The U.S. Treasury has announced that it expects the debt ceiling to be reached in mid-October at which point the country will have reached the limit of its borrowing authority and will not be able to pay all of its bills. The looming October deadline is earlier than previously anticipated and the path forward is unclear. Treasure Secretary Jacob Lew has sent a letter to Congress encouraging action to extend the debt ceiling in order to avoid default. President Obama has stated that he will not negotiate on the debt ceiling while Speaker John Boehner says that he is preparing for a show down and intends to “leverage the political process” and demand “cuts and reforms that are greater than the increase in the debt limit.” Speaker Boehner has not made statements regarding specific cuts and reforms that will be requested.
This news leaves many government agencies guessing as to how to plan for the coming year – and beyond. Their uncertainty translates to an increasingly competitive federal funding landscape. The NIH has referred to 2013 as the “darkest ever” year for the agency and they continue to fund fewer of the grant applications that they receive.
A recent article in the Baltimore Sun described the impacts that the budget uncertainty is having on research as agencies face increasing scrutiny in how funds are distributed. Dr. Daniel Ford, vice dean for clinical investigation at Johns Hopkins Medicine, said during an interview for the article, “I have never seen a year where there is going to be such a need for advocacy around NIH funding.”
FY 2014 Appropriations So Far: A Roundup
With the Congressional session resuming next week, The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has put together an overview of where appropriations stand so far, with an agency-by-agency summary for the largest federal R&D funders including a full set of charts and graphs. The full recap can be downloaded here (PDF).
The current status of R&D appropriations is summarized in the charts (from the AAAS report).
Early on in the appropriations cycle, the House targeted a few areas in particular for cuts or constraints, among them low-carbon energy and natural resources. At the same time, other areas like defense and agriculture would be spared deeper cuts. So far, this approach has been borne out in R&D funding. With the Senate continuing to ignore sequestration, the appropriations process has resulted in some areas of agreement, but other areas of clear divergence. Continue reading on the R&D Budget and Policy site (http://www.aaas.org/spp/rd/fy2014/AppropsUpdate.shtml).
Five simple rules for team meetings when developing large proposals or applications:
- It is never too early! It is always reassuring when I attend a meeting that is held BEFORE the solicitation has been released. While it might feel premature, early meetings facilitate a strength/weakness analysis, initiate a discussion on technical strategy, and get individuals motivated. More about Kick Off Meetings.
- Easy does it. If your team has worked together previously and/or shares some discipline knowledge or sponsor experience, meetings may be briefer, but will compensate in frequency. Longer and less frequent meetings are advisable when the team requires time to communicate across disciplines or the research approach is being solidified. For example, core team members (PI, Co-I, Project Manager, Proposal Manager) will meet for 30 minutes weekly, but the larger team will meet for 1 to 2 hours every other week. Large team meetings can alternate with small task-driven group meetings.
- More is less. Invite all team members whenever possible. Attendance will be limited because of other demands on their time, but everyone should have an opportunity to contribute. Inviting the team to join the meeting using alternative methods, such as teleconference and using web-based conferencing tools, will encourage participation. This level of transparency pays dividends in team interest and enthusiasm.
- When to say no. It is advisable to schedule meetings several weeks in advance. If you find that you do not need to have a meeting, cancel it. Team members have multiple demands on their time and will always appreciate an hour or two back into their schedule.
- Failure to thrive. Meetings should be agenda driven with room to improvise. Having a standing meeting structure (e.g., round robin updates, challenges, next steps) will assist people when organizing their thoughts. However, meetings should not sacrifice the creative for the droll. Remember that highjacked meetings sometimes move the team forward faster than a business meeting ever could.
These five items are the top of my list, but there are definitely others. What are the rules that work best for you?