Created by on 08/27/2012

On July 18th, the House Appropriations Committee approved its version of the fiscal year (FY) 2013 Labor, Health and Human Services (LHHS) Appropriations Bill after two hours of debate on the measure. The overall level of funding for LHHS programs is $6.3 billion below FY 2012 and more than $8 billion less than the amount approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee last month. Funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) would remain flat at $30.6 billion, and the majority of institutes/centers are reduced by 0.02 percent below their FY 2012 levels. Within the total for NIH, the bill included:
  • $1.37 million for the Office of the Director (OD) – $90 million below FY 2012
  • $544.9 million for the Common Fund – $1 million below FY 2012
  • $125 million for buildings and facilities – $50 million below FY 2012
  • $487.7 million for Clinical and Translational Science Awards program – $89 million below FY 2012
  • $376 million for the Institutional Development Awards (IDeA) program – $100 million above FY 2012 funding
  • $574.7 million for the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) – $1.7 million below 2012. Up to $10 million may be used to support the Cures Acceleration Network (CAN) with some restrictions (see below).
The bill mandates that “the Director of the NIH shall, with respect to the aggregate amount of funds appropriated to the NIH by this Act, maintain an allocation of 90 percent to extramural activities, 10 percent for intramural activities, and at least 55 percent toward basic science activities.” In the bill summary, the Appropriations Committee notes that the funding will support 16,670 new and competing “training research awards – the pipeline of support for future researchers.” The bill text clarifies that reference is to the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Awards. In addition, the legislation includes language “to ensure that NIH supports only research projects that are highly meritorious, based on peer review processes, and that continue the agency’s historical unbiased position toward specific diseases.”
There are also a number of policy provisions in the bill placing new and troubling restrictions on the kind of research NIH funds and how the agency allocates funding for grants. Specifically, the bill:
  • Prohibits the use of NIH funds for “any economic research programs, projects, or activities”
  • Does not allow OD to use any funds for travel until the Director implements a pilot study on third-party collections and a trans-NIH review of clinical trials that were requested by the Appropriations Committee in the report accompanying the FY 2012 LHHS bill
  • Prohibits the use of funds to be used for any program, project, or activity (PPA) related to research until the agency head/director of the program office submits a certification to the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) stating that the PPA (Section 223):
    • is of significantly high scientific value
    • will have a measurable impact on public health
    • is justifiable for the certification, including an explanation of how the success of the PPA will be measured with respect to its impact on public health
    • no funds shall be expended on any PPA until the Secretary of HHS submits to the agency head/director a written document approving the certification requested by the agency
  • Reduces the limit on salaries charged to grants or other extramural mechanisms funded by the bill to Executive Level III ($165,300). The Senate LHHS bill retained the limit at executive Level II ($179,700)
  • Prohibits NIH from making any changes to the CTSA program until the Institute of Medicine issues a review of the program requested in the report accompanying the FY 2012 funding bill
  • Limits NIH’s ability to expend CAN funds until “after NIH has published in the Federal Register a notice of proposed rulemaking and request for comments with respect to a rule to ensure that all programs, projects, and activities of NCATS do no create duplication, redundancy or competition with industry.”
Although rumors circulated that the full House Appropriations Committee would consider the LHHS bill in late July, Congress adjourned for the summer break without taking additional action on the measure. Given that lawmakers will only be in session for eight legislative days in September, it seems highly unlikely that a full committee mark-up will take place at all, a stance that was reinforced by Appropriations Committee ranking member Norm Dicks (D-WA) in a July 23rd press release announcing that consideration of the bill had been “indefinitely postponed.”
FASEB issued a press release noting that flat funding NIH will delay research progress and place new burdens on the agency. “The proposed funding level is substantially below that necessary to sustain the current research effort. Without adequate funding, NIH will have to sacrifice valuable lines of research and lose talented young scientists to keep up with rising costs and a continued loss of purchasing power,” said FASEB President Judith Bond, PhD. LHHS Subcommittee ranking member Norm Dicks (D-WA) also distributed a press release expressing deep concern about the funding levels in the bill.