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ARVO Members Urge Congress to Finalize FY2011 NIH Appropriations

The ARVO Advocates prior to their visits (see detailed images below)
The ARVO Advocates prior to their visits (see detailed images below)
On January 28, members of ARVO’s Annual Meeting Program Committee were among the first on Capitol Hill in the 112th Congress to advocate for the finalization of Fiscal Year (FY) 2011 appropriations for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Since Congress had not yet finalized any FY2011 spending bills, the ARVO advocates requested NIH funding at the $31.8 billion level, as proposed in the Senate omnibus bill from last session, which would ensure that NIH funding keeps pace with biomedical inflation. NIH funding at that level would result in National Eye Institute (NEI) funding of $723.22 million, a $17 million increase.

In 30 meetings during this NAEVR-hosted Advocacy Day, the 11 domestic and 6 international ARVO advocates thanked staffers for FY2009 and FY2010 NIH/NEI funding increases, as well as stimulus funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), noting the impact on their departments in terms of breakthrough vision science and employment of highly-trained technical personnel. To emphasize the return on investment, the advocates stressed the potential of their research to improve quality of life and save expenses to the healthcare system.

Pablo Argueso, Ph.D. (Schepens Eye Research Institute/Harvard University) stated to staff that “the flow of NIH funding not only helps the institutional researcher, but also drives the local economy with non-institutional contracts,” adding that, “cutting edge research directly drives industries with cures, which helps to save money on future healthcare costs.” In his visits, John Ash, Ph.D. (University of Oklahoma) emphasized the value of NIH research by challenging staff to “find a government agency that spends money more efficiently than the NIH.” The advocates also described the impact of delayed appropriations, in terms of the continuity of research and retention of trained staff. “If a department does not have bridge or philanthropic funding to retain staff while awaiting full funding of awards, they will need to let staff go, and that usually means that a highly trained person is lost to an institution in another state—or even another country,” said Joel Schuman, M.D. (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center).

As in the past, the international ARVO advocates provided global perspectives on the far-reaching impact of the U.S. biomedical enterprise, in terms of research collaborations and training opportunities.

Earlier that week on January 26, President Obama emphasized the importance of innovation to economic recovery, including biomedical research, in his State of the Union address. Also, the House began its efforts to potentially roll back FY2011 funding to the FY2008 level. The ARVO advocates explained that such a move would reduce NEI funding from the FY2010 level of $707 million to $667 million, a loss of $30 million and a reduction in the number of NEI grants by 43-any one of which could hold the key to saving or restoring vision.

Congress must act by March 4—when the current Continuing Resolution (CR) that funds most government programs at the FY2010 level expires-to pass legislation that finalizes funding for the remainder of FY2011. As noted above, this could range from flat funding at the FY2010 level to potential cuts back to the FY2008 level—or lower. For example, the conservative House Republican Study Committee has urged that government spending be reduced to the FY2006 level. NAEVR will continue to work with its medical research advocacy partners to emphasize the value of NIH/NEI funding and the devastating impact of flat funding or potential cuts.

Kirsten Lampi, M.S., Ph.D. (Oregon Health and Science University), right, with Christa Shively, office of Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR)
Pablo Argueso, Ph.D. (Schepens Eye Research Institute/Harvard University), seated, with Megan Morris in the office of Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA)
Ron Silverman, Ph.D. (Columbia University), left, and Sarah Coupland, MBBS, Ph.D. (University of Liverpool), right, with Heather Loneck, office of Rep. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) From left: Angela Suburo, M.D., Ph.D. (Universidad Austral-Argentina), left, and Geeta Vemuganti, M.D. (LV Prasad Eye Institute), right, with Jeffrey Okamoto, M.D, the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Public Policy Fellow in the office of Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)
Joel Schuman, M.D., FARVO (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center) met with Sara Mabry, from the office of Senator Robert Casey (D-PA) From left: Francisco Andrade, Ph.D. (University of Kentucky), Mary Jane Saunier, office of Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Giovanni Staurenghi, M.D. (University of Milan), and Francisco Boscia, M.D. (University of Bari)
Anneke Den Hollander, Ph.D. (Nijmegen Medical Center), left, Michelle Callegan, Ph.D., FARVO (University of Oklahoma) second from right, and John Ash, Ph.D. (University of Oklahoma), right, met with Erica Brettell, from the office of Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) From left: Nicholas Brecha, Ph.D. (UCLA), Patrick Scandling, office of Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Marilyn Schneck, Ph.D. (University of California-Berkley/Smith Kettlewell Institute), Susana Marcos, Ph.D. (Instituto de Optica/Madrid), and Paul FitzGerald, Ph.D. (University of California-Davis)