US Stimulus Funding: A Windfall for Labs

Analytical instrument and laboratory product companies are celebrating the passage of US President Barack Obama’s stimulus plan, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), which was signed into law on February 17. The ARRA provides $600 million directly for laboratory instrument purchases. It is also expected that part of the funding for research grants will be used to purchase laboratory instruments and associated supplies. Indirectly, the funding for the construction of new labs and the modernization of existing labs could also generate demand for instruments and products.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) estimates that the stimulus provided a total of $21.5 billion for R&D, $18.0 billion for conducting R&D and $3.5 billion for R&D facilities and capital equipment, including $1.4 billion for extramural projects. As noted by the AAAS, the stimulus plan also provided monies for new and dormant programs; specifically, the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), which was created in 2007 but never funded, and the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Academic Research Infrastructure program, which has not received funding since fiscal 1996.

The time line of the funding—research grants must be spent by September 2010—also favors instrument purchases. As Yale University’s Deputy Provost for Science and Technology Steven Girvin told The Yale Daily, research instrument and equipment purchases make the most sense given the short time for spending stimulus funds. The abbreviated time line is a change from the typical National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant, which lasts four years.

The biggest research winner under the ARRA was the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which received $10.4 billion in funding. The NIH’s current budget for fiscal 2009 is $29.3 billion. The bulk of the stimulus funds, $8.2 million, went to NIH research grants, including $400 million for comparative effectiveness research to evaluate the effectiveness of medical treatments. This funding is part of $1.1 billion in stimulus funding for comparative effectiveness research, which also includes $300 million for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and $400 million for the secretary of Health and Human Services.

Although complete details about how the NIH will allocate stimulus funds are not yet available, some information has been announced. The NIH’s Institutes and Centers and its Common Fund are expected to receive $7.4 billion, which will distributed according to a percentage-based formula. Based on fiscal 2008 congressional appropriations, the National Cancer Institute (NCI), National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases can expect to receive the highest percentage of stimulus funds among the Institutes. The NCI estimates it will receive $1.26 billion. The remaining $800 million for research grants will go to the Office of the Director.

NIH research funding is expected to go to R01 grants that were reviewed in fiscal 2008 and 2009, but not funded at that time, as well as to new applications. To accommodate the two-year framework, some projects eligible to receive grant awards may be modified, and shorter-term projects are expected to be favored. All NIH grants will be awarded on a peer-reviewed basis, and the NIH plans to spend as much of the stimulus funds in fiscal 2009 as possible.

An estimated $100–$200 million in grant money will be made available for Challenge Grants of up to $500,000. Challenge Grants support cross-disciplinary research in priority areas. For these grants, an application deadline of April is expected, with reviews to be completed by June. Grant money would be distributed by the end of September. Funding is also expected to go to supplement existing NIH grants, and could support administrative, competitive or theme-based funding. In a presentation to scientific organizations, NIH Acting Director Dr. Raynard Kington noted that examples of such supplemental support could be training or equipment.

The NIH also received $300 million for direct funding of lab instruments and equipment through the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR), which will distribute funds in the form of grants for shared instrumentation and other capital equipment. A Request for Applications (RFA) for funding instruments costing $100,000–$500,000 was issued by the Shared Instrumentation Grants program (SIGs) in February and is due March 23. According to the RFA, which was released prior to stimulus funds becoming available, the NCRR plans to spend $43 million in fiscal 2010 to support 125 new SIG awards. For biomedical technology, another funding mechanism for NCRR equipment grants is the High-End Instrumentation program (HEI), which provides grants for the purchase of research instruments costing more than $750,000. Currently, there are no RFAs for this program. However, on its website, the Medical University of South Carolina estimates a May deadline for applications for a new round of HEI grants.

The NCRR also received $1 billion for the construction, repair or alteration of non-NIH facilities. Further details on how this funding will be spent are unavailable at this time. However, as The New York Times reported on February 24, many universities are eagerly awaiting the money, with construction projects ready to go.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) received $3 billion in funding from the stimulus plan. Two billion dollars will go to “Research and Related Activities” for grants. According to the University of Wisconsin, NSF grants are expected to go to applications that have been reviewed for which funding was previously unavailable. The New York Times reports that the NSF plans to distribute its grant funding within 120 days. Education and human resources at the NSF will receive $100 million.

The NSF’s direct funding for research instruments will come from its Major Research Instrumentation Program (MRI), which received $300 million. Applications for the most recent MRI grant for the development or purchase of instruments were due January 9. Under MRI grants, multiple instruments may be purchased if the requested amount is less than $2 million. For requests of $2–$4 million, a single instrument must be purchased.

The construction of new labs is also expected to get a push. The NSF’s Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction program received $400 million, and the Academic Research Infrastructure program for research facilities modernization received $200 million. Funding for Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction also includes funds for research equipment.

Although the Department of Energy (DOE) received $39 billion in new funding under the ARRA, $16.8 billion of it went to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy for activities largely unrelated to research activities or instrument purchases. However, within this funding, $800 million is designated for biomass projects and $400 million for geothermal projects, both of which may fund research. The ARRA also provided the DOE with $3.4 billion for fossil energy R&D, including $1 billion specifically designated for R&D and $20 million for geologic research and training.

The majority of new DOE funding for research went to the Office of Science, which received $1.6 billion. The funding includes an allocation of $400 million for the ARPA-E. Created in 2007, the ARPA-E is designed to fund cross-disciplinary, high-risk research of clean energy technologies. Other details about the Office of Science’s plans for the stimulus funds are not yet available.

The Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) received $610 million in stimulus funding. The NIST’s Scientific and Technical Research Services will get $220 million for R&D, grants, fellowships and equipment. The NIST also received $360 million in new funding for the construction of research facilities at universities and nonprofits, including $180 million for competitive grants for non-NIST facilities. The NIST plans to post details about its spending plans for stimulus funds on a designated website as soon as they become available.

Several other agencies also received funding that could stimulate instrument and lab product purchases. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration received $836 million, including $230 million for operations, research and facilities. The ARRA provided the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) with $176 million for maintenance of the Agricultural Research Services’ buildings and facilities.

Instruments for water quality testing also benefited from the ARRA. Through the EPA, the stimulus provided $4 billion in grant money for Clean Water State Revolving Funds and $2 billion for capitalization grants for the Safe Drinking Water Act. The Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation was allocated $126 million for water reuse and reclamation projects, and at least $60 million for rural water projects. The USDA’s Rural Utilities Services received $2.82 billion for loans and $986 million for grants to rural water and waste disposal facilities.

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