So, NIH is paying attention to what goes on out here in the internet. Sally Rockey, NIH's Deputy Director for Extramural Research, has a new blog called "Rock Talk" (love it, lol) perhaps inspired by NIGMS/Jeremy Berg's blogging legacy (and good to have starting up now that he is moving on from director of NIGMS to a new position at a university--maybe she can become our new source of NIH data crack?). In her first post, she talks about NIH's policies on family leave, setting the context in a way that I am pretty sure means she was inspired to clarify this topic by my post from a couple of weeks ago.
To summarize her clarification, she said that while NIAID might be the only institute that has explicitly announced a program for the family leave-related technical assistance supplements, it is not the only institute that allows grant funds to be used to pay for this kind of technical assistance, nor the only one to grant supplements to hire temporary technical assistance for this purpose. Furthermore, she reiterated that NIH allows childcare costs to be budgeted as a fringe benefit or included as an indirect cost to an award.
If I am interpreting this correctly, means that PIs can request or rebudget funds from NIH grants to cover their own childcare costs or those of their trainees/employees supported on those grants, and also that institutions can include such allocations in their indirect cost calculations (and thus reduce the hit to the directs, which would affect the effective grant budget the PI has to work with). I think the latter would be the best arrangement, since it would reduce the potential disincentive to PIs to having their trainees (or themselves) have children that might be perceived if the childcare costs amount was included as a fringe benefit (since fringe benefits are a direct cost). The possibility of removing that budget-squeezing barrier is phenomenal--it could dramatically affect the equation for grad student RAs, postdocs and junior faculty in particular.
One question I still have is if these policies apply to all grants or just training grants. Since the link about these policies is in the "Training" section of the NIH grants website, it isn't clear if they also apply to R, P, U etc. grants. Also, if such a clarification was issued as an official notice, we might be able to get some purchase with our institutions in shifting their own internal policies on how parental leave and childcare costs are charged. For example, my institution does not allow parental leave to be charged to Federal grants beyond the first two weeks, even though with sick leave and parental leave combined, one can conglomerate up to about 12 weeks total of time off after childbirth. That means my department was responsible for covering the salary costs of me being on maternity leave. Lucky for me, my department head and dean are extremely supportive of this and covered it automatically, unconditionally and without laying any pressure on me about it. But there are many environments, even on my own campus that has a major NSF ADVANCE grant, where that would not have been the case. My institution also does not advertise any policy about covering childcare costs, and I bet if I suggested or asked I would just get some funny looks and shaken heads. Like "Hah, yeah right lady, keep dreamin'".
NIH: you have the power to convince our institutions on this, but methinks you'll need to be a little more proactive--and oh, how we would appreciate it if you would do that! It could be a total game-changer!