Category Archives: Uncategorized

Debt ceiling deadline looms in October

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.”

Letters of Intent

In the grant proposal world, Letters of Intent (LOI) are sent to sponsors as a formal indication that you are preparing a response to their solicitation. An LOI stage serves at least one function: identification of an appropriate quantity and quality of reviewer. The vast majority of LOIs are non-binding and simply provide enough high level information to indicate the type of project you’ll be proposing. Sometimes, albeit rarely, LOIs are binding and/or competitive. In other words, you will be required to submit an application that reflects the content, usually the individual and organizational leadership described. In the case of a competitive LOI, the letter serves as a decision gate for the sponsor to accept an application.

I always recommend that you complete LOI information with a competitive eye. That is, treat it as an opportunity to pitch your project in the best light possible. It might take a bit longer for you to complete, but there are benefits. Namely, drafting a competitive LOI will cause you to begin critically thinking through the selling points of the project, aid in identifying the weaknesses, help gel the project structure and strategic partnerships, and create a launching point for elaboration in the full application.

Importantly, an LOI is not an executive summary, a project summary, or an abstract. It is brief, succinct, and provides the bare minimum of information. However, it does not have to be devoid of nuance. It is an opportunity to construct a document that captures the essence of your project. Text that is used sparingly, must also be used wisely.

Pushing the content of an LOI to make it as persuasive and competitive as possible is just one way to add a professional edge to your application.

What would it look like if you wrote your LOI as if it were binding and competitively evaluated?

Update Report on Benchmarks of US Innovation and the Knowledge Economy from the AIP Bulletin of Science Policy News

The report states “the US is not sending a clear signal that the country is supporting its science and engineering innovators” as evident by the “years of boom-and-bust cycles of federal funding for scientific research.” The reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act was not met with a financial commitment from Congress that matches the investments called for in the legislation. While the report recognizes that this reflects the current difficult economic climate, it emphasizes that “we must strike the right balance between fiscal discipline and building a better America through scientific research and education.”

The report also highlights that the stability of US “investments in basic scientific and engineering research strongly influences vital sectors of the US economy, including energy and manufacturing. Federal investments in research precipitate additional private sector research investments.” Key findings on this issue include
•“The energy industry spends 0.3 percent of domestic sales revenue on R&D, compared with nearly 26 percent by the communications sector and 21 percent by the semiconductor industry”.
•“More than six million American manufacturing jobs have been lost since January 2000, exceeding the losses of any other economic sector. Some manufacturers have outsourced their R&D operations to foreign partners or subsidiaries.”
•“In 2008, U.S. publicly-funded energy R&D spending was less than half what it had been three decades before in real purchasing power.”
•“By 2013, one-third of the energy workforce in the U.S. will be eligible for retirement.”

Read the entire article from the American Instituties of Physics here.