The growth of biomedical research may be nipped by an early freeze this winter, thanks to Congress's inability to pass a spending bill for the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Politicians have been promising a series of 15% annual increases that would double NIH's budget by 2003, and NIH staffers have made funding decisions on the assumption that the money was in the pipeline. But Congress has held the budget flat since 1 October with a "continuing resolution" and won't revisit the issue until next month.
The result, NIH chiefs fear, is that the fatter checks that the agency had planned to send grantees in the first week of December may have to be trimmed. In a meeting on 16 November, according to one official, NIH institute chiefs learned that they will have to suspend cost-of-living increases for continuing grants and should plan to make cuts in new grants as well.
"This is a very serious threat to biomedical research," says Mary Hendrix, president of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. She adds that the impact can be "devastating" on faculty plans for research and staffing in the next year.