NIH FUNDS SET FOR SMALL RISE



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Last Updated

02 Jan 2003

Source: Wall Street Journal, January 2, 2003

POLITICS AND POLICY

NIH Funds Set for Small Rise, Breaking Recent Years' Trend

By LAURIE MCGINLEY, Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

WASHINGTON -- The National Institutes of Health, which enjoyed huge budget increases in recent years amid booming interest in biomedical research, would get only a small funding boost under the Bush administration budget being prepared for next year, according to people familiar with the preliminary figures.

President Bush is scheduled to unveil his budget for the 2004 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, on Feb. 3. The White House currently is planning to propose an NIH increase of less than 1%, and perhaps as little as 0.3%, say people familiar with the numbers. That would mark a sharp turnaround; Congress, which agreed to double the NIH budget between 1998 and 2003, has in recent years approved several annual increases of about 15%.

The reduction being discussed by the administration partly reflects the deteriorating federal budget outlook and the keen competition for limited funds, as well as the recent big NIH increases.

Still, the fact that the White House is suggesting growth of less than 1% for NIH comes as a surprise to many research advocates, who believe that much bigger increases are necessary to make the past years' investments pay off in biomedical advances.

For the current fiscal year, President Bush proposed increasing the NIH budget by more than 15% to more than $27 billion. That would complete the five-year doubling of the budget that both he and Congress have pledged to support. But it's not clear that lawmakers will approve the whole amount; many of the appropriations bills for the current fiscal year haven't yet been passed, and many government programs are expected to be squeezed when Congress returns this month.

To try to prod Congress to pony up the money to finish the doubling of the NIH budget, lobbyists representing research, medical and patient groups are planning a major drive early this year. They'll argue that once the NIH budget is doubled, annual increases should tally about 8% a year. Anything less, they say, would threaten the momentum developed over the past several years.

Kevin Wilson, director of public policy at the American Society for Cell Biology, said he wasn't familiar with the administration's budget numbers, but would be concerned by a tiny proposed increase for 2004 for NIH. "Something that small would be of concern to us because it's effectively a cut; it doesn't keep up with inflation," he said.

A spokesman for the White House Office of Management and Budget declined to comment on the administration's 2004 budget. He noted, however, that the administration's proposal for 2003 would fulfill its promise to double the NIH budget, calling it "a pretty massive increase."