Solar System Exploration Policy Forum
Impact of Delays in Selection and Funding of Research and Data Analysis Program Awards
As a part time researcher, I've only applied for new grants as my current projects are ending. A proposal submitted well over a year ago was accepted that should have allowed me continue my planned level of research without interruption. Although I was informed that the proposal had been selected six months ago, there is still no sign that the funding process has begun. I've been informed that budget issues should not threaten this award, but that they are delaying the release of funds. Although I had planned to present initial results of this work at a recent conference by now, this project has yet to start. Since I recently scaled-down my research commitments after working on a mission for several years, I'm not currently receiving any salary for planetary research until this funding starts. Although I have other work that is not dependent on grants, the delays are disruptive as it's not possible to completely stop and start research based on an unknowable schedule. For example, a co-investigator who has a limited term post-doctoral appointment had planned to be working on this project during his current appointment but may end up leaving it before much of the work can be done. If these funding delay become typical, more researchers will be submitting follow-on or related proposals two years before a current project ends to avoid long interruptions in a specific area of research. It would be more productive for scientists to be writing proposals based on the results of work that is nearing completion than to be focusing on related proposals in the middle of projects due to anticipated funding delays.
Although I have not been impacted by funding delays -- thanks to a good and
proactive program manager who automatically initiated funding for the top ranked
proposals regardless of whether the budgets were completely set
-- I am very
concerned by the continually decreasing selection rates for the PSD programs
that can fund my work, which have declined from a steady 30% to an anomalous
20% in the past couple years. I think the planetary science field as we know
it can survive at
the 30% funding level for the long term or at the 20% level temporarily,
but a 20% selection rate over more than a couple years is bound to have a
major effect, especially to those on 100% soft money, which is a relatively
large proportion of the planetary community compared with Earth, Astrophysics,
etc. I, for instance, will likely lose health insurance for my family next
year, as I need to be XX% funded to keep it, unless I can bring my funding
back up. It's not always easy to sell [XX] to panels that are not interested
in [YY], even for potentially transformative work on exoplanets.
I had a proposal submitted early last year which took well over 300 days to reach a final decision - it languished in the "selectable" category for several months. My final decision came less than a month before the due date for the next year's call in the same program. While I am not currently in a soft money position, I anticipate being in one within a few years, and the success of the proposals I am submitting now bears directly on whether or not I will be able to support myself in such a position. The real problem with such delays in the decision process is the inability to revise the proposal for resubmission based on the panel evaluation. If the decision comes so close to the deadline for the next year's call, it is nearly impossible to submit an improved proposal that incorporates comments from the panel. The ideal situation would be to have both the decision and the evaluations early enough to know both whether or not the proposal needs to be resubmitted and what criticisms the panel had of the proposal. I realize that this may be an impossibility given the fiscal uncertainty in the R&A program. However, a major improvement would be to decouple the evaluation distribution from the decision announcements; even if I don't know if a proposal will be selected, I could at least begin to revise it in case it is not. Obviously this creates the potential for needless extra work in the event that the proposal IS selected, but it would certainly be better than the current situation. This suggestion was raised during the R&A event at LPSC, and I think it's a very good idea.
My MFR is dominantly field work, and the delay means that I will most likely not conduct any field work until summer 2013 as the planning window for 2012 will be too short given my committments to MSL in the latter part of the summer. It is unfortunate, but I am very appreciative of notification that the award is selectable; this knowledge is better than silence. It is quite a juggle to plan ones time adequately for proposing grants with these long delays.
I have 28 years experience in research on extraterrestrial materials. I received a preliminary notification of "Selectable" on the renewal of my main research grant in November, 2011. Months went by and the ending date for my current support (April 15, 2012) came closer and closer, with no further news from the program but many discouraging rumors. The delay in knowing whether funding would be continued generated many problems which seriously impeded progress on the research that has been funded by NASA for almost 10 years. First, it made it difficult (or impossible) to conduct or schedule necessary analyses (resulting ultimately in serious delays due to heavy scheduling demands on the instrumentation), make critical decisions about the course of the research, or make commitments to collaborators. More fundamentally, the uncertainty in knowing whether I would have any income after April 15 forced me to begin looking for other jobs. The job market being what it is, any potentially appropriate job would have required that I sell my home and move, so I also had to begin planning for this possibility. One attractive job offer emerged, but would have to be accepted very soon. Fortunately, the decision to select the proposal was announced, almost 6 months after the preliminary decision and less than one month before current support expired. This long delay resulted in significant loss of productivity and progress on this continuing research.
Delays in knowing if I've gotten funding or not makes it more difficult to p
lan my time for future proposals (i.e., will I have to spend time reworking
a proposal for resubmission or will I have to write new proposals to other
funding programs?). Summer is generally proposal-writing season; however,
it is when I have the least time to do this because my child is out of school
and requires more of my time. It would be nice to be able to spend the
spring writing proposals, if I need the funding, and submit them later when
they are due, but not have to do much of the writing then.
