Giving it away

April 1, 2009

There's a feeding frenzy in Washington as feds dole out the billions in funding from the reinvestment act

WASHINGTON, D.C. - There's a feeding frenzy going on in Washington as federal agencies begin doling out the billions provided in the February economic stimulus package, or American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Tech companies are rushing from one briefing on health IT to another, trying to assess opportunities to capitalize on the $19 billion available to develop a national electronic medical records system. Biomedical research organizations are lining up for some of the $10.4 billion provided to the National Institutes of Health. The Department of Energy's Office of Science and the National Science Foundation also are looking for ways to hand out funds effectively. There's $2 billion available to support construction projects expanding community health centers, plus additional funds to train more primary care physicians and health care workers. And everyone wants to get in on the comparative-effectiveness research program.

Government agencies are under orders to dole out the money quickly and wisely in order to create new jobs and spur economic recovery. As a result, NIH plans to distribute most of the $8 billion available for research grants to "shovel-ready" projects-i.e., applications that came in last year and were vetted by peer review boards but didn't make the final cut. In addition, NIH's National Center for Research Resources is administering some $1.6 billion in grants for construction and repair of outside research facilities and for the purchase of equipment, including new computers and IT systems.

Organizations seeking to tap into stimulus funds will require persistence and patience, though. Peter Orszag of the Office of Management and Budget, reported last month that its Web site, grants.gov/, was so overloaded with hopeful applicants that it was likely to crash.