NIH director testifies before House panel about agency's priorities and organizational structure
As the sole witness before a hearing convened by the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, NIH Director Francis Collins fielded nearly two hours of questions about the agency’s research and budgetary priorities and organizational structure. Among the issues about which lawmakers showed greatest concern was the impact of the looming automatic budget cuts, or sequestration.
Collins noted that the projected 8 percent or greater cut from the NIH budget, which would equal $2.5 billion, would impact every single aspect of the agency’s work and that no program could be spared. “We wouldn’t do it in a completely blind fashion like a haircut, but everybody’s hair would get cut — pretty significantly. There would be a lot of people with very short hair,” said Collins. He pointed out that success rates, already at historic lows of 17 percent, would plunge even lower, and the NIH would be forced to reduce the number of grants awarded in a given year by 2,300.
Members on the panel appeared deeply concerned, but suggested no solutions for avoiding the cuts.
Another topic that arose was the possibility of a future NIH reauthorization. Lawmakers asked Collins to provide a list of needs that could be addressed legislatively. He declined to offer specifics, but reported on the success of the Common Fund—a “brilliant addition”—which was created by the NIH Reauthorization Act of 2006.
Collins also responded to concerns expressed by some members about the peer review process, calling it the “gold standard” and stating that the agency is constantly reviewing the process in order to improve it. Unlike previous hearings this year before House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees, the discussion did not focus much on the creation of the new National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences.