President's budget fails to keep pace with inflation for fifth-straight year
By Ted Agres | February 6, 2007
US President George Bush yesterday (Feb. 5) sent to Congress a $28.9 billion budget request for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for Fiscal 2008, an ostensible 0.8 percent increase of $232 million over the amount currently authorized by Congress. If enacted, it would be the fifth year in a row that NIH funding has failed to keep pace with the rate of biomedical inflation, estimated at 3.7 percent for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1, 2007.
Even though the NIH would gain a small increase, the net amount received would be far less, however, since part of the increase includes an infusion of $200 million to cover the entire U.S. government's contribution to the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. By that measure, NIH's budget would effectively be increased by only $32 million -- a tenth of a percent.
"We're not pleased, we're not happy, we are very concerned," said Jon Retzlaff, legislative affairs director for the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). "Technically the president can say NIH is increased by $232 million when, in effect, it's only $32 million, which is sorely inadequate," he told The Scientist.
Congress will begin holding hearings on the new budget request even though work on the current Fiscal 2007 budget remains unfinished. Lawmakers last year failed to pass Fiscal 2007 budgets for NIH and most other agencies, leaving them to operate at Fiscal 2006 levels under a continuing resolution, which expires Feb. 15.
The Senate is presently weighing a revision to that resolution that would add $620 million, or 2.1 percent, to the Fiscal 2007 request, boosting NIH's budget to more than $29 billion. If that resolution and NIH's Fiscal 2008 budget both win approval, the agency would suffer a net reduction from '07 to '08, even before factoring in the Global Fund contribution.
"This budget situation is about as confusing as I've ever seen," said Dave Moore, senior associate vice president at the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). "The bottom line is the president's budget is pretty bad news for NIH," he told The Scientist.
The administration's request for NIH includes $28.7 billion in congressional appropriations and $158 million in transfers for mandated diabetes and public health research, for a total of about $28.9 billion. More than half the funds ($15.2 billion, or 53 percent) would support research project grants (RPGs) and small business awards.
The Fiscal 2008 budget, if okayed, would support about 10,188 new and competing RPGs at $3.6 billion, 566 more than this year, with the average grant size at about $350,000 and with no inflationary increases. Noncompeting grants would drop by 570 to around 26,098, amounting to $10.8 billion. National Research Service Award (NRSA) training program stipend levels would be held to Fiscal 2007 levels.
"Our immediate focus is to buttress core areas of vulnerability by maintaining an adequate pipeline of new investigators, especially in novel and recently emerging areas of opportunity," the NIH budget request states.
Funding for most NIH institutes and centers (ICs) would show only minimal increases of between 0.2 and 0.4 percent, with the major exception being the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), whose funding would increase by 4.8 percent -- or $210 million -- to $4.6 billion, mostly due to the infusion earmarked for the Global Fund. "Common Fund" research, controlled by the NIH director, would increase by 17 percent -- or $72 million -- to $486 million, to support trans-NIH Roadmap initiatives.
As was the case last year, the physical sciences fare slightly better. The National Science Foundation (NSF) would increase $408.8 million or 6.8 percent to $6.4 billion. Research and related activities would increase 7.7 percent or $365.7 million to $5.1 billion, while funding in the biological sciences directorate (BIO) would increase by 4.1 percent to $633 million.
The NSF budget request comes close to matching the $6.5 billion that FASEB recommended last week in its annual funding report. The NIH budget request, however, falls far short of the 6 percent increase FASEB officials say would be needed during each of the next three years to compensate for the funds lost to inflation.
Links within this article
Biomedical Research and Development Price Index: FY 2006 Update and Projections for FY 2007-2012, Feb. 5, 2007
Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria
T. Agres, "Science bills hatch from lame duck," The Scientist, Dec. 12, 2006
Revised Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2007 (HJ Res 20)
"Federal Funding for Biomedical and Related Life Sciences Research FY 2008,"
Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, Washington, D.C.,
Jan. 31, 2007
T Agres, "FASEB: Put NIH back on track," The Scientist, January 31, 2007.