Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., released a deficit reduction plan on Monday, detailing over $9 trillion in savings over the next decade through cuts to nearly every government agency. Surprisingly, Coburn’s report, titled “Back in Black,” proposes a 1 percent annual increase in the budget for the National Institutes of Health, which it praised as “the nation’s premier medical research agency.” The report also expresses support for the scientific peer-review process, stating that “scientists are more qualified to determine what research holds the most promise and which grant applications have the most merit” than members of Congress. However, the report retains for Congress the “responsibility…to conduct oversight on NIH spending,” and suggests consolidating “duplicative” medical research projects currently conducted across multiple agencies and transferring oversight to the NIH.
The report does contain some criticisms of NIH, in particular singling out various institutes, including the National Cancer Institute and National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, which have, in its estimation, “squandered money on studies and projects with no obvious health benefits.” It also directly calls for the elimination of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, and insists on a reduction in the amount of funding for travel to scientific conferences.
The generally positive tone of the report with regard to NIH comes in stark contrast to that towards the National Science Foundation. Continuing a theme established by Coburn’s “Under the Microscope” report that eviscerated the NSF, the Back in Black report details “pervasive problems at the agency” that include:
- “Wast[ing] millions of dollars on low-priority projects”
- “Lack[ing] adequate oversight of its grant funding, which has led to significant mismanagement, fraud, and abuse”
- “Fac[ing] extensive duplication challenges within the agency and across the federal government”
The report proposes changes, including eliminating the Social, Behavioral and Economics Directorate and consolidating the Education and Human Resources with other federal educational programs, that it claims would save over $14 billion.
In a press release accompanying the report, Coburn stated that he would “welcome” congressional debate over the report, though whether any relevant legislation will be introduced is yet to be seen.