While the fate of the fiscal 2012 budget remains uncertain, the National Institutes of Health is preparing for tough financial times ahead. Since 2003, the rate of growth to the NIH budget has been below that of inflation, providing the NIH with a relatively flat budget. Then, in August, the Office of Management and Budget sent out a directive to all federal agencies to prepare their FY13 budget requests to be 5 percent to 10 percent lower than that for FY11.
Now, the NIH is considering drastic changes to maintain funding for as many investigators as possible. In a blog post from Oct. 17, Sally Rockey, NIH deputy director for extramural research, calls for suggestions from the research community on how to manage the NIH resources during these financially constrained times.
The blog post by Rockey includes data slides that show the current success rate for competitive research project grants and the predicted success rate if the NIH receives a 10 percent or even 20 percent budget cut. The slides also include four proposals and data on how these changes could increase the RPG success rate. The four proposals are:
- reducing or limiting the size of awards
- limiting the number of awards held by a PI
- limiting the amount of funds a PI can hold
- limiting salaries of PIs
ASBMB has made three recommendations to NIH to ensure that as many investigators as possible will receive funding. Two of the recommendations propose limiting the amount of funding awarded, either by investigator or by a competitively based sliding scale. ASBMB also recommends reprioritizing the overall NIH research portfolio in greater favor of investigator-initiated RPGs.
Given the complicated nature of the issue, it is unlikely that any proposed change will be accepted by all in the research community. The issue of limiting the amount of NIH funding that can go to investigator salaries already has found opposition from groups that represent research universities. On Oct. 11, the Association of American Medical Colleges wrote a letter to the U.S. Senate and U.S House appropriations subcommittees on labor, health and human services and education urging them to retain the current NIH salary cap. The Senate bill maintains the salary cap at its current level of $199,700, while the complementary House draft bill would lower the cap to $165,300.
Meanwhile, individuals in the research community must be willing to make some sacrifices that will ensure the biomedical research enterprise as a whole will progress. While there are certainly difficult times ahead, the ASBMB Office of Public Affairs continues to advocate for strong support for NIH funding for FY12 and beyond.