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NIH Provides Administrative Flexibility in COVID-19-Affected Projects

March 13, 2020

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Stephen Heinig, Director, Science Policy

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) released a series of notices this week to help researchers and administrators manage grants-related obligations while their institutions respond to disruptions from COVID-19. 

The first notice reminds investigators that NIH will consider late applications on a case-by-case basis if a recipient’s organization is closed or unable to submit an application on time due to public health or other emergencies. 

The second notice provides responses to frequently asked questions (FAQs) about managing proposals and awards in an emergency, such as the ability to recover expenses for travel or attending a conference that was unavoidably cancelled. Grant policies also allow for extensions in submitting required progress or financial reports, although prior approval may be needed depending on the circumstances. 

The NIH released a new announcement, “Flexibilities Available to Applicants and Recipients of Federal Financial Assistance Affected by COVID-19,” on March 12 in which the agency, in cooperation with the Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of Management and Budget, details further flexibility in requirements governing the reimbursement of expenses and salaries on research projects.

The notice states that “NIH understands that many researchers may be unable to work as a result of or related to the effects of COVID-19. If a recipient organization’s policy allows for the charging of salaries and benefits during periods when no work is performed due to the effect of COVID-19, regardless of the funding source … then such charges to NIH grant awards will be allowable.”

NIH institutes and centers may request documentation from institutions about such disruptions. Institutional officials are advised to monitor the agency’s webpage, NIH Extramural Response to Natural Disasters and Other Emergencies, for further updates.

Like many organizations, NIH has curtailed staff travel and large meetings. It recently announced that grant review study sections, along with many other meetings, would be held “virtually” through telecommunications instead of in person. Many agency staff are also working remotely. 

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