There are different ways to parse National Institutes of Health funding data, notes Sally Rockey, the deputy director for extramural research at NIH, at her Rock Talk blog. There are success, award, and funding rates, each of which give a slightly different take on the numbers.
In fiscal year 2014, NIH received 51,073 research project grant applications and funded 9,241 of them, yielding a success rate of 18.1 percent, Rockey says. This figure, she adds, doesn't take resubmissions into account. If those are added in, then there was an award rate of 17.0 percent in FY 2014.
Then filtering the numbers by individual principal investigators, she says NIH funded 9,986 PIs out of 39,809 total investigator applicants, giving a funding rate of 25.1 percent.
Rockey notes that since the end of the doubling of the NIH budget in 2003, success, award, and funding rates have all fallen. Still, she adds that the number of PIs supported has grown from just more than 15,000 in 1980 to some 27,000, and over the years, she says those numbers have largely tracked agency funding levels.
"The number of investigators rose to an all-time high in FY 2012, after which it fell, likely related to the sequestration that significantly reduced NIH's budget," Rockey writes. "While NIH funding levels were partially restored in FY 2014, the number of PIs remained at 2013 levels."