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NAEVR Requests FY2006 Funding for NIH at $30 billion, NEI at $711 Million At House Hearing Featuring NIH Director Dr. Elias Zerhouni

Legislative Update
March 10, 2005

In written testimony submitted to the file of the March 9, 2005, hearing of the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (LHHS) Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, NAEVR requested FY2006 funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) at $30 billion and National Eye Institute (NEI) at $711 million. NAEVR's request reflects a 6 percent increase for each the NIH and NEI budget in FY2006, as compared to the President's budget request of less than 1 percent.

The main witness at the hearing was NIH Director Dr. Elias Zerhouni, who began his testimony with compelling statistics: chronic diseases now account for 70% of all deaths and 75% of health care costs. The proposed FY2006 NIH budget of $28.6 billion (rounded up to $29 billion) means that "NIH has $96 per each American to stem the rising burden of disease, as health care costs consume over $5,500 per-person per-year, and rising."

It was in this context that Dr. Zerhouni discussed the ways that NIH is working to maximize the return on its investment, primarily focusing on intra-Institute efforts that promote information-sharing and collaborative research, including the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research, the NIH Strategic Plan for Obesity, and the NIH Neuroscience Blueprint . He announced the creation of a new Office of Portfolio Analysis and Strategic Initiatives to better analyze, assess and manage the NIH-wide research portfolio and to better provide information to support priority-setting decisions in areas of common interest to all Institutes and Centers.

Members of the Subcommittee from both sides of aisle were unanimous in their praise of NIH's efforts overall, as well as Dr. Zerhouni's leadership. Subcommittee chair Cong. Ralph Regula (R-OH) acknowledged NIH's "enormous challenges and its great successes", while new House Appropriations Committee chair Cong. Jerry Lewis (R-CA) added that "the research you are doing is fundamental to our nation's success in the future." Lewis, who recently rose to full Committee chair after a long history in Defense appropriations, admitted that after this first time at an LHHS Subcommittee hearing he was enthusiastic about further discussions with Dr. Zerhouni. In that regard, Chairman Regula suggested that another hearing be scheduled with Dr. Zerhouni (note that the Subcommittee has subsequently scheduled "Citizen Witness" sessions on April 21-22, and NAEVR has submitted a request to testify verbally, in addition to submitting written testimony to the hearing file).

In their questions, Chairman Regula and Chairman Lewis also explored larger implications of NIH research and programs, including: NIH coordination with research being conducted within other government entities, such as the Department of Defense, National Science Foundation, etc.; NIH's coordination of its Information Technology Systems with other public and private research/clinical trial/health care sites; and the future of the US medical research infrastructure as it relates to science education.

Chairman Regula moderated two rounds of question from Subcommittee members, many of which focused on health disparities research, alternative therapies and obesity. These questions also afforded Dr. Zerhouni an opportunity to report on his actions this past year regarding NIH Conflict of Interest concerns and Public Access to NIH Research.

Throughout the hearing, however, the limited budget increase for NIH in FY2006 (a 0.5 percent or $146 million increase for ongoing programs, as compared to FY2005) remained a sub-context. For example, in his statement, Subcommittee (and full Appropriations Committee) Ranking Minority Member Cong. David Obey (D-WI) suggested that further proposed tax cuts in the FY2006 budget be re-programmed to the NIH to increase the $96 per-person investment in medical research.

In written testimony, NEI Director Dr. Paul Sieving reported on the progress that laboratory and clinical scientists are making in combating blindness and visual impairment and the unique opportunities that exist in the field of vision research. He also highlighted the NEI's role in the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research and NIH Neuroscience Blueprint.