Budget battle could have devastating consequences for NIH

Budget Battle Could Have Devastating Consequences for NIH, Researchers

While the ongoing debate surrounding fiscal policy in the U.S. directly impacts many government programs, recent developments concerning the effect of austerity policies on science funding has pointed the gaze of researchers squarely on Washington, D.C.

Many biomedical researchers rely on federal grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to run their labs. Consequently, government actions surrounding the budget process as it applies to the NIH are of particular importance to researcher members of Th e Endocrine Society. A decade of fl at funding for biomedical research, coupled with cuts in the NIH budget due to sequestration implemented in fiscal year 2013 (FY13), have severely undercut the biomedical research infrastructure in the U.S. and caused considerable financial uncertainty for researchers.

The appropriations subcommittees that set the budget for the NIH are restricted in the amount they can distribute to the programs under their purview by the allocations set forth in the respective budget resolutions passed by the House and Senate. The overall budget resolutions are restricted by caps set by the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA). The Senate budget, at $1.058 trillion, matches the overall cap set by the BCA but does not include any cuts due to sequestration. The House budget, at $967 billion, matches the BCA level and also applies all the cuts from sequestration to the non-defense agencies, including the NIH.

In the absence of an alternative to sequestration, discretionary programs such as the NIH seem set for further cuts in the future. However, as the differences between the House and Senate budget make clear, whether those cuts are applied equitably — as happened in FY13 — or are applied in alignment with party priorities — as the House budget seeks to do — remains unclear.

Catastrophic Consequences

If the House budget were to be implemented as it stands at the time this article was written, the consequences for the NIH are potentially catastrophic. The House and Senate allocations for the Labor, Health and Human Services (LHHS) Subcommittee differ by ~$42.5 billion, and the House allocation represents a $28 billion cut from the FY13 level after sequestration. If the LHHS cut were applied evenly to all programs within the subcommittee’s jurisdiction, the NIH budget would be a staggeringly low $23.8 billion (~18.75% below the post-sequestration level of $29.3 billion.)

The most likely outcome of the budget process for FY14, given the immense divergence between the House and Senate budget resolutions, would be a Continuing Resolution (CR) for at least part of FY14. A CR usually funds all existing government programs, in the absence of a formal appropriations bill, at prior-year levels with minor changes. NIH policy under a CR, for example, is to fund existing grants at slightly less than prior-year levels. However, even under a CR, the spending distribution could change through special provisions within the CR (called “anomalies”), or as part of a bill that raises the debt ceiling. Therefore, it is extremely important to continue to pressure legislators to make funding for the NIH a national priority.

Exercise Influence

The Endocrine Society, in partnership with coalitions such as the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) and United for Medical Research (UMR), has long advocated for steady, sustainable increases in biomedical research funding as a major part of its advocacy efforts. Given the uncertainties surrounding the FY14 budget process, and the potential consequences for biomedical research funding, The Endocrine Society urges individual members to act locally to influence policymakers. Efforts that members can participate in could include writing letters to the editors of local newspapers, inviting members of Congress to tour their labs, participating in town hall meetings, or visiting members of Congress while they are in their home districts.

Th e Society encourages members to share their stories and increase awareness of the immense value of biomedical research to the U.S. Members can make use of the Society’s online resources, for example, to help identify and contact representatives. Other resources can also be found on coalition websites, such as FASEB and UMR. To read regular updates on the budget process, members are also encouraged to read the bi-weekly newsletter, Endocrine Insider, which keeps members informed of health and science policy issues affecting endocrinologists.

The Endocrine Society regularly seeks member input and expertise when engaging legislative bodies or funding agencies as part of the Society’s advocacy efforts. For more information on how members can become involved in grassroots efforts to increase NIH funding, or to access information to help in advocacy efforts, contact the Society’s Government and Public Affairs Department at govt-prof@endocrine.org

— Joseph M. Laakso, PhD, is the manager of science policy for Th e Endocrine Society

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