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Congress Set for Biomedical, Defense Research Boosts

Legislators also created a rapid response fund for emerging disease outbreaks while providing NIH, DARPA with funding increases.

Continuing their rapid pace of late, the Senate Tuesday adopted on an overwhelming 93-7 vote the second of three possible FY 2019 “minibus” packages. Released late last week, the package – negotiated by House and Senate conferees – continues to dismiss recommended funding cuts from the White House. Under the agreement, the Department of Defense and the National Institutes of Health are lined up for sizable research gains.

This package is by far the largest legislators will tackle this year, combining the Defense and Labor, HHS, & Education spending bills. Together the two tally up to over $800 billion, accounting for most of this year’s discretionary spending. The bills separately represent top priorities for Republicans and Democrats, and were thus paired together to attract votes from both parties and ensure passage. The bill is likely to be adopted in the House of Representatives next week before going to the White House for a likely signature from President Trump.

A recap of select research provisions is below; full details and explanatory notes are available via the House Appropriations Committee. See also the AAAS appropriations dashboard for additional details.

National Institutes of Health. Following the Senate’s lead, conferees provided NIH with a $2 billion increase: the fourth year in a row NIH will receive at least that much. The agency overall receives a better than five percent boost, with every individual institute increased by at least 2.6 percent. Several funding areas in the final agreement matched the proposals originally put forth in the Senate. Some noteworthy increases and funding provisions:
  • Alzheimer’s research receives another massive boost of $425 million, increasing total spending to $2.3 billion. The National Institute on Aging would thus get the largest year-over-year increase, by 19.8 percent.
  • The agreement includes $1.3 billion total for research into opioid addiction, alternatives, and pain management.
  • A House recommendation to increase funding for universal flu vaccine research by $40 million, to $140 million total, was adopted in the agreement.
  • The agreement also includes an increase of $37 million to fund antibiotic resistance research at $550 million total. Both this and the flu vaccine are National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease initiatives.
  • BRAIN Initiative funding rises to $429 million, matching House and Senate figures. Precision medicine funding rises to $376 million.
  • Amid rising concerns over NIH-funded researcher relationships with foreign entities, legislators direct NIH to transfer $5 million to the Health and Human Services Inspector General for grant oversight.
  • As expected, conferees also rejected the Administration's recommendation to consolidate three other federal agencies within NIH, and also rejected a proposed tightening of NIH salary cap rules.

With continued funding increases these past few years, NIH will be 16.1 above FY 2013 sequestration levels in inflation-adjusted dollars once the House passes and President Trump signs the defense-health agreement into law, possibly next week. NIH will also reach its highest funding point since FY 2007 as it continues to close the gap with its all-time FY 2003 peak. FY 2019 funding will end up approximately nine percent below that peak (see graph).

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Excluding funding for CDC facilities – which received a large one-time boost in last year’s omnibus – CDC programs receive a 1.6 percent increase, with many individual programs receiving flat or very modest increases from last year. Adjusted for comparability, final CDC funding is also 29.6 percent or $1.7 billion above the White House budget request. This means most program areas receive substantially more than requested. For instance, legislators provided CDC’s Antibiotic Resistance Initiative with $31 million above the request, while CDC efforts to prevent birth defects received $45 million above the request. Legislators also added $5 million for a new initiative assessing the infectious disease consequences of the national opioid epidemic.

Notably, the conferees also included $50 million for an Infectious Disease Rapid Response Reserve Fund, which would give CDC quick access to funds during the next disease outbreak. It’s a smaller version of a provision that appeared in the House version of the Labor-HHS bill this summer, though a similar idea has been floated by both parties in years past.

Department of Defense. DOD science and technology funding was boosted across all accounts and branches, including the defense agencies. Total DOD S&T funding rises by $1.1 billion above FY 2018, good for a 7.6 percent increase, and $2.3 billion above the White House request (see graph).

One of the big decisions facing Congressional conferees was what to do about DOD basic research: the House and White House had proposed moderate cuts of 1.7 percent and 3.2 percent, respectively, while the Senate wanted to ratchet spending up by over $400 million, close to a 20 percent increase. In the end, they about split the difference, with basic research receiving an eight percent or $186 million increase, with all military branches receiving similar relative boosts.

Programmatically, the bill includes an 8.2 percent increase for Defense Research Science program elements to $1.6 billion total. An additional $10 million was also added above the request for the Navy’s Defense University Research Instrumentation Program. Within the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the National Defense Education Program was boosted by 31.6 percent above FY 2018 to $136 million total, with an additional $15 million added for manufacturing education. The Minerva Initiative also received $2 million above the request to reach $12.8 million total, a 25 percent increase above FY 2018 levels.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is another winner with an 11.7 percent increase above FY 2018 levels. Funding includes $30 million for the Electronics Resurgence Initiative, $40 million for artificial intelligence research, and $30 million for hypersonic weapons development and transition.

Elsewhere, the defense-wide manufacturing S&T program is funded at $175 million, a 6 percent drop from FY 2018 but substantially above the White House request: among other items, $10 million was added for advanced manufacturing innovation institutes and $15 million for the National Security Technology Accelerator. Legislators also again added $250 million for DOD’s Rapid Innovation Fund, which assists small businesses in rapidly developing technologies, in spite of the Pentagon’s request for no funding. $13 million was added for the new Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, while the related AI initiative known as Project Maven received $80 million above the request.

Lastly, legislators provided $2.2 billion for Defense Health Program research, development, test, and evaluation, a 6.9 percent increase from FY 2018. As is customary, the conferees added substantial funding for peer reviewed medical research across an array of disease areas, especially cancers; total funding is slightly above $1.0 billion this year.

In historical terms, DOD S&T (excluding medical research) will reach its highest point in FY 2019 since FY 2006, adjusting for inflation (see graph). DOD basic research funding will reach a likely all-time high in total inflation-adjusted dollars.

Photo credit: U.S. Navy


Matt Hourihan


David Parkes

Program Associate

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