NIH Making Do With (Much) Less

For 4 years running—since 2010—Congress has implemented significant cuts to federal programs in an effort to reduce the deficit. The Budget Control Act of 2011 imposed federal budget cuts in 2012 and 2013, and set caps that will limit spending from 2014 to 2021 to rein in the deficit. As a result, funding for NIH is down nearly 4 percent from 2010. That may not sound like much, but 4% of a $30 billion annual budget is roughly $1.2 billion, more than twice the 2013 NIH budget for kidney research of $591 million.

Coupled with the escalating costs of conducting research, NIH has lost 25 percent of its purchasing power over the last decade due to inflation, limiting the number of grants NIH can award. As a consequence, NIH’s award success rate (the percentage of grant applications that are funded) is at the lowest level in NIH history. Only about 16 percent of applications receive funding today, a drop from about 40 percent in 1979.

“We are throwing away probably half of the innovative, talented research proposals that the nation’s finest biomedical community has produced,” NIH Director Francis Collins, MD, PhD recently remarked. “Particularly for young scientists, they are now beginning to wonder if they are in the wrong field. We have a serious risk of losing the most important resource that we have, which is this brain trust, the talent and the creative energies of this generation of scientists.”

During an August 12 tour of the University of Washington School of Medicine’s research laboratories with Dr. Collins, U.S. Senator Budget Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) described public research as “a long-term investment that pays off in global competitiveness, jobs, growth, and wellbeing for families and communities across the country…. [If] the U.S. was a business, investments in future economic growth would be the last thing we would try to cut. That is exactly what research and development is.”

As one of the society’s top priorities, ASN continues to work with other NIH stakeholders to raise awareness about these issues and concerns, and to press upon Congress the importance of bolstering federal research investments.

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2015 Federal Budget in Limbo

Congress almost never manages to pass the federal budget by the start of the new fiscal year (which begins on October 1). In fact, this rare occurrence has happened only four times over the past 30 years (in 1977, 1989, 1995, and 1997). Every other year, Congress has depended on continuing resolutions (CRs) to keep the government running. (In 2001, Congress passed a record 21 CRs before a full year budget was finally passed.) It looks like 2015 will not be any different.

With only a few working days after Congress returns from its August recess before October 1, lawmakers do not have much time left to work out a deal to either pass a CR or a full-year budget. Failure to pass either by that date will result in a repeat of last year’s shutdown of nonessential government services that lasted 16 days until Congress finally approved a CR. Fortunately, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have stated—for now, at least—that they plan to work together to avoid the disastrous effects of last year’s shutdown.