R&D in the FY 2014 Omnibus: The National Institutes of Health

Nearly all NIH institutes would receive a moderate funding boost, but the agency is still well short of pre-sequester funding levels.

Under the recent FY 2014 omnibus, the National Institutes of Health would receive $29.3 billion for R&D per AAAS estimates. In nominal dollars, this represents a rough midpoint between the President's request and FY 2013 post-sequester spending: specifically, a 3.5 percent increase above FY 2013, and 3.8 percent below the request. NIH R&D would remain 2.2 percent below FY 2012 levels. In constant dollars, the NIH budget has come down by around 15 percent since FY 2004.

Some observations:

  • Nearly all Institutes and Centers would get a moderate bump (most commonly 3 percent) over FY 2013 levels but remain below the FY 2012 amounts, with a few exceptions.
  • The National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) continues to grow, at 16.8 percent above FY 2013 and 10.3 percent above FY 2012. The bill’s report language notes that this reflects the transfer of some Common Fund programs to NCATS (Drug Repurposing, BrIDGs, and Molecular Libraries) as well as all core support for the Clinical and Translational Science Awards. The budget for the Cures Acceleration Network would be restored to $10 million, the FY 2012 level, but fall short of the President’s desire to boost it to $50 million.
  • The other winning institute is the National Institute on Aging, which was given a boost (12.6 percent over FY 2013 and 4.5 percent over FY 2012) with the congressional aim of focusing more resources on the study of Alzheimer’s disease, also a White House priority.
  • According to a statement from appropriators, the bill would allow NIH to fund 385 more research grants than it did in 2013, when sequestration cuts forced a drop in 640 competing grants and led to a historically low success rate (the percentage of applications funded) of 16.8 percent.
  • The Common Fund, designed for trans-NIH initiatives, would get $533 million, a 3.4 percent increase over FY 2013.
  • The Institutional Development Awards (IDeA) program, which focuses on states that tend to get less NIH funding, continues to have fans in Congress; it would get $273 million, essentially restoring sequestration cuts (the president had sought to trim this program by $50 million).
  • The ongoing National Children’s Study would receive $165 million, equal to the FY 2013 level before sequestration cuts as well as the President’s request.
  • The bill supports NIH research projects related to the president’s multi-agency BRAIN Initiative, which would account for slightly higher bounces in the budgets of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
  • NIH is to continue the science education activities that it shut down last fall, a few months after the White House proposed to consolidate federal STEM education programs, a plan that has generally not been well received on Capitol Hill.
  • The report language (PDF) provides direction on topics such as the creation of a working group on reducing administrative burden; development of a plan to improve efficiencies and reduce costs in NIH communications; an added level of scrutiny on intramural researchers conducting top-dollar research (similar to what NIH is doing on the extramural side); and an examination of post-peer review priority setting.
  • Reaction from the biomedical research community has been mixed, but the predominant sentiment seems to be disappointment that NIH has not fully regained its footing after last year’s drop tempered with appreciation for passage of the bill.