President Obama signed a $1.1 trillion spending bill last Friday, funding the federal government through September 30th, the end of the fiscal year. Today, we're taking a look at what the 1,582-page legislation means for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), including its National Cancer Institute (NCI).
The compromise appropriations bill allocates $29.934 billion to the NIH, which is $1 billion more than sequestration funding levels but still falls short of the funds needed for sustained research progress. The new funding level is $714 million less than the pre-sequestration NIH budget of $30.6 billion.
The NCI's portion of the budget is $4.923 billion, a 3 percent increase over its sequester funding level. As many of you are well aware, the NCI typically allocates approximately 4% of those funds to childhood cancer research. If that 4% sticks, childhood cancer research will receive just under $197 million out of the $29 billion total NIH budget.
A few more items of note:
- The increase over sequestration-level funding will amount to approximately 385 new research grants compared to last year. But that excitement is tempered by the knowledge that sequestration resulted in approximately 700 fewer competitive grants funded in 2013 compared to 2012.
- The Cures Acceleration Network, the creation of which CCCA championed in FY2011, did not receive the President's requested $40 million increase, so it remains at its 2012 funding level of just $10 million.
- In relation to pediatric brain tumors, the appropriations bill tasks NCI with providing advantages and disadvantages to conducting a time-limited special emphasis panel in next year's budget request. The bill also encourages NCI to continue focusing on obtaining and sharing biospecimens for researchers, which is in-line with a core provision of the Caroline Pryce Walker Conquer Childhood Cancer Reauthorization Act.
- NCI is also directed to research and provide updates on efforts to "establish a more personalized medicine platform to improve treatment for pediatric cancer research" through pediatric cancer informatics systems. NCI is asked to include a budget request for the next fiscal year related to this initiative.
We applaud members of both chambers of Congress for working together to pass this appropriations bill, in a promising sign of bipartisanship to start out the new year. We're hopeful that this sequester relief will help undue some of the research damage caused last year. We share in a national sigh of relief that we won't find ourselves in a funding crisis or shutdown threat for the rest of this fiscal year.
And now we turn our attention as advocates to FY2015 appropriations, which begins on October 1st. For the past decade, the NIH has received only marginal budget increases, often amounting to flat-funding when accounting for inflation. Now more than ever, we need to break out of that research funding rut.
To truly recover from the sequester, the NIH will need a bigger funding increase next year. We heard far too many stories during the sequester of the next generation of research talent - bright young minds in our high schools, colleges and grad programs - turning elsewhere to share their skills and start their careers. Those young people deserve to know the federal government is unwavering in its investment in research.
As always, stay tuned for updates and action opportunities from us. And weigh in with your thoughts - Is this appropriations a sign of true progress or just more of the same?