In an encore performance that is drawing rave reviews from biomedical researchers, Congress is ready to hand the National Institutes of Health (NIH) another record budget increase. Today, the House passed a $17.9 billion budget--a $2.3 billion boost that matches last year's precedent-setting 14.7% raise. The bill is now before the Senate, which may take several weeks to act but is not expected to alter NIH's appropriation.
NIH director Harold Varmus, echoing biomedical lobbyists, said he was "thrilled" with the budget, which provides NIH's 16 institutes with increases ranging from 13.4% to 15.1%. For instance, the National Cancer Institute--NIH's biggest research funder--will get a 14.8% boost to $3.3 billion. Several smaller programs were also big winners, with the National Human Genome Research Institute getting a 25.4% lift, to $337 million, and the controversial National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine winning a 37.5% increase, to $69 million. NIH officials expect a rise in the number of grants to individual investigators and a jumpstart for several initiatives, including gene sequencing and biocomputing projects (Science, 11 June, p. 1742).
Biomedical groups have been lobbying to double NIH's budget to $34 billion by 2004--and this year's increase keeps them on track. But next year, NIH will need another huge increase--$2.7 billion--to keep the doubling train rolling, notes Representative John Porter (R-IL), who heads the spending panel that oversees NIH's budget. He and other "supporters of biomedical research have long realized that [doubling] is a very difficult goal," he says. They are already discussing how to overcome concerns among some lawmakers--such as Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM)--that the agency is growing too fast. But Porter says that "there is so much good science out there [that new funds can be] extremely well spent."