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Flat NIH Budget Request Fuels Lobbyists

Daniel B. Moskowitz

The president’s request for flat funding of the NIH in his 2013 budget has research funding advocates fired up.

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This week, President Barack Obama presented his fiscal year 2013 budget request to Congress, which included no increase in funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Released by the White House on February 13, the budget for the next fiscal year, which begins on October 1, 2012, calls for NIH funding to stay at the 2012 level of $30.86 billion. But that's not the end of the story.

President Barack Obama delivers remarks to students on the fiscal year 2013 budget at the Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale, VA. Source: White House/Lawrence Jackson

"The president's budget will now be shaped by Congress, and there are areas, like the NIH, that require increased funding to ensure continued US leadership," argued Mark S. Wrighton, chancellor of Washington University in St. Louis.

Mary Woolley, president of Research!America, said that the pro-research community her group represents was already ramped up to fight in the congressional appropriation process for more spending. "We do think of it as a year of advocacy, especially because it is an election year," she said.

The plan is to mount a grass roots response to ask for more generous amounts for biomedical research — a campaign that includes helping scientists write op ed pieces for their local papers pushing for more health research money. "If voters speak up and say this is not OK with us, we expect Congress to listen and to increase funding for NIH," said Woolley.

That's what happened last year when lawmakers put $299 million more into the NIH budget than the Obama administration had asked for. This year, Woolley insists, an increase of $1 billion is not unrealistic to hope for. “We strongly believe a frozen budget for the NIH will flat line medical breakthroughs in the coming years and stifle the business and job creation that begins with research and development."

While the official 2013 budget request keeps NIH funding level, there are notable shifts among programs that reflect new priorities. Alzheimer's research is getting additional attention, with a request for $530 million for next year ($50 million above the 2012 figure), and the National Center for Advancing Translational Science is set for $64 million more, an 11% jump.

Meanwhile, the proposal slices $51 million from the Institutional Development Award (IDeA) program that provides grants to states that get little other NIH funding. In addition, the request cuts $1 million from the National Human Genome Research Institute, this year funded at $512 million, which the Department of Health & Human Services budget briefing book justifies by the dramatic drop in the cost of sequencing and the shifting emphasis to clinical applications of its findings.

Overall, the federal 2013 budget increases overall spending on basic and applied research by 3.3%, to $64 billion, according to calculations by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. That includes an increase of 4.4% to what the office deems "key science agencies" — the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy's Office of Science, and National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Keywords:  NIh 2013 budget funding