Apr 14, 2010

April 14, 2010

Dear Colleagues,

This is the letter from SARA, a short update for NASA scientists. The subject of today's letter is congressional interest in funds on NASA grants, and what this may mean for you. While more details, including congressional language, appear further down the short version is this first paragraph below.

PIs that have large amounts (i.e., a year's worth) of unspent funds left over from last year at progress report time may get emails from their program officer asking about rephrasing their grant. What this means is that rather than sending a whole new year of funds that will just sit around we would like to deliver the next increment of funds next fiscal year. Since your funds were delayed you will get a no-cost extension and your grant will go a year longer than was originally planned. If you get such an email then check with your resource analysts at your institution to see if you have enough funds left over from prior years to carry you until the next increment of funds arrive (probably January). If so, say yes. If not, just write back and explain why you wont have enough funds to make it. No matter what happens all of your funds will come to you in the end, and it is our firm commitment that work will never be interrupted or delayed because of this book keeping concern, which is secondary to science. All of the Division Directors are reporting that funds that are not spent on your R&A award this year will be spent on R&A, not on something else.

Here is the background: NASA grants have start dates at all different times, not necessarily aligned with the fiscal year. Research being what it is, funds don’t always get spent in the year in which funds were sent. If you have a grant you are used to the idea that it doesn't matter when funds arrive or how long they sit as long as the papers get published. Well, there are now good reasons why we need to rephrase certain awards to diminish the amount of funds that grants carry over to the next fiscal year. If your anniversary date is in summer and you have enough funds left over from last year to cover your expenses until the end of the calendar year then, rather than sending you another years worth of funds that will sit around we may ask to deliver your funds next fiscal year. Scientists at centers have been forced to do this for a while, but it's new for grants.

Why are we doing this? When the House appropriated funds for NASA it contained the following language "A second April 2009 report found that, although NASA has improved its obligation rate in response to the Committee's concerns, many NASA programs did not match this obligation rate with a commensurate improvement in accrual of costs and outlays... To address these issues, the Committee recommends several changes to NASA's appropriation. The Committee recommendation:... limits most funding in NASA's operating accounts (Aeronautics Exploration, Science, and Space Operations) to one year." It didn't get into law, but here is what the conference report said: "While the conference report does not adopt the position proposed by the House to limit appropriations available to NASA to one-year... the conferees will continue to monitor NASA’s ... commensurate improvements in accrual of costs and outlaysto determine if the House’s proposal warrants further consideration.” This threat to “limit appropriations available to NASA to one-year” would make the practical business of funding science much more time intensive (and we are already understaffed), so we must reduce our uncosted carryover. The different divisions are pursuing the uncosted funds to different extents but don't be surprised or offended if you get the question. If you don’t get the request then you have nothing to worry about.

As always, many updates have been made to the SARA web page. Although ROSES 2010 has only been out for two months there have already been a number of amendments, clarifications, and corrections, which you can find at


Max Bernstein

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