—both within and outside of the NIH—comparative effectiveness research through the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality (AHRQ), and extramural equipment purchases (See Figure 1, p. 33).
“The big chunk of money went to scientific research, and each institute and center was allowed to develop their own funding priorities,” says Robert Carter, MD, deputy director of the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS). “We wanted the community to tell us their needs. We asked, within constraints given us by Congress, for proposals the researchers thought were worthy.”
The ARRA legislation had some additional considerations that were not part of the usual NIH Requests for Application (RFA). Chief among these was a requirement that the money be allocated and spent within two years. In addition, there was an obligation to either save or create jobs for economic benefit.
NIAMS was looking for proposals that would really open doors and use the money in ways different from business as usual. We wanted to ask new questions that otherwise wouldn’t be possible.
—Robert Carter, MD
“The NIAMS portion of ARRA is approximately the equivalent, in terms of dollars, to the amount of new research grants NIAMS will fund through the normal appropriation this year, a once-in-a-lifetime bolus of money,” says Dr. Carter. “We wanted to take advantage of this unique opportunity to do something different. NIAMS was looking for proposals that would really open doors and use the money in ways different from business as usual. We wanted to ask new questions that otherwise wouldn’t be possible.”
Other institutes took other paths. James Rosenbaum, MD, is chair of the division of arthritis and rheumatic diseases and the Edward E. Rosenbaum professor of inflammation research at the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland. Due to his research interests, much of his funding comes from the National Eye Institute.