The Senate appropriations committee yesterday endorsed a 3.7% budget increase in 2004 for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The $1 billion increase is slightly more than the 2% to 2.5% recommended by the president and the House of Representatives. However, it falls short of what biomedical research advocates say the NIH needs to maintain efforts begun as its budget doubled. That 5-year process ended this year.
How much of a boost does NIH need for 2004? "We believe that the number should be on the order of 10%," says Robert Wells, incoming president of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). Last week House Republicans defeated a proposal by Representative David Obey (D-WI) to give NIH a 5.5% raise by trimming a sliver from the recent tax cut. NIH supporters have hopes, however slim, for a higher number when the full Senate tackles the spending bill or when conferees from both houses meet to reconcile their differences in the next few months.
In a report accompanying the bill, the Senate committee added one provision that should gladden NIH scientists: It blocked a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) plan to consolidate human resources offices. Centralizing hiring managers across the NIH's many institutes "could disrupt critical research" at NIH and "dilute the independence of decision-making within the agencies," the report says. Legislators want HHS to commission a study on the proposal by the National Academy of Public Administration before proceeding.