Special Open Dore Issue: Advocating for Federal Support of Great Research
While the Open Dore is typically on pause during the summer months, I felt it was important to provide an update on a recently announced federal budget proposal that calls for drastic cuts to research funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). These proposals from the Trump administration and Health and Human Services (HHS) include restricting facilities and administrative (F&A) reimbursements on NIH awards to 10 percent of total research. If adopted, this cap on F&A reimbursements would adversely affect ALL of our nation’s research institutions, public and private, including Vanderbilt University and Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
I want to assure all that I am working diligently with Chancellor Zeppos, VUMC President and CEO Jeff Balser, our deans and our entire public affairs team to make sure federal agency officials and our legislators are aware of the consequences such a cut would bring. Dr. Balser also writes on this topic in his recent VUMC Reporter Rounds article. Furthermore, we are working in partnership with institutions nationwide through the American Association of Universities (AAU) and the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).
Given the significant impact of this proposed action, I think it is important that all our faculty and staff understand the facts behind these potential changes. What are F&A costs on grants and contracts, and why would their reduction hurt our institutions? I strongly encourage you to review the excellent FAQs on F&A costs from the AAU. In short, federal agencies, including the NIH, provide two sources of funds as part of their grants and contracts: (1) direct funds that pay for research staff salaries, research supplies and equipment; and (2) indirect, or F&A, funds that partially reimburse the institution for the infrastructure expenses associated with conducting the research project on behalf of the federal government. Specifically, F&A costs include specialized facilities and laboratories such as shared core facilities, high-speed data processing and storage, human and animal research review boards, radiation and chemical safety activities, and compliance activities required for the conduct of federally funded research. They also cover the basic utilities – electricity, heat, cooling – required to run the laboratories.
It is important to know that F&A reimbursements do not cover the full cost of our research infrastructure and support costs. A prior study showed that Vanderbilt subsidizes its research efforts with an average of $0.38 cents of institutional funds for every dollar, direct and indirect, received from NIH. We contribute these university funds towards this research due to the central role that discovery plays in our strategic mission. Importantly, F&A reimbursements are tightly regulated and audited by the federal government to ensure that the government funds only that portion of costs that are attributable to the performance of federally funded research.
We believe that the combined total impact of this cut to Vanderbilt University and Vanderbilt University Medical Center would be in excess of $90 million. A cut of this magnitude cannot be managed through any other available funds and would force immediate strategic decisions that might extend well beyond the research enterprise. We predict this will cause financial strain in all of our institutional activities; from education and training programs to center and institutes, and in all of our schools and colleges and across VU and VUMC. This will be true at every research institution in the country.
Vanderbilt is proud to partner with the federal government in conducting world-class scientific research. Our country’s nearly 70-year long partnership between the federal government and research universities and academic medical centers is world renowned for its productivity and innovation—and for the tremendous improvements in human health that it has produced through basic and translational research. NIH-funded research has led to an increase in life expectancy and declines in deaths from cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other devastating and debilitating diseases. Additionally, NIH-funded work has led to major advances in reducing health disparities and in improving human development. The U.S. is the global leader in medical research, basic scientific research and innovation that has led to significant economic benefits, job growth and advances in healthcare that benefit all Americans. Stable and consistent funding of the entire spectrum of research infrastructure and activities is necessary to maintain our country’s standing and for the good of humanity.
We are working hard to prevent the proposal from moving forward by informing policymakers of the consequences of such cuts. I appreciate your support by learning more about this proposal and why we need to advocate and defend the need for supporting great research. Please visit our Research News site for more information.
Susan R. Wente
Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs
Previous Open Dore Issues
In case you missed it….
Greatest Appreciation for our Staff – May 2017
Investing in our Future – April 2017
An Every-10-Year Tradition: Our Reaffirmation of Accreditation – March 2017
The COACHE Survey: Be Informed about Faculty Satisfaction – February 2017
The January Jumpstart – January 2017
All past issues