Green Light for NIH Boost

WASHINGTON, D.C.--The president's 1999 budget proposal won't be released until February, but the U.S. research community is already buzzing with delight. Administration officials say it will highlight basic research, including sharp increases for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) over the next 5 years and a healthy boost for the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Biomedical research will top President Bill Clinton's R&D wish list for Congress, followed by efforts to develop faster computers, global climate change research, and energy-saving technologies, they say. R&D advocates are ecstatic. One biomedical research lobbyist says he's convinced that a rise in NIH funding "will be the leading edge of a massive expansion of the federal investment in science and technology" this year.

The White House, sources say, is prepared to boost NIH's request to as high as $14.6 billion--a 7.4% increase over this year. Vice President Gore is said to have argued that biomedical research provides important health benefits and boosts the economy. The Administration is also tired of letting Congress grab the credit for annual hefty increases to NIH--often at the expense of other Clinton priorities. "We're telling Congress it can fund all our priorities," says one source. Some of that funding could come from the massive settlement that tobacco companies recently made to avoid expensive litigation. To show that its R&D policy is not lopsided, the Administration also plans to request an increase of about 9% for NSF that would benefit both research and education programs.