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INSIDE (THE BELTWAY) SCOOP – JENNIFER ZEITZER
Created by on 12/19/2011

The contentious battles over budget and spending issues that defined so much of the first session of the 112th Congress were on full display again in December as lawmakers attempted to complete work on the overdue fiscal year (FY) 2012 appropriations bills. Racing against the deadline of a “continuing resolution” that was set to expire on December 16th, appropriators managed to pass an omnibus bill (HR 2055) that included small funding increases for both the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Department of Energy Office of Science (DOE SC). The House approved the omnibus on the afternoon of December 16th by a vote of 296-121. Senate passage came via a 67-32 vote during a rare Saturday session on December 17th, sending the bill to the White House for President Obama’s signature.

HR 2055 included the following funding levels for science agencies of interest to FASEB societies: 

AGENCY FY 2012 OMNIBUS COMPARED TO FY 2011 FINAL
NIH $30.64 billion ** +0.8% (+$240 million)
DOE SC $4.90 billion +0.9% (+$46.0 million)
VA RESEARCH $581 million no change

    ** A summary circulated by the House Appropriations Committee indicated that the NIH funding level was $30.69 billion (a $299 million increase over the FY 2011 level) but that did not include an additional 0.189% across-the-board cut that was added to the legislation. The number in the chart above reflects the across-the-board cut.

Approval of the omnibus appropriations bill was nearly derailed by a dispute between President Obama and House and Senate Republicans over an unrelated bill to extend several tax provisions that expire at the end of 2011. On December 8th, a bi-partisan team of negotiators met to begin discussions on combining the remaining unfinished FY 2012 spending bills into a single package (HR 2055) to be attached to the Military Construction/Veterans affairs appropriations measure. A few days later, news emerged that the group had reportedly agreed on the details of the spending package. However, Democrats refused to sign the paperwork required to formalize the agreement until negotiations on the tax bill were completed. On December 15th, responding to the Democrats’ tactics, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) introduced a separate omnibus appropriations bill (HR 3671) and a related measure that included a nearly two percent across-the-board cut in the spending levels that were previously agreed to by the negotiators. The chairman’s threat to further reduce spending brought Democrats back into the negotiations, and by the end of the day the House had approved the original bi-partisan spending package (HR 2055). Lost amid the legislative drama on Capitol Hill was the fact that the appropriators managed to deliver a completed FY 2012 budget only three months behind schedule – a dramatic difference from the FY 2011 budget which was approved more than half a year late.   

Within the total for
NIH, funding was allocated for the following programs:

  • $576,456,000 to implement the creation of the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) and eliminate the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR). Existing NCCR programs will be transferred to other institutes and centers. The total NCATS budget also includes up to $10 million for the Cures Acceleration Network (CAN) authorized by the health reform legislation (no funds were provided for CAN in FY 2011).
  • $487,767,000 for the Clinical and Translational Sciences Awards (CTSA’s). The majority of the CTSA funding will come from the NCATS budget.
  • $276,480,000 for the Institutional Development Awards (IDeA) program, an increase of nearly $46 million. The additional funding is intended to support new awards for the IDeA Clinical Trial and Translation Program to develop infrastructure for clinical and translational research in IDeA states.
  • $1,461,880,000 for the Office of the Director (FY 2011 comparable funding was $1,177,000,000
  • $125,581,000 for Buildings and Facilities (FY 2011 comparable funding was $50,000,000)

In an explanatory statement accompanying the omnibus bill, the Appropriations Committees strongly urged the agency to ensure that its policies “continue to support a robust extramural community and make certain sufficient research resources are available” to NIH-supported scientists across the country. Additional language was included “affirming the critical importance of new and competing research project grants to the mission of NIH.” The agency was instructed to support as many scientifically meritorious new and competing grants as possible, at a reasonable award level, while maintaining extramural research funding at a minimum of 90 percent of the NIH budget in FY 2012. Appropriators also noted that they assumed that the number of research project grants issued in 2012 would remain at the same level as 2011. NIH was further instructed to ensure that the percentage of funds used to support basic research across the agency is maintained.  The final funding level for the Department of Energy Office of Science (DOE SC) was actually higher than the amounts recommended by the House and Senate Committees earlier this year. However, in a statement attached to the funding bill, the appropriators expressed concern that DOE is over-committing future budgets by announcing multi-year awards subject to future appropriations. The agency was directed to transition to a process in which multi-year awards are fully funded with existing appropriated funds. Exceptions to this rule would be made in cases of major capital projects, management and operating contracts, and large research centers requiring multi-year awards. Appropriators stated that they will consider prohibiting the use of multi-year awards in the future if DOE does not eventually implement a mechanism to fully fund multi-year grants. In an effort to increase transparency and accountability across all DOE SC activities, the agency was instructed to create a performance ranking of all ongoing multi-year research grants across the six major research programs by comparing current performance with original project goals. The department was also asked to provide appropriators with a budget scenario for FY 2013 and 2014 that maintains DOE SC funding at the FY 2012 level. Although the bill includes funds to continue nuclear medicine research with human applications, DOE was asked to develop a strategy for the future transfer of this research to more appropriate federal agencies with health-focused missions. In addition, DOE was given permission to use up to $5 million of the $18.5 million appropriated for DOE SC science workforce development for the Graduate Fellowship Program to support the existing cohort established in FY 2010.   Although the funding increases for the federal science agencies were relatively small, they are remarkable in a year when total funding for discretionary programs was reduced by nearly $31 billion and while appropriators had to adhere to the strict spending caps that were included in the Budget Control Act adopted by Congress in August. The increase for NIH almost reverses the cut the agency sustained in FY 2011 and stands in stark contrast to the $1.6 billion reduction for biomedical research that was passed by the House in February. Despite challenging fiscal times and a serious effor to restrain federal spending, funding for science agencies continues to be a modest winner. This is a reflection of the scientific community’s credibility and influence on Capitol Hill. FASEB extends its gratitude to all of the researchers, lab personnel, and other science advocates who took time to email, call, or visit with their Senators and Representatives this year. Your efforts clearly made a difference in the final outcome. Congress is expected to adjourn for the year once they reach agreement on a bill to extend those tax provisions that expire at the end of 2011. The Senate passed a two-month continuation on December 17th, but the House has not yet acted on the legislation. Both chambers will observe a long holiday break with the House re-convening in Washington on January 17th and the Senate returning on January 23rd.


 

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