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House NIH Reauthorization Bill Expected in September

When Congress returns after the Labor Day recess, the House Energy and Commerce Committee is expected to introduce bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the NIH, which has not been reauthorized since 1993. On July 12, the Committee released a "Discussion Draft" of legislation that would greatly expand the authority of the NIH Director and authorize only a four line-item budget for the NIH -- the Office of the Director; a new Division of Program Coordination, Planning and Strategic Initiatives; a cluster of 15 mission-specific Institutes (including the NEI); and a cluster of 9 science-enabling Institutes/Centers -- as opposed to the current 27 line-item budget. On July 19, the Committee held a hearing at which it questioned NIH Director Dr. Elias Zerhouni about various aspects of NIH's potential implementation of the "Discussion Draft." Both Republican and Democratic Committee members expressed concerns about the extensive nature of the changes proposed, including the elimination of line item budgets for individual Institutes. This has been a major concern of the eye and vision research community, as presented in NAEVR comments submitted to the Committee, which were developed in conjunction with an ARVO NIH Working Group that represented the breadth of eye and vision research. Although NAEVR generally supports many of the 2003 Institute of Medicine (IOM) report's recommendations to strengthen the Office of the Director and increase transparency that are included in the draft legislation, NAEVR opposes the elimination of line item budgets since Congressional review of individual Institute line item budgets provides an important "check and balance" to the proposed extensively-revised internal NIH budget development process driven by the NIH Director.

NAEVR has been working closely with coalition partners from the medical research advocacy community, as well as with NAEVR network members. On August 10, NAEVR held a "Town Hall Meeting" of network members, and has instituted weekly strategy calls to inform the eye and vision community about NIH reauthorization activities. NAEVR will also keep network members apprised through regular updates on www.eyeresearch.org.



Participants in a NAEVR-hosted August 10 Town Hall Meeting included (left to
right): Steven Grossman (EyeRX); Norman Lanphear (American Academy of
Ophthalmology); NAEVR Legislative Counsel John Porter; Dr. Stephen Rose
(Foundation Fighting Blindness); and David Danielson (American Optometric
Association).