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Congress Passes Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014 That Partially Restores NIH/NEI Sequester Cuts

Legislative Update
January 16, 2014

Today, the Senate passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014 by a vote of 72-26, following House passage the previous day on a vote of 359-67. The $1.01 trillion omnibus spending bill, which finalizes Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 appropriations, was passed just before a three-day Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government through January 18 was set to expire. Congress had passed an extension earlier in the week to the January 15 deadline that the previous CR had set to enable legislators to act on the omnibus bill. The bill was developed after Congressional passage on December 18, 2013, of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 which established discretionary spending caps for FY2014 and 2015, eliminating $63 billion in sequestration cuts in those fiscal years.

The omnibus funds the National Institutes of Health (NIH) at $29.93 billion, a $1 billion or 3.5 percent increase over the FY2013 budget after sequester and transfers, but $714 million below the FY2013 pre-sequestration appropriation of $30.64 billion. The bill funds the National Eye Institute (NEI) at $682 million, a $20 million or 3 percent increase over the FY2013 post-sequester/transfer budget, but $19 million below the FY2013 pre-sequestration level of $701.3 million.

The accompanying Joint Explanatory Statement provides greater detail into Congressional priorities for NIH, as well as steps it must take to implement and report on key programs. The Statement notes that, although increases are generally distributed proportionately among the Institutes and Centers (I/Cs), additional amounts have been added to the National Institute on Aging (NIA) in recognition of the Alzheimer’s disease research initiative throughout NIH, and several institutes have received funding in anticipation of research in connection with the Brain Research through Application of Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative. Additional funding is also provided to the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) for the Institutional Development Awards (IDeA) program, and to the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) due to movement of some programs from the Common Fund to the institute and to consolidate all Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) program funding within NCATS.

Regarding vision, Congress directs NIH to develop an update on Usher Syndrome (deaf blindness) research in the FY2015 budget request, addressing funding and how the I/Cs coordinate on research. This review was requested by NAEVR member organization Coalition for Usher Syndrome Research.

Regarding overall NIH grants management and funding, the Statement also includes the following:

  • The Salary Cap remains at Executive Level II (EL II), but that amount has been increased by the Office of Personnel Management from $179,700 to $181,500.

  • The NIH is expected to adopt a reasonable NIH-wide policy for noncompeting and competing inflation rates that is consistent with the overall funding increase, and it is expected to support as many scientifically meritorious new and competing research projects as possible, at a reasonable award level.

  • The NIH is to conduct an agency-wide study of the post-peer review priority-setting process, resource allocation process, and portfolio evaluation such that it provides decision-makers with answers to such questions as to how the research advances biomedical science, improves human health, and relates to an I/C or overall NIH program goals.
NAEVR has issued a statement on the omnibus, thanking Congress-especially the appropriations leaders-for their efforts to partially restore the sequester cuts, but noting that the funding level does not allow for growth or balance biomedical inflation, as well as adequately fund the NEI to address the challenges of the “Decade of Vision.”