A Senate panel yesterday approved a $1.05 billion raise for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2006, which would bring the agency's total budget to $29.4 billion. Also this week in Congress, a House subcommittee floated a proposal to revamp the management of NIH that has some biomedical research advocates worried.
The 3.7% raise approved this week by the Senate appropriations committee is higher than the House's version of the bill, which essentially matches the president's 0.5% requested increase of $145 million. NIH watchers are hoping the Senate figure will prevail in a conference later this year to reconcile the two bills. But the accounting maneuvers that the Senate used to find the extra money may not be acceptable to the House, notes Dave Moore, head of governmental relations for the Association of American Medical Colleges. "We're obviously pleased that they put in $1 billion, but we're concerned that it won't hold," he says. A report accompanying the bill echoes a request from the House that NIH avoid overlap with commercial products as it develops PubChem, a public database of bioactive molecules (ScienceNOW, 10 June, 2005).
Meanwhile, the House Energy and Commerce Committee health subcommittee released to advocacy groups a "discussion draft" of a bill that would re-authorize NIH, or spell out its mission, for the first time since 1993. The bill's main thrust would be to give the NIH director more flexibility to move money among NIH's 27 institutes and centers and fund cross-institute research. It reflects advice from an Institute of Medicine committee and long-running concerns that NIH's sprawling structure leads to the same research being done in more than one institute.
But some provisions worry biomedical research advocates, including a possible limit on NIH's annual budget growth to 5% or less from 2007 to 2009. "The research community is very concerned about what the overall authorization levels will be. We're watching it very closely," says Pat White, a lobbyist for the Association of American Universities. The committee plans to hold a hearing next week on a revised bill. It is unclear whether the Senate will introduce similar legislation.