In bleak budget year, NIH and NCI to receive increased funds
After months of debate and facing another possibility of a government shutdown, Congress reached a last-minute compromise last week on fiscal year 2012 spending priorities, including funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI).
Under the agreement, NIH will receive a net increase of $242 million, bringing its total budget to $30.64 billion, a 0.8 percent increase over FY2011. While the budget documents actually show a $300 million increase for NIH in FY2012, the agency is subject to a 0.2 percent across-the-board cut that is being applied across the entire Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS) appropriations bill.
NCI’s FY2012 budget will increase to $5.07 billion, which amounts to a net increase of approximately $12 million, a 0.24 percent increase over the FY2011 budget after accounting for the 0.2 percent cut.
While NIH is once again falling behind in terms of lost purchasing power, it fared much better than many other programs and agencies under the Department of Health and Human Services, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Health Resources and Services Administration, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Agency, all of which received outright cuts of as much as 1 percent.
Other provisions of interest include:
- The agreement reduces the salary cap on extramural grants from Executive Level I ($199,700) to Executive Level II ($179,700)
- The agreement establishes the creation of the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) and eliminates the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR), transferring the various NCCR programs to other NIH institutes and centers. In a statement attached to the omnibus bill, it is stated that, “NCATS will study steps in the therapeutics development and implementation process, consult with experts in academia and the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries to identify bottlenecks in the processes that are amenable to re-engineering, and develop new technologies and innovative methods for streamlining the processes. In order to evaluate these innovations and new approaches, NCATS will undertake targeted therapeutics development and implementation projects. In all of these efforts, the conferees expect that NCATS will complement, not compete with, the efforts of the private sector.”
- The agreement provides NCATS with up to $10 million for operations of the Cures Acceleration Network, a new office within NIH charged with speeding translation of basic scientific discoveries into treatments for patients.
- The agreement contains language encouraging the NIH to maintain support for extramural research grants. It states that legislators affirm the "critical importance of new and competing research project grants (RPGs) to the mission of NIH and are concerned that in the past few years, NIH has failed to support the number of new, competing RPGs that it estimated would be awarded in its annual congressional budget justifications.” The language went on to say that legislators “expect NIH to evaluate its new grant-estimating methodology to improve its accuracy and support as many scientifically meritorious new and competing RPGs as possible, at a reasonable award level, with the funding provided in this Act.”
At the start of this FY2012 budget process, cancer research and biomedical science faced the prospect of severe cuts, and while the research community didn’t receive the funding level it was advocating for, the decision by Congress to provide an increase for NIH and NCI represents an accomplishment of the community's advocacy and educational efforts.
This momentum will need to be sustained, if not redoubled, as Congress shifts gears to debate the FY2013 budget. Cuts to NIH will undoubtedly be on the table once again as lawmakers strive to reduce federal spending.
Read more from the December Edition of the AACR Cancer Policy Monitor: