Public Affairs

Public Affairs

House Subcommittee Flat-Funds NIH with Spending Directives

In July, the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education approved a draft bill that provides funding for the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education. The bill maintains National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding at FY 2012 levels, providing a 0.3 percent increase to most institutes.

Along with the funding, the draft bill, if it were to become law, provides several restrictions on how NIH can spend the money. The bill requires 90 percent of NIH research funding to go towards extramural research, and 55 percent for basic research. The bill would reduce the maximum salary researchers could receive from NIH grants by eight percent, from $179,700 to $165,300, the second reduction to the NIH salary cap in recent months. The bill would also forbid NIH from funding economic research.

Additionaly, the bill prohibits NIH from funding any research project until the director certifies that the project is of significantly high scientific value and will have a measureable impact on public health. It is unclear how this would work, since much of NIH’s funded research focuses on what causes disease and how organisms function.

In another restriction, the bill dictates the number of training awards that NIH should fund in FY 2013, ignoring that the NIH is currently in the process of reviewing and determining how to implement the recommendations of its Advisory Committee to the Director Working Group on the Biomedical Research Workforce.

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved funding NIH at $31 billion for FY 2013, $99 million more than President Obama requested earlier in the summer. That bill did not include the proposed restrictions created by the House. The restrictions must be approved by the full House and agreed to by the Senate in order to take effect. With Congress in recess for the month of August and an election two months away, the bill will likely not be considered by the full House or the Senate until after the November election.

NIH Launches Two New Common Fund Programs

On July 2, NIH Director Francis Collins announced two new programs within the NIH Common Fund: an expansion of the intramural Undiagnosed Disease Program and the Common Fund’s Extracellular RNA Communications program. The programs will further understanding of undiagnosed diseases and explore cell-to-cell communication. The programs are scheduled to begin during FY 2013.

The Undiagnosed Disease Program will provide a new network of medical research centers focused on the discovery, diagnosis, and ultimately care of undiagnosed patients by capitalizing on recent advances in genomics and the infusion of basic researchers in clinical projects. NIH expects to provide approximately $145 million in Common Fund support over the next seven years for this program. The Common Fund’s Extracellular RNA Communication program will explore new ways in which cells communicate with each other using extracellular ribonucleic acids (RNAs) — RNAs that are present in the space outside of and between cells. The program will provide foundational information about the synthesis, distribution, uptake, and function of extracellular RNAs that are involved in cell-to-cell communication that is critical for basic cell function and health. NIH expects to provide approximately $130 million in Common Fund support over the next five years for the program

The Common Fund, created by former NIH Director Elias Zerhouni, is used to make strategic investments in areas that show potential for rapid and significant impact and have broad applications across institutes and centers. More information about the Common Fund and the new programs can be found at http://commonfund.nih.gov/.

Investment in Research Universities Needed for US Prosperity

According to a report released by the National Research Council (NRC) Committee on Research Universities and the Board on Higher Education and Workforce, American research universities are essential for US prosperity and security, but the institutions are in danger of serious decline unless the federal government, states, and industry take action to ensure adequate, stable funding in the next decade. The report also concludes that in return for the investment, universities must meet “bold goals” to contain costs, enhance productivity, and improve educational pathways to careers both within and beyond academia.

Congress requested the report, Research Universities and the Future of America: Ten Breakthrough Actions Vital to Our Nation’s Prosperity and Security, which was written by a committee that was chaired by Chad Holliday, Chairman of the Board of Bank of America and Chairman and CEO of DuPont, and included scientists from research universities and industry. The report builds upon Rising Above the Gathering Storm, an earlier Academies’ study on U.S. competitiveness.

The ten actions recommended in the report are:

  • “The Federal government should adopt stable and effective policies, practices, and funding for university performed [research and development] and graduate education so that the nation will have a stream of new knowledge and educated people.”
  • “Provide greater autonomy for public research universities so that these institutions may leverage local and regional strengths to compete strategically and respond with agility to new opportunities. At the same time, restore state appropriations for higher education, including graduate education and research, to levels that allow public research universities to operate at world-class levels.”
  • “Strengthen the business role in the research partnership, facilitating the transfer of knowledge, ideas and technology to society and accelerate ‘time to innovation’ in order to achieve our national goal.”
  • “Increase university cost-effectiveness and productivity in order to provide a greater return on investment for taxpayers, philanthropists, corporations, foundations, and other research sponsors.”
  • “Create a ‘strategic investment program’ that funds initiatives at research universities critical to advancing education and research in areas of key national priority.”
  • “The federal government and other research sponsors should strive to cover the full cost of research projects and other activities they procure from research universities in a consistent and transparent manner.”
  • “Reduce or eliminate regulations that increase administrative costs, impede research productivity, and deflect creative energy without substantially improving the research environment.”
  • “Improve the capacity of graduate programs to attract talented students by addressing issues such as attrition rates, time to degree, funding, and alignment with both student career opportunities and national interests.”
  • “Secure for the United States the full benefits of education for all Americans, including women and underrepresented minorities, in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology.”
  • “Ensure that the United States will continue to benefit strongly from the participation of international students and scholars in our research enterprise.”

To read more about the recommendations and the budget implications of each, you can download the report or a summary for free at www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=13396.

September 2012 Table of Contents