Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Why My Progress Report Is Late Again

Well, despite my best efforts, my fellowship progress report is late again this year. I submitted it to grant management a week ago, explaining that it was due in a week in hardcopy form at NIH. When I say I submitted it, I mean I filled out all the 416-9 paperwork myself and sent them something to rubber stamp.

I knew I couldn't just expect them to get that done, so I sent them reminders every day or so this week that it was going to be due soon and please let me know if there was any way I could help get it in on time.

So today, the day before it's due, I get an e-mail from someone in grant management that they were just getting to it today. I say fine, it's due tomorrow in hard copy. A couple hours later she e-mails me saying she didn't have a copy of the files I sent in. Neither does anyone else in the office. Arrrgh.

So now I have to e-mail our program director and say, mea culpa, my sincere apologies, but it appears my progress report is going to be late this year again. And it frustrates me, because all they had to do was take all the paperwork I filled out and send it in to NIH a week ago with a signature on it.

I'm sure there are great grant managers out there. But in an age when science funding is being scrutinized, the public is largely unaware that the NIH essentially fund matches research grants with institutional "overhead" and "indirect costs" provided to the hospitals and universities (for our hospital it's 76 % of the grant). Since we still use the same number of lightbulbs whether or not we get the grant, I suspect that the money is going into someone's pockets.

To be fair, the Obama administration is aware of the problem and even tried to limit overhead expenditures. But eventually the pols caved to pressure by Harvard and MIT, who are, in the words of one economics professor, "taking the government to the cleaners."

Such institutional expenditures need to be scrutinized just as carefully as science funding. If the scientists are the ones filling out all the grant forms, what is the purpose of these administrative offices?

It seems to me that if the money were shifted more toward the scientists, we could solve the funding crisis without increasing NIH expenditures a single penny - or delaying a single grant.

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