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President Issues FY2015 Budget Request with Modest NIH and NEI Increase

Legislative Update
March 7, 2014

Although the President sent a $3.9 trillion Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 spending plan to Congress on March 4, detailed information on National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Eye Institute (NEI) funding were not available until their respective Congressional Justifications (CJs) were posted today. The NEI CJ is especially instructive, as its budget numbers are based on operational nets versus the Congressionally appropriated levels.

The President requests NIH funding at $30.13 billion, an increase of $200 million or 0.7 percent over FY2014. With transfers over from other government agencies to fund key programs, the NIH program level would be $30.4 billion. Additionally, he proposes a new Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative that would add $970 million to the NIH budget for a total of $31.3 billion in FY2015. These funds would be used to increase the number of new grants funded and provide additional resources for “signature” activities such as the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, improving the sharing and analysis of complex biomedical data sets, expanding research on Alzheimer’s disease and vaccine development, further accelerating partnership efforts to identify and develop new therapeutic drug targets, and other innovative projects. Since this effort would be paid for through cutting spending and narrowing tax loopholes—the latter of which has not been supported by Republican Members of Congress—it faces an uncertain future.

The President requests $675.17 million for the NEI, which is a $0.9 million or 0.15 percent increase over the NEI’s FY2014 Operational Net of $674.25 million. Although Congress appropriated $682.1 million for NEI in FY2014, it was reduced by a $6.9 million transfer back to the NIH’s Office of AIDS Research (OAR) due to dissolution of NEI’s Ocular Implications of AIDS clinical trials. In its FY2013 budget, NEI also had a transfer back to OAR of $5.6 million. As a result, NAEVR’s chart of year-to-year NIH and NEI funding now displays both the appropriation and operational net for the NEI. NEI proposes to spend 85 percent of its budget on extramural research, consistent with past practice. NEI will fund 23 fewer Research Project Grants in FY2015 as compared to FY2014.

Since Congress already has an FY2015 discretionary spending cap of $1.014 trillion negotiated through the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, the President’s budget has been described as more of a “wish list” than a legislative mandate. NAEVR has urged Congress to fund the NIH at $32 billion and the NEI at $730 million in FY2015 to fully restore the FY2013 sequester cuts partially restored in FY2014 and enable an inflationary increase, since the NIH and NEI have lost 22 and 25 percent, respectively, of their purchasing power since FY2003. NAEVR has expressed its disappointment in the President’s budget request, as NEI funding is not keeping up with biomedical inflation, let alone the economic and societal burden from the growing vision challenges of an aging population.

The NIH Congressional Justification provides insights into NIH policies and priorities as the budget proposes to:

  • Maintain the Salary Cap at Executive Level II, which the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has increased from $179,700 to $181,500.

  • Increase the Program Evaluation Transfer levied on all Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) agencies from the current 2.5 percent to 3 percent.

  • Increase NIH’s commitment to the BRAIN Initiative to $100 million from the $40 million in FY2014, the first year of this initiative. Combined, the NIH, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and the National Science Foundation (NSF) are committing $200 million in FY2015 to the initiative, double that of FY2014.

  • Creating a $30 million DARPA-like authority within the NIH Common Fund to rapidly respond to scientific opportunities. In a March 4 press conference held by DHHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D. cited projects relating to the peripheral nervous system as an example of an area of research that could benefit from a DARPA model, as the central nervous system is already being addressed through the BRAIN Initiative.

  • Increasing NIH’s investment in the Cures Acceleration Network (CAN), the initiative within the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) to accelerate the translation of research.