Washington Update

Inside (the Beltway) Scoop

By: Ellen Kuo
Wednesday, April 24, 2024
Appropriators Hear from Federal Science Agencies

Upon Congress’ return from the Easter recess, appropriators in both the House and Senate heard from President Biden’s cabinet secretaries concerning their fiscal year (FY) 2025 budget requests. Secretary Xavier Becerra of the Department of Health and Human Services testified in the Senate. On the topic of advancing science to improve health, he stated the Biden administration’s goal of cutting the cancer death rate by 50 percent over 25 years is still an ambitious goal of the Cancer Moonshot program while also seeking to improve the experience of cancer patients. The FY 2025 Biden budget request provides $716 million to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Cancer Institute with a goal of speeding up the delivery of cancer drugs and vaccines and ensuring access to new standards of cancer care. The Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health is also funded at $1.5 billion to continue funding solutions for real world health problems and to drive biomedical innovation.

Of the $50.1 billion provided in the budget for NIH, women’s health and firearms and gun violence research were prioritized. The budget also funds the Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies initiative, All of Us, and important research on opioids and pain management, HIV/AIDS, and health disparities to improve American health outcomes. Becerra also stated that the agency is using artificial intelligence (AI) to advance research as biomedicine and that AI and machine learning are linked.

Other federal agency officials such as Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough testified before the subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies in support of the president’s budget. He noted that veterans’ health would benefit through investments in basic, translational, clinical, health services, rehabilitative, genomic, and data science research. In 2025, the Office of Research and Development, which funds the VA Medical and Prosthetic Research program, would also support environmental exposure focused programs impacting veterans. The Department of Veterans Affairs has delivered more care and benefits to more veterans over the last three years than any other time in its history.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack testified about how the Department of Agriculture (USDA) impacts every community, provides farmers a safety net, and  supports nutrition assistance, among other things. Calling this a pivotal moment for additional investments in research and innovation, Vilsack said that agricultural research has a return on investment of $17 for every $1 invested. The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative competitive grant program continues to see an increase in demand where awards are focused on increased profitability and on promoting productivity in U.S. agriculture and boosting rural prosperity.

The Department of Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm sat before Chair Chuck Fleischmann of the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee to justify the $52 billion request for the agency, which is a $1.8 billion increase from the FY 2024 enacted level. Among the chair’s priorities was the Office of Science where he worked hard to secure increased funding in the FY 2024 Energy and Water Act as one of the few nondefense programs that received an increase across the department.

Granholm said there was $8.6 billion for the Office of Science (DOE SC) which is advancing toward the authorized level in the CHIPS and Science Act to support cutting-edge research at DOE’s 17 national laboratories and partner universities to build and operate world-class scientific user facilities. Within funding for DOE SC, the budget provides more than $800 million to advance the basic research needed to solve fundamental science and technology gaps toward the development of fusion power as a clean energy source. There is also $1.9 billion to advance biotechnology and biomanufacturing, AI and machine learning, and quantum information sciences.