National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis S. Collins testified June 22 before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies on his agency’s FY 2018 budget, which the White House is proposing to cut by $7.2 billion for the upcoming fiscal year.
The Trump administration budget request would fund NIH at $26.9 billion in FY 2018, a 21 percent reduction below the agency’s current funding level. The president’s budget also seeks to find savings at NIH by capping facilities and administrative (F&A) costs on grants at 10 percent, down from the current 28 percent. Coverage of these costs enables institutions to build and maintain state-of-the-art laboratories and other infrastructure vital to supporting research. (See this letter from ACE and the higher education community to Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price and the Office of Management and Budget for details of the ramifications of these cuts.)
There seemed to be a general consensus among committee members that the budget cuts were unacceptable, and that the research funded by NIH was vital to maintaining the United States’ preeminence in medical science. Roy Blunt (R-MO), chair of the subcommittee, outlined in his opening remarks the economic and other impacts the cuts would have, including the loss of an estimated 90,000 jobs nationwide. For his part, Collins used his remarks to discuss the depth and breadth of the research supported across the institutes and centers of NIH without directly commenting on the proposed cuts.
Under questioning from Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) on the issue of capping F&A costs, Collins acknowledged the concern among institutions and told Sen. Murray he understood the importance of that funding in making it possible for colleges and universities to perform research. Collins also said that his agency was looking to identify areas where reporting burdens might be reduced as a way of limiting F&A costs on campuses, but these proposals would not do much to offset cuts of the size proposed in the budget. Senators seemed uniformly critical of the administration’s F&A proposal, with Lamar Alexander (R-TN) going so far as to call it “harebrained” and “a thoroughly awful idea and bad policy.”
Congress hopes to pass its FY 2018 appropriations bills before the August recess, but it appears increasingly unlikely that it will meet that goal.