M

edical research can’t be done in the dark. But should taxpayers be covering the light bills at university labs across the country?

The Trump administration’s answer is no. The president has proposed a massive $7 billion budget cut for the National Institutes of Health over the next 18 months. And Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price said this week that he may find those savings in the “indirect expenses” that NIH funds, which includes everything from buying lab equipment to paying the electric bills for thousands of academic research labs from Harvard to Ohio State to Stanford.

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  • Since LED lights get 2.2 years of use, each annual renewal is paying for bulbs that have already been paid for anyway.

    • Bob is right. In fact Pharmaceutical companies mostly stopped doing studies at universities because we were being charged 60% or more in indirect costs. By law, the schools could not charge a lower indirect cost to drug companies than to the government, so we pulled out big time. This is why most drug studies are conducted today in private facilities where WE tell them how much they can charge in indirect cost, and we usually won’t use a site if it’s more than 15%. Most of the time it’s zero.

    • Not to mention the office staff for the Deputy Assistant Administrator and the office space and…

  • You had better believe that tRump’s hotels figure in the kitchens, hallways, lobbys, etc in the room rates they charge guests — as much of the indirect costs as can be buried in the overall rates…
    Other notorious examples are corporate polluters who want everyone but themselves to pay for required better machines or cleanups required by all those “horrible, nasty State & Federal regulations”… Just look at the pollution of China for examples of totally unregulated corporations’ dumping their garbage on local populations!!

    • If you’re staying at a Trump hotel you shouldn’t complain about your bill; maybe you would prefer a cheaper bill and the housekeeping make $7.25/hr?

  • Certainly one of the costs included in overhead is administering the grant. There are numerous rules, some arcane, many of which are altered, either mildly or completely, with biannual or annual versions of the NIH Grants Policy Statement. The Statement alone, which covers the terms and conditions of the grant award for grant recipients, takes up 393 pages in its latest, Nov. 2016 version. The standard award terms and conditions are included in 45 CFR Part 75–all 581 pages of it. A university or hospital, particularly a large one that receives many NIH grants, needs staff who deal specifically with grant submission and administration. Grants from NSF, DoD, DoE, etc. all have their own sets of rules and regulations and administrative requirements.

  • Perhaps it should have been mentioned that Vedder, who is quoted several times, is a political conservative associated with the American Enterprise Institute, which is basically against government spending anything to support things outside of what they consider constitutional.

  • Perhaps the pharmaceutical industry could be induced to support some of the basic research and developmental costs that undergird their present profit structure rather than depending on the taxpayers to pay at both ends – covering the research and then paying the grotesquely inflated prices on new products?

  • At least in terms of NIH funded science programs, I actually see indirect funds improving cost effectiveness. There is a large push to centralize and use core facilities that have their own staffs that ultimately are not directly responsible for specific research projects. They just assist and facilitate the research of the grant funded laboratories. This makes it easier to share equipment and technical expertise across labs

  • A reasonable subsidy for operating expenses related to conducting NIH-funded research is certainly appropriate. However, unprecedented growth in the number of university administrators, funded in part by rising indirect cost reimbursement rates, has got to stop.

    As Benjamin Ginsberg writes in The Fall of the Faculty and the Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why it Matters , “Generally speaking, a million-dollar president could be kidnapped by space aliens and it would be weeks or even months before his or her absence from campus was noticed.”

    • Please don’t be so dense. Yes, there is some bad imagery associated with new admins positions and high salaries, but if you add all that up, it would really only amount to a few percent of the total indirect funds a university recieves

  • “He also suggests that the NIH start evaluating research not only on its scientific merit, but also on its potential cost, β€œand downgrade proposals that have high research overhead requests,” he said.”

    Well, that’s a legitimately terrible idea.

    • Well-put, Allie. I had to wonder what kind of scale would be used to determine “high research overhead” in relation to scientific merit. Some research is essentially all overhead, by it’s very nature. Then there’s the question of what is considered overhead, which varies from grant source to grant source. As a person who once was responsible for oversight of many kinds of grants, I once argued in favor of a grant that included a piece of badly needed but expensive equipment. Universities don’t often have highly specialized equipment lying around waiting for an experiment to come along. By the same token, I’ve seen grant evaluators downgrade a proposal because it had what they thought to be “unrealistically low overhead” that portended failure (in their minds). Some labs basically need space, lights, heat, and electricity to run a creatively cobbled together system from materials and equipment on hand. And free undergraduate labor.

      Incidentally, I am amused by the odd correspondence of our names.

  • As much as I dislike this administration’s attitude toward research, as a national research program director at NIH for 12 years, I found these charges troubling. The Universities paid these costs out of hide from their endowments for in-house research.

    If Price were to sustain the NIH budget request, but deny future overhead charges. That would boost grants; not reduce grants.

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