You can’t take federal funding for granted anymore. That’s what an increasing number of scientists find out when they send proposals to the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, where the percentage of reviewed grants awarded has dropped considerably over the past 10 years.

Latest NIH figures show that the agency’s award rate has dropped from more than 50% to just over 35% since 1979, while NSF has an award rate of slightly under 30%. Meanwhile, although appropriations have kept pace with inflation, the number of researchers applying for awards each year has increased by 18% at NSF and 14% at NIH since 1984.

Yet, many scientists prefer to. apply for federal funding rather than for grants from industry or private foundations, in part because federal sources tend to beef up their largess by tacking on as much as 33% the value of the grant for administrative...

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