This situation may also jeopardize the quality of my proposals and ability
to get future funding.
I was notified in January 2011 that my 2010 PMDAP grant proposal, submitted
late October 2010 would be funded "at some level." This was very good news
and unusually prompt notification compared to many I have had. However, by
early May 2011, I had not received any funding or review information.
In addition to a problem for people waiting to hear on their submitted proposals, there is a problem for people planning their next years of work, because we don't have a clear idea which programs will be funded -- and it's hard to know how to propose research if you don't know which programs will be vigorous, and which programs will be defunded. So the whole field of Planetary Science is more or less held in limbo.
I have experienced delays in several NASA grants programs.
In a previous project the delay in funding after selection was almost a year; I was able to take on enough support from other projects to keep going but one of my Co-Is at the same institution had difficulty covering his time. While he was in this situation he was being actively sought by the oil and gas industry for his expertise. Although he would have preferred staying active in planetary science he gave in to one of the natural gas industry headhunters and left us for a more secure job.
The most direct impact this year is that, because most the 2012 proposal
deadlines are yet to be announced (None of the ones that are very
relevant to what I want to propose to for the rest of the year are
announced -- e.g., Outer Planets Research, Planetary Mission Data
Analysis, Planetary Atmospheres) -- I'd like to be able to plan my time
for the rest of the year but this uncertainty can definitely impact the
quality of my proposals and chance of selection depending on how far
ahead of time the deadlines will be announced.
I was notified in Dec. 2009 that I had been selected as an Early Career
Fellowship recipient for a ROSES 2007 DDAP program that I had been
awarded. Lots of excuses why the notification letter of the ECF was 2
years late, but it sounded like it boiled down to somebody just dropped
the ball. Once I knew that I was selected, I applied in the Oct. 2010
round for the $100K start up funds for the ECF part 2 selection. I have
met with Curt Niebur (NASA HQ Lead Program officer for the ECF) at the
2011 LPSC and have been in e-mail communication with him and additional
e-mail, phone and face to face communication with Mike Kelley (HQ Program
official for my original DDAP) about this over the 2 year time period that
has passed since I was notified of the ECF. No one can tell me if I have
been selected for the $100K start-up funds. They can't tell me if they are
still waiting for funds before announcing and awarding and when that may
be. No one can tell me if I was not selected and need to resubmit in the
next round, of which I am only eligible for 3 yrs post the award letter,
so I am running out of time, but will not waste my time rewriting and
resubmitting if my first submission was selectable. It is frustrating
because I am up for promotion soon and would like to show that I have had
multiple successful grants and that with the ECF money I am starting a new
lab program in the department that I am in. I have also tried to hire a
postdoc on 2 occasions and haven't been able to guarantee more than 1.5
years of funding with that award (and others) being delayed.
One of the problems with the delays is that it impacts special opportunities
related to the grant. In my case, our PGG is selectable, and includes money
for me to go along with an existing field campaign to  to work.
If the selection comes after that field season, that opportunity may not exist
and data we could have gotten will not happen. There are a couple of similar
possibilities in other grants. Some of my grants we are finding out now
despite being submitted after said PGG program.
I'm in the process of relocating to the  area, for family reasons, preferably into a university research position. As a late mid-career hire, the prospects are entirely dependent on having the research to support such a position. In the interim, I’ve been commuting coast-to-coast. The delay in award decisions has been extremely frustrating, though neither unexpected nor unprecedented. At this point, however, I will likely leave the field if another opportunity presents itself.
I am a self-supported faculty and I have to bring in my entire salary through
grants. I received an email from OSS program officer in Sept 2011 saying that
my proposal *was selected and would at least be partially funded*. Since then
I have been waiting to receive the funds, but as you know, nothing has been
done yet. I did receive an email from them saying that they have budget to
fund the continuing grants but not the new ones like mine. And, that they would
let us know about funding of new grants when they get their budget.
The delay of my upcoming Origins grant has definitely had a negative impact -- this is to continue research from my previous Origins grant, but that ended two months ago and I've been scrambling to figure out how to keep my students funded across that gap.
I suffered from delays in the distribution of PGG funding in 2011. In order
to accomplish the proposed science objectives (which involved analog field
mapping), I needed to undertake the field work last spring with a graduate
student working on the project. I received notification of the award in
February so hoped that I would receive the funding in a reasonable time
thereafter. As long as funding is received within 60 days of project-related
expenditures, reimbursement is possible. Unfortunately, the funding never
materialized and I lost over $2000 that should have charged to the project.
The funding finally showed up in September - a month after our start of
semester so not in time to allocate the graduate student stipend that was
supposed to go to the student working on the project. NASA funding
distribution has always seemed out of touch with academic year scheduling needs.
The tardiness in funding unfortunately impacts me in two ways:
Background Courtesy NASA/JPL/Caltech.