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President Releases Proposed FY2009 Federal Budget That Flat Funds NIH, Minimally Increases NEI Funding

Legislative Update
February 4, 2008

Today, President Bush released his Fiscal Year (FY) 2009 federal budget proposal, which tops the $3 trillion level. The proposed Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (LHHS) budget funds the National Institutes of Health (NIH) at a programmatic level of $29.2 billion, the same level as the FY2008 appropriation, which represented a 0.46 percent increase over the FY2007 funding level. As noted in an NIH summary, the proposed number of competing research project grants (RPGs) in FY2009 will decrease by 14 to 9,757, but the total number of RPGs will increase by 18 to 38,257. The success rate is estimated to decrease by one percent to 18 percent, a decrease of three percentage points since the FY2007 budget. The FY2009 budget would continue to have a separate line item for the NIH “common fund” for trans-Institute research, funding it at $534 million, an increase of $38 million over the FY2008 enacted level, representing 1.8 percent of the NIH budget.

The proposed budget would increase National Eye Institute (NEI) funding to $667.8 million, an approximate $650,000 over the FY2008 level of $667.1 million. As a reference, the NEI was flat-funded in the FY2008 appropriations process, remaining at the $667.1 funding level as in FY2007, despite the efforts by Congress to increase it by as much as $17 million in the FY2008 LHHS appropriations conference bill. In its FY2009 Congressional Justification, the NEI will:

  • Fund RPGs at a total of $417.7 million, providing no inflationary increases in noncompeting awards and no increase in average cost for competing RPGs

  • Fund 1,039 RPGs in FY2009, with noncompeting RPGs increasing by 29 awards or $15.3 million. Competing RPGs will decrease by 44 awards or $16 million.

In its narrative, NEI reports on its breakthroughs in ocular genetics, especially the phase 1 clinical trial to evaluate gene transfer therapy for patients with Leber’s congenital amaurosis (LCA), a severe retinal degenerative disease. NEI also reports on its breakthroughs in age-related macular degeneration (AMD), including the discovery of gene variants associated with the body’s inflammatory response, as well as phase 2 of its Age-Related Eye Diseases Study (AREDS) in which it is further investigating dietary supplements that may slow progression to the advanced stage of AMD. In retinal programs, NEI reports on its work to understand the mechanism of lens transparency at the cellular and molecular level to seek strategies to prevent cataract formation and progression. And in glaucoma, NEI reports on efforts to understand factors that may prevent damage to the optic nerve.

At this time, the House LHHS Appropriations Subcommittee plans a March 5 hearing featuring NIH Director Dr. Zerhouni and heads of other health-related Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) agencies.