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Chairwoman Mikulski Has “Ophthalmology on Her Mind” at Senate Appropriations Committee Hearing on the Federal Investment in Innovation

Legislative Update
April 29, 2014

Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Vice Chair Richard Shelby (R-AL)
Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Vice Chair Richard Shelby (R-AL)
Today, the Senate Appropriations Committee held its first-ever crosscutting look at innovation, specifically whether there is an “innovation deficit” due to the reduction in federal spending on Research and Development (R&D). Hearing witnesses included representatives (see box below) from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), the Department of Energy, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Although the three-hour hearing was a platform to discuss both opportunities for and challenges to innovation, it did not address any specific legislative actions.

From left: National Science Foundation Director France A. Córdova, Ph.D.,  National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., and Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, Ph.D.
From left: National Science Foundation Director France A. Córdova, Ph.D., National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., and Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, Ph.D.
In her opening statement, Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) acknowledged that more than two dozen federal agencies and departments engaged in R&D are funded for a total of $135 billion in the President’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 budget request- an historic low four percent of the federal budget. The United States’ share of worldwide R&D spending has dropped from 37 percent in 2001 to 30 percent in 2011, while Asia has continued to expand its R&D investments, jumping from 25 percent of the global total in 2001 to 34 percent in 2011.

She digressed from her formal comments to note that, earlier that morning, she had an eye exam at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins and observed that “people from all over the world come to the U.S. due to its innovation.” Later in the hearing, she also observed that she had “ophthalmology on her mind” when she asked about NIH’s New Innovators Program, noting that one of the technologies she remembered from a recent campus visit was the “Bionic Eye” (the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System). NAEVR’s Maryland-based members have had ongoing communications with the Chairwoman about National Eye Institute (NEI) breakthroughs and funding, and both NAEVR and ARVO submitted comments to the hearing record, along with more than 130 other organizations.

As expected, the agency representatives spoke about the value of the federal investment in innovation and the implications of flat funding, the lack of inflationary increases in their budgets, and the impact of sequester cuts in FY2013 and 2014. They also answered questions from 15 bipartisan Members, which reflected about half of the Committee.

In responding to a question from Chairwoman Mikulski about whether NIH would like “more money, more certainty, or no sequester cuts,” NIH Director Francis Collins , M.D., Ph.D. noted that “NIH has already lost $10 billion from its budget due to the sequester and lack of inflationary increases, and will likely lose another $10 billion in the next seven years”-the timeframe for the remainder of sequester cuts. He reiterated his comments from the April 2 Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (LHHS) Appropriations Subcommittee hearing where he stated that, “Nothing is worse for biomedical research than uncertainty. NIH needs a stable trajectory of an inflationary increase and growth.” Earlier in the hearing, Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) did address the issue of stable funding increases, noting that his bill, S. 2115 American Cures Act introduced on March 12, would ensure a five percent per-year increase over a cost-of-living inflationary factor for a ten-year period to get NIH back on track.” NAEVR has endorsed the bill, as well as a House companion bill, H.R. 4384, introduced by Cong. Anna Eshoo (D-CA).

Witnesses
John P. Holdren, Ph.D., Director, Office of Science and Technology Policy, Executive Office of the President of the United States
Ernest Moniz, Ph.D.;Secretary, Department of Energy
Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., Director, National Institutes of Health
France A. Córdova, Ph.D., Director, National Science Foundation
Arati Prabhakar, Ph.D., Director, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Department of Defense