July 21, 2012
On July 17, the House Labor-Health and Human Services-Education Appropriations Committee (Labor-HHS Committee) released its FY13 spending bill. The draft House bill freezes funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for FY13 and recommends funding at $30.6 billion. This matches the President’s request but is $100 million below what the Senate appropriators approved.
Most institutes/centers would see slight reductions compared with FY12—including a 2% decrease for the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS). The draft House bill provides $574.7 million for NCATS, while the Senate bill provides $631.3 million, a 9.8% increase. Within the NCATS budget, the draft House bill specifies that “at least” $487.767 million be provided for Clinical and Translational Scientific Awards (CTSA). The Senate bill does not specify a funding level for CTSAs. The draft House bill also provides up to $10 million within the NCATS budget to implement the Cures Acceleration Network (CAN). The Senate bill provides up to $40 million to implement CAN.
The draft House bill reduces the limit on salaries on grants or other extramural mechanisms funded by the bill to Executive Level III or $165,300. The Senate bill retains the current salary cap at Executive Level II or $179,700.
The draft House bill increases the National Institutes of General Medical Sciences budget by $100 million, but that increase was provided to offset an increase for the Institutional Development Awards (IDeA) program. The IDeA program is designed to broaden the geographic distribution of NIH funding for biomedical research. As authorized by Congress, the program’s intent is to enhance the competitiveness for research funding of institutions located in states with historically low levels of funding and low aggregate success rates for grant applications to the NIH. The House draft bill language states that “not less than” $376.48 million is provided for the IDeA program, an increase of $100 million over FY12. The Senate bill funds the program at the FY12 level of $276 million.
In addition to spending cuts, the draft House bill contains policy provisions. The bill forbids "patient-oriented outcomes research,” mandates at least 16,670 new and competing Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Awards, and stipulates that NIH maintain an allocation of 90% to extramural activities, 10% for intramural activities, and at least 55% toward basic science. Some provisions may be helpful, but others could undermine the agency’s ability to fund the best science. Institute and center directors currently are trying to reprioritize budgets to deal with the threat of sequestration and will now be forced to shift scarce dollars to mandated Research Project Grants or other mechanisms. The bill also forbids Dr. Collins or his staff from traveling until they implement a pilot program Congress requested last year, which will ask third-party insurers to pay for patients on clinical trial protocols at the NIH’s Clinical Center.
The bill approved by the House Labor-HHS Subcommittee must now pass the full Appropriations Committee and House of Representatives. Ideally, the House and Senate would resolve differences between their bills, but this is unlikely until after the November elections. At that time NIH will be a small piece of the legislative agenda. Along with tying up any leftover appropriations bills, lawmakers are likely to be under incredible pressure to act on several massive pieces of legislation, including decisions on increasing the debt ceiling, expiring Bush tax cuts, and budget sequestration. Hundreds of billions of dollars will be on the line. If Congress can’t resolve the sequestration plan in the lame duck session, the FY13 appropriation approved for the NIH will not mean much given that sequestration will automatically cut 7% from the NIH budget starting January 1, 2013.
June 14, 2012
On June 14, the Senate Appropriations Committee met to consider the FY13 Labor-Health and Human Services-Education (Labor-HHS) appropriations bill, which funds the NIH. The bill included $30.7 billion for the NIH, a small increase of $100 million over current year funding. The CLS has actively advocated for a funding level of $32 billion for the NIH in FY13.
During consideration of the bill, Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) offered an amendment that would have increased funding for the NIH by $1.3 billion, providing $32 billion for the NIH in FY13. To pay for the increase, his amendment proposed a minimal across-the-board cut to the other programs in this bill (it would have resulted in a less than 1% cut to each of the other programs). The amendment failed primarily along party lines, with every Democrat on the Committee voting against this amendment.
The CLS strongly supported the Moran amendment. While we are pleased the Committee opted to provide any kind of increase to the NIH in these tough budgetary times, the slight increase of $100 million is simply not enough to keep pace with biomedical research inflation. In addition, with the looming budget sequestration (automatic spending cuts that go into effect January 2013 and are a result of the Budget Control Act), the NIH is facing historic cuts. NIH Director Francis Collins explained to the Senate Labor-HHS appropriations subcommittee in March that sequestration is expected to cut $2.4 billion off the agency's budget and would mean NIH would fund 2,300 fewer grants next year.
The Senate Labor-HHS appropriations bill is now expected to go for a vote before the full Senate. The Senate has not indicated if and when they plan to vote on the bill. The House Appropriations Committee is waiting for the Supreme Court to rule on the Obama Health Care bill before addressing their version of the Labor-HHS appropriations bill.
Science 16 September 2011:
Vol. 333 no. 6049 p. 1549
Rush Holt is the U.S. Representative for New Jersey's 12th Congressional District and has a doctoral degree in physics.
A clash is under way in Washington, DC, between two starkly different visions for the U.S. government's role in research and development (R&D). The outcome of this debate will shape the nation's scientific landscape for years to come.
The first vision is a grim and pessimistic “No, we can't” view. Its proponents insist that the federal government can play no substantive role in advancing science or technology. The argument is that the government has been ineffective, that “investment” is a code word for wasteful spending, and that the only way forward is for the government to lower its sights, stop making new investments, and scale back spending. This view is encapsulated in the recently enacted Budget Control Act of 2011, which demands $2.4 trillion in federal spending cuts. Considering that, as a share of the U.S. economy, the government's support for R&D has fallen by nearly two-thirds since the 1960s, I have little doubt that R&D will bear more than its share of these latest cuts.
A hard spending cap forces false choices: Should the United States invest in badly needed new science instrumentation or in educating inner-city kids? The truth is that the nation must invest in many things. Fortunately, there exists another, far more hopeful vision for the federal government, one that rejects the notion that government budgeting must begin with a hard cap. The recent American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 demonstrates how federal investment in R&D can drive the economy forward. I was part of the negotiations that put $22 billion of new R&D funding into science agencies, like the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. How many jobs did these funds create, and how many more will they create in the future? We won't have the final answer for years. How many lab technicians have been hired, and how many electricians wired the labs? The accounting is difficult now, and until the scientific and technological accomplishments have reverberated through the economy, the full effect cannot be known. It appears that the short-term benefits are similar to those of shovel-ready construction projects, and for the long term, past experience is very promising. The return on spending by the NSF over the decades appears to be very large. And the most comprehensive study of the economics of the Apollo space program found that its $25 billion in government investments returned $181 billion to the economy1.
Science is usually a smart investment for a nation's future, and is more important today than ever before. America's inflation-adjusted borrowing costs have fallen to historic lows. When the private sector is not making enough investments and consumers are not spending, Congress should make the investments that will pay large dividends: public and private scientific research, education in science and engineering, and infrastructure projects to support scientific growth. An investment-focused vision for America could begin by fulfilling the commitments made in the America COMPETES Act, enacted in 2007 and reauthorized in 2010. That law authorized a doubling of the budgets at key science agencies and created the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-E) to fund transformative research on energy technologies. If Congress were to fulfill that law's vision for scientific investment, it would both create good-paying jobs today and lay the groundwork for a far stronger economy tomorrow.
This will be a daunting task. With the Budget Control Act, Congress appears to have said, in effect, that federally sponsored science has no role to play in advancing the economy, that unemployment is a problem that only time will cure, and that the nation's best days are behind us. How contrary to American tradition that would be! It must not prevail.
1Economic Impact of Stimulated Technological Activity (Midwest Research Institute, Kansas City, MO, November 1971).
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