The NIH modular budget format is attractive to PIs for a lovely, time-saving reason: the lack of a detailed budget justification. Modular budgeting may be used for research grant applications requesting up to $250,000 direct costs per year; funds are requested as direct costs in modules of $25,000. The logic behind modular budgeting is efficiency: less work for the PI, less work for the reviewers. Modular budgets give PIs a degree of flexibility during the course of the award (i.e. fewer rebudgeting requests).
If you are close to the $250,000 mark, however, modular budgeting may not be for you. Consider the following:
- Your competing renewal must be modular. This means, then, that you will be limited to $250,000 for the life AND future of the project. If your current submission is part of a grander plan, this could lead to some serious research growth-stunting. Additionally, if it is an NCI application, it generally cannot exceed an increase of 10% over the direct cost budget awarded for the last year of the prior project period. [NOT-CA-08-026]
- There will be no future year escalations. Annual modular budgets are average budgets for the entire award period; salary escalations may result in a request for more modules than needed for costs in the beginning years to cover escalations in future years.
- Underfunding is a reality. You may not have a firm grasp of the project costs at the time of submission, especially if you don’t do an internal detailed budget for yourself and/or SPA. Are costs of materials expected to increase in the out years? What about salaries? Space costs? Supply needs as the project grows? Without a full understanding of the totality of costs, the project could be faced with deficits as salaries and other costs increase annually. Increases in modules can be requested in exceptional circumstances, but the request must be thoroughly justified and acquiescence is rare.
Detailed budgets are nothing to be afraid of, and should be done internally anyway to ensure research is adequately funded. Modular budgets are a great tool for smaller projects but if you’re close to the border, check your figures again: the extra effort of a detailed budget could save you from the pain of future paucity. If you need help in auditing future needs or budget framework, RAS is here to help!