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Budget Cuts NIH Grants Again

WASHINGTON—The administration has proposed that the National Institutes of Health fund 700 fewer new and competing research grants this year as part of a plan to reduce the overall NIH budget in fiscal 1988. But it is unlikely that researchers will feel the pinch anytime soon. The proposal is part of a request to Congress to transfer $334 million already appropriated for this fiscal year. The present budget of $6.18 billion would drop by a corresponding amount, and the budget for next year

By | January 26, 1987

WASHINGTON—The administration has proposed that the National Institutes of Health fund 700 fewer new and competing research grants this year as part of a plan to reduce the overall NIH budget in fiscal 1988. But it is unlikely that researchers will feel the pinch anytime soon.

The proposal is part of a request to Congress to transfer $334 million already appropriated for this fiscal year. The present budget of $6.18 billion would drop by a corresponding amount, and the budget for next year would remain nearly constant, at $5.87 billion. The number of new and competing grants would drop from 6,354 to 5,654, and the total number of grants, including renewals, would fall from 19,811 to 19,111.

At the same time, the budget proposes $534 million for basic research, clinical and laboratory work and public education on AIDS. A 28 percent increase from the $416 million allocated this year, the funds would be divided chiefly among NIH ($334 million), the Centers for Disease Control ($112 million), the Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Health Administration ($54 million), the Food and Drug Administration ($16 million), and the Health Resources and Services Administration ($6.6 million).

The proposal results in part from a desire by the administration to take the edge off the large increase awarded NIH last fall by Congress, from a level of $5.30 billion in 1986, and in part from an inclination by Congress to add to whatever recomendation is made for NIH. Most observers, however, expect the administration proposal to succeed.

"Congress has rejected this [type of proposal] before, and I assume they will reject it again," predicted Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House subcommittee that authorizes funding for NIH. Added an aide to Sen. Lowell Weicker (R-Conn.), ranking minority member and former chairman of the Senate appropriations subcommittee that handles NIH, "when Congress approved $6.2 billion and a minimum of 6,200 [new and competing] grants, that's what they meant."

The additional funds proposed for AIDS research did little to soften the blow of across-the-board cuts in biomedical research. Each of the 12 institutes at NIH would receive less money in 1988 than in 1987 under the Reagan budget.

Samuel Thier, president of the Institute of Medicine, which issued a report last fall calling for a greatly-expanded federal effort against AIDS, said the AIDS proposal "clearly is a step in the right direction. But it should not be taken at the expense of the other programs."

William Raub, deputy director of NIH, defended the budget as a way of "taking responsibility for a part of the federal deficit. There was a recognition that the 1987 appropriations would be extremely difficult to sustain."

Raub said the transfer of money, if Congress were to approve it, would reduce the size of the non-competing grants as well as lowering the number of new grants. He estimated that the new budget might require some renewals to be funded at as low as 15 percent of the level recommended by the study section; the average noncompeting grants, he noted, receives 98 percent of its recommended funding.

Cowen is a freelance writer in Washington, D.C.

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