President Obama signed the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015 (H.J. Res. 124) on Sep. 19. This legislation will fund the government, including the National Institutes of Health, at fiscal 2014 levels through Dec. 11. It also addresses other federal priorities and includes $88 million in additional funding to combat the ongoing Ebola outbreak. The Ebola funding is directed toward public health measures and new Ebola drugs and vaccines, so none of the additional provisions will affect scientists conducting basic biomedical research.
What is a continuing resolution? Congress funds the U.S. federal government by passing appropriations legislation. The normal process results in a series of 12 appropriations bills, which are signed into law by Oct. 1, the beginning of a new fiscal year. However, the last time all 12 bills were signed on time was 1997. Without all 12 bills, Congress has two choices—shut down the government or pass a continuing resolution. A continuing resolution allows the government to continue functioning and funds it at the same or nearly the same level as the previous fiscal year for a set amount of time.
How will this affect the NIH? The NIH released a notice (NOT-OD-15-001) on Oct. 1 describing its funding policies under the continuing resolution. Investigators with noncompeting (existing) awards will receive up to 90 percent of previously committed funds. While the notice does not address competing awards, the NIH has continued to (conservatively) award new grants during previous continuing resolutions. Although the NIH is not receiving less money than in FY14, it is operating conservatively during the continuing resolution because future funding levels are unclear. If NIH FY15 appropriations (when and if they occur) are less than in FY14, the agency wants to minimize the effects of these cuts on awardees.
What happens on Dec. 12? Congress is back in session on Nov. 12 after the mid-term elections, and FY15 appropriations undoubtedly will be on the agenda. Congress most likely will attempt to pass another omnibus appropriations bill, which lumps appropriations legislation into one bill. However, it could also pass another continuing resolution to fund the government until the next Congress takes office. For more information about where the U.S. House and Senate stand on research funding, the American Association for the Advancement of Science has an excellent analysis. Check back to the Policy Blotter in mid-November for timely analysis of the appropriations process.
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