Congress completed, and the President signed into law, the FY12 appropriations bill. The $915 billion spending bill wraps up the remaining nine appropriations measures. The bill provides funding for programs at the Department of Health and Human Services, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Under the bill, the NIH funding for FY12 is $30.7 billion, which is $299 million over FY11. This represents a modest 0.8% increase over FY11. This is less than the 3.3% increase recommended by President Obama and the House Appropriations Committee but slightly more than the cut the Senate Appropriations Committee agreed to.
Funding for NIH’s largest institutes includes:
The agreement does not include any transfer of NIH funding to the Global HIV/AIDS fund; all FY12 funding for the fund is included in the State-Foreign Operations portion of the conference agreement.
The conference agreement also includes language to implement the creation of the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) and eliminate the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR), transferring the various NCRR programs to other institutes and centers. The conferees also provided NCATS with up to $10 million for the Cures Acceleration Network.
President Obama has remained steadfastly supportive of a strong federally backed scientific research enterprise. Even in austere times President Obama has strived to make scientific research a priority in his budgets. Yet, with the unveiling of his FY13 budget proposal on February 13, the scientific community has cause for both celebrate and concern.
National Science Foundation (NSF)
First the good news: President Obama proposed $7.3 billion for the NSF. This is a $340 million increase over FY12—the largest increase in spending for any federal research agency. According to Obama’s budget, NSF's proposed budget includes $5.98 billion, up 5.2%, for its six research directorates and $876 million, up 5.6%, for its education directorate.
In a statement released by the NSF, it states, “this investment in science and engineering reflects an increase in core research funding and moves our nation forward by connecting the science and engineering enterprise with potential economic, societal and educational benefits in areas critical to job creation and a growing economy."
Under this budget, the Directorate for Biological Sciences will be slated for a small increase; however, the NSF’s funding priorities will mainly target advanced manufacturing, clean energy technologies, cybersecurity, and STEM education. These areas are aligned with the Administration’s government-wide priorities in these critical areas.
National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Now the concern: The President’s budget proposes flat funding of $30.7 billion for the NIH. While acknowledging that the nation is in tough budgetary times, flat funding will mean that the NIH budget has failed to keep pace with biomedical inflation for 10 consecutive years, resulting in a budget that, when adjusted for inflation, is 20% smaller than a decade ago.
Under this plan, most of the NIH institutes would receive roughly the same amount of funding as in FY12, except for the new National Center for Advancing Translation Sciences (NCATS), which could see an increase of $64 million to $639 million.
During his State of the Union address, President Obama unequivocally pledged his support for research, stating, “Innovation also demands basic research. Today, the discoveries taking place in our federally financed labs and universities could lead to new treatments that kill cancer cells... Don’t gut these investments in our budget. Don’t let other countries win the race for the future.”
Yet because of ongoing flat-funded NIH budgets, cures will be delayed, jobs will be eliminated, and American leadership and innovation will be jeopardized.
The release of the President’s budget signifies the beginning of the budget and appropriations process. Typically, what the President proposes, the Congress disposes. President Obama’s budget is already considered “DOA” by many leaders on Capitol Hill, allowing Congress to move forward and determine its budget priorities. It is unclear how Congress will fund the medical research enterprise. While historically, science, research, and innovation are seen by members of both political parties as federal investments worth making, many in Congress are committed to slashing all federal program budgets. Additionally, the looming sequestration mandated by the Budget Control Act would mean a further cut of 7 -10% in all federal programs in FY13.
The CLS will continue to work with the Administration and the Congress to ensure the best possible funding outcomes for the medical research enterprise.
The Coalition for the Life Sciences (CLS) applauds the decision of Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the National Institutes of Health guidelines funding human embryonic stem cell research (hESC).
Judge Lamberth agreed with the appeals court’s finding that NIH can interpret the Dickey-Wicker amendment to allow funding for research on human embryonic stem cells but not on their derivation. He notes that the legislation’s definition of “research” is ambiguous. The judge also dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims that NIH failed to respond to relevant and significant public comments. The plaintiffs have 60 days in which to file for appeal to the DC Circuit Court.
The CLS is actively engaged in advocating for federal funding for hESC research—free of political or ideological restrictions. The CLS will continue to do so as long as this promising research is called into question.