When a US institution that manages grant programs (such as NSF) suddenly sees its funding cut, as will be the case after the US sequester takes effect in March, how long does it take for that cut to trickle down onto grant programs and grants?

Namely: Can grants already started get cut (like, they tell you you'll lose 20% funding for the last year)? What about grant programs where the selection was already announced, can they make changes to that? Or will it “merely” impact the number of grants they can fund from now on?

(I know that the government will move, and though the situation is stupid, it's not as much of a dead-end as it is pictured… this question assumes that the sequester goes in effect, and not deal is made to lessen its impact.)

This question was spurred by today's PhD Comics:

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2 Answers 2


See the NIH answer below on what's happening to grant budgets, at least for their agencies. It sounds like there is some budget trimming for the amount awarded for new grants, but they're trying to mitigate that somewhat. Where I think there's going to be a much greater impact is with new awards - with less money, and not wanting to hamstring grants with further cuts, they're simply likely to make less awards.

As for how much time before the possible effect of the sequester hits? It already has. Several people I've spoken to who do program planning, grants work, etc. for the Federal government have expressed the feeling that, because of the level of uncertainty about what money they'll have in the future, funding agencies are being very conservative about what they commit to spending. We could see this in the last budget cycle and the near shut-down - funding slowed to a crawl for a bit, and then when the continuing resolution got passed, there was a small "bump" as agencies spent out money they hadn't yet promised "just in case".

So if the sequester goes through, what that will really do is make those conservative, "We better not spend $$$ until we know we'll have it" plans a reality, followed by more severe paylines etc. in the next grant cycle.

So worst case: It's already here, we're just not committed to it yet.
Best case: The next funding cycle.

Edit: The actual answer has come from the NIH: http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-13-043.html

The NIH continues to operate under a Continuing Resolution as described in NOT-OD-13-002, and therefore all non-competing continuation awards are currently being funded at a level below that indicated on the most recent Notice of Award (generally up to 90% of the previously committed level). Final levels of FY 2013 funding may be reduced by a sequestration. Despite the potential for reduced funding, the NIH remains committed to our mission to seek fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and the application of that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce the burdens of illness and disability.

Should a sequestration occur, NIH likely will reduce the final FY 2013 funding levels of non-competing continuation grants and expects to make fewer competing awards to allow the agency to meet the available budget allocation. Although each NIH Institute and Center (IC) will assess allocations within their portfolio to maximize the scientific impact, non-competing continuation awards that have already been made may be restored above the current level as described in NOT-OD-13-002 but likely will not reach the full FY 2013 commitment level described in the Notice of Award. Finally, in the event of a sequestration, NIH ICs will announce their respective approaches to meeting the new budget level.


Okay, I read today in Chemical & Engineering News an article that gives good, fact-based information on the issue. It seems to indicate that already accepted grants would be cut down, not only current and future proposals:

At the National Institutes of Health, for example, sequestration is expected to cut $1.5 billion of its funding for 2013. The cuts would amount to a 5.1% reduction for each of the agency’s 27 institutes and centers. “That translates into hundreds of grants that would have been funded in this fiscal year that simply won’t get paid,” says NIH Director Francis S. Collins. As a result, several thousand research positions could be eliminated.

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