NIAID ability to plan funding opportunities for extramural researchers ties into the budget planning cycle for each fiscal year.
Planning Research Opportunities
Like other NIH Institutes, NIAID must at times promote basic and applied research in scientific areas that pose an emerging opportunity or need.
Unlike many other Institutes, we must also respond to emerging diseases for which the public expects us to develop countermeasures.
We meet these needs by issuing requests for applications (RFA), program announcements (PA), or solicitations, some with money set aside for the grants or contracts.
Although much of our budget pays for investigator-initiated grants—i.e., PIs submit an application in a topic of their choice—a portion of our extramural dollars pays for targeted research. Keep in mind that even when we target funds for research in a scientific area, the investigator designs the project that meets NIAID programmatic needs.
- Targeted research supports grants and contracts and respond to these announcements.
- Requests for applications. We fund RFAs from their own pot of money by setting aside funds to pay for the resulting grants.
- Program announcements. PAs support investigator-initiated research grants and typically cover a broader field of science than RFAs do
- PAR opportunities have special receipt, referral, or review considerations.
- PAS opportunities include specific set-aside funds.
- Solicitations. Requests proposals for a contract to meet a specific need, such as the development of an animal model. Solicitations include requests for proposals (RFP) and broad agency announcements (BAA).
Check Figure 1 below for a graphic of the process. Learn how planning and approval works for initiatives at Concepts: Potential Opportunities.
Planning and Budget Cycle
Here’s a broad outline of the federal government's annual budget process.
Congress Provides Direction and Funding
Public laws—bills or resolutions passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the President—provide NIAID with the authority and funds to carry out programs.
Congress sets limits on the purpose for which NIAID spends funds, the amount of funds we spend, and the period of time when we can use or reserve funds. At least every three years, Congress passes authorizations that enable NIAID to spend money for designated programs. Title 42, Chapter 6A of the United States Code includes NIH authorizing legislation.
Congress funds NIH programs and operations in annual appropriations. Each NIH appropriations bill limits how federal grant, cooperative agreement, and contract funds can be spent. Check NIH Appropriations Information for annual data.
NIAID Budget and Planning
Budgets, authorizations, appropriations, continuing resolutions: what does it all mean? It's a long and winding road from planning how to spend federal tax dollars to funding research grants.
Though Congress allocates our funds, agencies get the ball rolling well before a fiscal year starts. NIAID works on three budget cycles at a time.
As illustrated in the flowchart above, NIAID begins the budget and initiative planning process two years in advance. Our staff conduct planning meetings and refine the budget request. We typically plan initiatives from February through August.
NIAID submits a budget request that moves up our chain of command for further tweaking, first to NIH and then to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The request includes an annual performance plan describing goals for the requested funds and a performance report of how last year's goals were met.
HHS forwards its request to the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which reports to the President. OMB works closely with NIH and other agencies to create the budget the President proposes to Congress on the first Monday in February.
Next, the legislative branch acts as detailed in the sections below. While they work, NIAID plans initiatives (targeted Funding Opportunities) from February through August. In anticipation of fiscal year funds, we solicit the following:
- Grant applications through requests for applications (RFA) and program announcements (PARs, PASs).
- Contract proposals through requests for proposals (RFPs).
Budget Authorizations Set Parameters
Before a federal agency such as NIAID or NIH can spend money in any area, a congressional committee must authorize its program.
That means NIAID can't simply decide to award grants to design space vehicles! Our authorization includes rules for politically sensitive areas, e.g., Research With Special Considerations.
Budget Resolutions Lay a Foundation
Action starts in Congress after the President submits a budget request. Congress examines the President's Budget in detail but does not actually vote on it.
Meanwhile, House and Senate budget committees consider the President's Budget as they prepare their own budget resolution.
This legislation broadly outlines spending categories, targets, revenues, and spending estimates (also known as outlays) for the next fiscal year. It also guides the appropriations committees that set funding levels for federal agencies.
Table 1. Authorizations, Appropriations, and Oversight Committees and Subcommittees for NIH.
Appropriations Set the Dollars
Appropriations bills provide the budget authority for federal agencies to make financial obligations.
Setting funding levels is the job of the appropriations committees listed in the table above. The House and Senate use appropriations subcommittees that draft funding legislation for NIH and other federal agencies.
After Congress passes a budget resolution, the Senate and the House hold committee and subcommittee hearings on the proposed President's Budget.
- At these hearings, they get analyses, information, and estimates of the budget and economy from the Congressional Budget Office.
- Agency representatives, such as the NIH director, must defend the President's Budget proposal at the hearings.
With this information, the two branches of Congress create appropriations bills, one for each subcommittee. They may also revise authorizing bills.
The full House appropriations committees may modify the bills before sending them to the Senate for a vote. The appropriations bills must reflect the congressional budget resolution.
Appropriations start each year in the House, with the Senate beginning its work after passage of a House bill. Funds from budget committees are divided and sent to the appropriations committees as separate budget bills.
To resolve differences between the Senate and House, bills go to separate conference committees. The bills become law through one of these processes:
- Both bodies vote on each bill, and the President either signs or vetoes each one.
- Or, the budget goes through a reconciliation process. Authorizing committees resolve differences in conference. Both the House and Senate vote on a single bill and send it to the President. The President either signs or vetoes the bill.
When We Don't Get a Budget
Though the fiscal year begins on October 1, Congress often does not pass the budget by that date.
Congress usually passes a continuing resolution (CR) to tide us over for a few weeks or months while it irons out budget wrinkles. We often get a series of CRs that can last into January or later.
A CR often funds programs at the level of the previous fiscal year's appropriations or at the level of the bill either the House or the Senate passed for the current fiscal year, whichever is lower.
While under a CR, NIAID:
- Can make only a limited number of new grant awards.
- May fund existing awards at a reduced level until the budget passes.
- Must fund our existing programs.
- Is prohibited by law from launching new initiatives or activities outside the scope of the existing authorization.
After the FY budget appropriation becomes law, the process works in reverse order from the budget request. OMB apportions funds to HHS, which allocates money to NIH. In turn, NIH forwards NIAID its share.
An agency may receive additional funds outside of the regular budget cycle. Congress may approve a supplemental appropriation if it determines that an existing appropriation bill is insufficient or decides to fund activities not covered by the existing bill.