NIH Director Dr. Collins to House: “no Part of NIH Has Been Untouched by Budget Cuts”

NIH Director Dr. Collins to House: “No Part of NIH Has Been Untouched by Budget Cuts”

Legislative Update
March 26, 2014

National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D.
National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D.

Today, National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D. appeared before the House Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (LHHS) Appropriations Subcommittee at a hearing entitled The Future of Biomedical Research—primarily to discuss the President’s proposed Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 NIH funding. The President’s budget proposes a modest $200 million or 0.7 percent increase over FY2014 for NIH funding of $30.1 billion. Dr. Collins, who was accompanied by several Institute Directors (see box below), provided brief comments about major NIH initiatives, based on his written testimony. All Subcommittee members but one attended and conducted two rounds of questions with Dr. Collins and his staff, and it was during those exchanges that the most newsworthy aspects of the hearing occurred.

As in the past, members prefaced their comments by recognizing NIH’s life-saving and life-improving research, its positive economic impact nationally and locally, and its leadership role in global competitiveness. It was after those initial comments by members that the questions diverged based on party lines. As in the March 13 hearing with Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Republican members questioned the President’s proposal to transfer funds from NIH biomedical research to broad DHHS programs, including the Program Evaluation Transfer, or TAP, proposed to increase from 2.5 percent to 3 percent. (The TAP is imposed on NIH and other DHHS agencies to fund cross-cutting programs, such as the National Center for Health Statistics). When asked by Cong. Andy Harris, M.D. (R-MD) what NIH could do with the $900 million proposed for it to pay into the TAP in FY2015, Dr. Collins responded that, “NIH would be able to take advantage of the unprecedented opportunities in science across all of its Institutes and Centers (I/Cs), the rate of progress of which has been thwarted by budget cuts.” Subcommittee Ranking Member Cong. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), much in the same manner as Secretary Sebelius at the previous hearing, reminded members that it is within the purview of the Subcommittee (and its companion Senate Subcommittee) to make changes to the TAP. [Note: Although the Obama Administration has proposed in previous budgets to increase the TAP, both the House and Senate LHHS Appropriations Subcommittees have kept it at 2.5 percent].

Cong. Chuck Fleishman (R-TN) specifically asked Dr. Collins whether any NIH funding was being used for Affordable Care Act implementation, to which he responded “no,” but noted that NIH research into evidence-based medicine could be used in informing healthcare policy decisions.

Member from both sides of aisle asked about research into specific diseases. After several responses, Dr. Collins lamented that, ”no part of NIH had been untouched by budget cuts.”

Other highlights of the hearing include:

  • In his opening statement, Subcommittee Chair Jack Kingston (R-GA) lauded the work of the NIH, but cautioned that the Agency has to do a better job of informing the public about its life-saving and life-improving research. He also expressed concern about the peer review process, reading off a list of grants for which he questioned the value to biomedical research. “I want the money to go to the scientists in white coats in the laboratory finding the next great cure. I need you to help me,” he said to Dr. Collins. Cong. DeLauro cautioned that grant titles are not always indicative of the research value. Later in his comments, Dr. Collins noted that, per a Congressional request, NIH would issue a major report on the peer review process later in 2014.
  • Dr. Collins mentioned the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative often in his responses, especially relating to scientific opportunity. When asked about the gender sensitivity of the project, Dr. Landis responded that the Human Connectome project within the BI is studying both male and female brain circuitry.
  • Dr. Collins provided answers about NIH initiatives as they relate to a number of areas of questioner concerns, including scientific integrity, young researchers, socioeconomic and behavioral research, innovation metrics, women’s and minority health, aggressive cancers, the Institutional Development Award (IDeA) Program, and efforts to avoid duplication with other DHHS Agency programs.

The previous day, the Subcommittee held a Public Witness hearing at which representatives of 22 organizations in the health, research, and education space testified about proposed FY2015 DHHS funding for their respective programs of interest. NAEVR had submitted a request to testify but was not selected since it testified in 2013, at which international clinician-scientist Hendrik Scholl, M.D. (Wilmer Eye Institute/Johns Hopkins) represented the Alliance.

On March 27, NAEVR will submit its written testimony to the Subcommittee’s hearing file.

Accompanying Dr. Collins:
Harold E. Varmus, M.D.
National Cancer Institute

Anthony S. Fauci, M.D.
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

Story C. Landis, Ph.D.
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

Gary H. Gibbons, M.D.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute