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Apr 14, 2011

House Vote Clears Way for Budget Deal with Cuts for Most Science Agencies

House Vote Clears Way for Budget Deal with Cuts for Most Science Agencies

FDA budget grows, but not so for NIH, CDC, NSF, NIST, and Energy Department’s Office of Science.[SwitchPhotography-Fotolia.com]

  • President Obama is expected Friday to sign into law the deal he reached with leaders from both houses of Congress late on April 8 to cut $38 billion in federal spending for the current fiscal year, which ends September 30. The Senate will likely join the House, which on Thursday approved the deal by a 260–167 margin.

    Under the measure, or “continuing resolution,” NIH will receive $30.7 billion in funding during FY ’11, down a total $260 million from the previous fiscal year. Of the funds to be cut, $210 million will be reflected in a pro rata reduction across all of NIH’s 27 institutes and centers, and the Office of the Director, Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. The remaining $50 million will come from cutting in half the agency’s budget for buildings and facilities.

    The total cut was well below the $1.6 billion reduction approved by the House of Representatives, and 0.8% below NIH’s total FY 2010 budget of about $31 billion; Obama has proposed a $32.9 billion NIH budget for FY ’12.

    Also unlike the House version, the bill reflecting the budget agreement does not include stipulations limiting the average size of competing research project grants to $400,000, and mandating that NIH provide a specific number of new and competing research grants.

    In addition, NIH will have $27 million more to spend on buildings and facilities in FY 2011 compared with the previous fiscal year, and $300 million toward the Global Fund, which the House had slated for elimination in its version of the budget.

    “Considering the overall level of cuts, the impact on the federal science agencies of interest to FASEB was fairly minimal,” Jennifer Zeitzer, director of legislative relations for the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), told GEN.

    But Jon Retzlaf, managing director of science policy and government affairs for the American Association for Cancer Research, told GEN that even small cuts were significant.

    “When we’re talking about the scientific opportunities that are out there, and the needs of the field, and the needs of the patients, any cut is a concern. At a time when NIH funding needs to grow on a sustained path, to go backward is not positive,” Retzlaf said.

    “It’s probably more concerning because we’re going into an even tougher environment, the fiscal year 2012 budget. And we have to find a way to explain that there are vital government programs that need to be supported for our patients, and for our future economy,” Retzlaf added. “The entire community really needs to make the collective case that we need sustained increases.”

    The White House says the NIH cut could have been much worse. Writing on the White House blog on Saturday, President Obama’s director of communications, Dan Pfeiffer, said leaders from the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and Democratic-controlled Senate “were able to avoid making than [sic] $500 million cut in lifesaving biomedical research.”

    Additional spending details are expected to emerge in about a month, since NIH and all other agencies within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will be required to submit to the House and Senate appropriations committees a detailed spending, expenditure, or operating plan for FY 2011 within 30 days of enactment of the budget agreement.

    The National Science Foundation’s FY ’11 budget will be $53 million smaller than FY ’10 but still at about $6.9 billion, $307 million above the level sought by the House—but $551 million below what President Obama proposed for this fiscal year. Earlier this year, the president proposed an FY 2012 budget for the agency of $7.424 billion.

    Of the $53 million reduction, $43 million will be cut from the agency’s budget for research and related activities, bringing that down to $5.56 million. An additional $10 million will be cut from NSF’s budget for education and human resources, bringing spending for that purpose down to $862.7 million.

    NSF will also be required to submit a detailed spending plan signed by its director, Subra Suresh, Ph.D., to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees within 60 days of enactment of the budget agreement.

    Other agencies:

    CDC discretionary spending would be $5.66 billion for the current fiscal year, down $730 million from FY ’10, yet $681 million above the House proposal. CDC’s buildings and facilities budget alone would drop by $69 million.

    FDA’s budget would climb 4%, from $2.452 billion in FY ’11 from $2.345 billion in FY ’10. FDA’s budget would be 14% above the $2.104 billion sought by the House.

    • NIST will receive $752 million in FY ’11, up $55 million from the House proposal but still $167 million below the original budget request. But that figure does not include funding for new grants expected to be awarded under NIST’s competitive construction program or the Technology Innovation Program.

    • The Office of Science, part of the U.S. Department of Energy, would lose $35 million, leaving it with $4.88 billion in FY ’11, or $866 million more than what the House approved. President Obama’s FY ’12 budget proposal would raise that funding to about $5.4 billion. Of the cuts, $16.6 million will come from a contractor pay freeze instituted by the department, while $15 million will come from unobligated balances from past years’ appropriations.


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