First published April 1, 2005 - More info
President Bush’s proposed 2006 budget for the NIH will remain virtually unchanged from the current fiscal year. After the budget doubled in the 5 years between 1998 and 2003, the current financial plan is to increase NIH allocations by only 0.7%, to $28.8 billion. This falls far below the expected inflation rate of 3.5% for biomedical research and amounts to an increase of just $196 million. While most NIH researchers are not surprised by this news, which was announced in February, concerns are still being raised.
Andrew C. Baldus, the assistant director for budget at the NIH, told the JCI that the top priority is to support the NIH Roadmap for medical research. Funding for the Roadmap will increase by $98 million in 2006 to support its 3 main aims: generation of new knowledge, fostering of multidisciplinary research teams, and organization of a new infrastructure to facilitate bench-to-bedside translation of new discoveries.
The National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases Biodefense Research program will also have increased appropriations to be used for vaccine and drug development to aid in the fight against potential bioweapons. The Neuroscience Blueprint and AIDS research programs will also see small increases in funding. At this time, Baldus could not say whether any programs or agencies would suffer cutbacks as a result of the new budget.
But the number of full-time postdoctoral training positions will be reduced. In 2006, the NIH plans to support 17,442 trainees for $764 million, a reduction of 397 full-time positions funded in 2005. Baldus explained that these postdoctoral awards “are a priority, but choices had to be made. The tradeoff was increasing the stipend by 4% to where it needs to be and offering better health benefits, but having fewer fellows.”
“I believe most biomedical scientists are very disappointed in the [NIH budget] proposed by the President,” says H. George Mandel, chairman of the National Caucus of Basic Biomedical Science Chairs, an organization comprising faculty from US medical schools that meets with political leaders to discuss the importance of health research and a realistic budget for the NIH. “It is too early to realize the final outcome of future deliberations in the Congress,” Mandel continues, “but the likely end result may well be less than what scientists consider a mere inflationary increase. The opportunities for improved health, opened by recent discoveries, and the continuing need to attract bright young students into science, need to be recognized by our government. Our nation’s future depends on our leadership in science and technology.”
It is clear that NIH scientists are pleased that the budget was doubled over the past few years and recognize that the budgetary situation at other agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control, is much worse than at the NIH. However, many NIH scientists are cutting back on attendance at national meetings and recruiting summer students into the labs in order to make ends meet. “We expect to be able to maintain our research at the same pace as over the last few years,” one researcher said, “but the key question is how long the budget situation will last.”