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Senate LHHS Appropriations Subcommittee Holds FY2010 NIH Budget Hearing Questioning NIH on Implementation of $10.4 Billion in Economic Stimulus Funding

Legislative Update
May 22, 2009

Yesterday, the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (LHHS) Appropriations Subcommittee held a hearing on the Fiscal Year (FY) 2010 budget for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Subcommittee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) presided; the minority was represented by Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL). Acting NIH Director Raynard Kington, M.D., Ph.D., presented a summary statement that was accompanied by written testimony. He was joined in responding to questions by Directors Anthony Fauci, M.D. (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, NIAID), Elizabeth Nabel, M.D. (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, NHLBI), and John Niederhuber, M.D. (National Cancer Institute, NCI).

As expected, the testimony and initial questions focused on NIH’s ability to implement the $10.4 billion of funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). After thanking Congress for this funding, Dr. Kington summarized the status of implementation, a report of which NIH has released publicly, indicating that it is NIH’s intention to fully implement ARRA funding within the two-year timeframe with about 7,000 grant awards. In so doing, he noted that the Challenge Grant program request alone had garnered more than 20,000 grant applications, which he praised as an example of the breadth and depth of the United States’ scientific capacity and serves as a strong message to young scientists about the vitality of research funding. He also stated that the new Grand Opportunity (GO) grant program had already received about 2,400 letters of intent to submit grant applications.

Dr. Kington stated that, between the Office of the Director and the Institutes/Centers (ICs), NIH may double the funding for Challenge Grants, initially set at $200 million. He acknowledged that each Institute and Center was examining the needs of its respective research community to determine the percentage mix of ARRA funds for peer-reviewed but unfunded R01s (14,000 in queue from FY2008 cycle, some of which could be feasible for two-year funding), Challenge Grants, GO grants, and other programs. He added that scientists not funded under ARRA mechanisms could re-submit in the regular grant funding cycle.

Chairman Harkin asked whether the ARRA two-year funding timeframe was sufficient to obligate funds for meaningful research. Dr. Kington responded that NIH was fully prepared to meet ARRA requirements, especially since these are intended to stimulate the economy short-term. However, after all four NIH representatives offered examples of research planned with ARRA funding, they also acknowledged that flexibility in the timing of funding would be helpful.

Chairman Harkin acknowledged a concern that NIH could "fall off a cliff" with respect to funding in FY2011, after the stimulative funding expires. In that regard, he acknowledged the Obama Administration’s FY2010 budget, which proposes a $443 million, or 1.4 percent increase, in NIH funding over FY2009, which does not even match biomedical inflation. He also questioned the Administration’s intent to spend more than half of that increase, or $268 million, for cancer research. "Should we put so much of that into just one disease?" Senator Harkin asked the NIH representatives adding that, “I know they [the Administration] proposed this, but we [Congress] may have a different view on that.”

Dr. Kington addressed the former issue by stating that all IC Directors are planning—between ARRA funding, final FY2009 funding, and proposed FY2010 funding—to manage dollars so that meaningful research progresses. With respect to the latter issue, he noted that cancer research is funded by all ICs (and managed by a trans-Institute Committee) and that this research helps the scientific community to understand biological mechanisms that are applicable to a variety of diseases.

NAEVR submitted written testimony to the Senate LHHS Subcommittee hearing file. NAEVR has requested at least a seven percent increase in NIH/NEI funding. NAEVR has also expressed concern about the President’s proposed FY2010 funding of NIH at 1.4 percent and the National Eye Institute’s (NEI) funding at only one percent.