Flush With Recovery Money, NIH Gets Flat Budget

President Barack Obama's 2010 budget request would give the National Institutes of Health an increase of $443 million to $31.0 billion, a 1.4% raise over 2009. That continues a trend of nearly flat budgets since 2003, just short of biomedical inflation. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius explained that because NIH received $10.4 billion in the recent Recovery Act to be spent over the next 2 years, "we didn't need additional resources." However, she said that HHS is aware that researchers funded by recovery funds could be in trouble in 2011 if NIH doesn't receive a larger increase. "We certainly need to begin working on what happens in 2011 and 2012," Sebelius said.

While most institutes and the Common Fund overseen by the NIH director's office would receive raises of around 1.1%-1.5%, President Obama has singled out cancer research for more. The field would receive a 5% bump to $6 billion, spread across all NIH institutes and centers as part of an effort to double funding over 8 years. As a result, the National Cancer Institute would receive a 3.6% increase to $5.15 billion. "It's a presidential priority," explained acting NIH Director Raynard Kington. "I don't think it's inconsistent with the broad mission of the agency in any way."

Autism research would receive $141 million, up $19 million, or 16%, helping to fulfill another Obama campaign pledge as part of an HHS-wide initiative.

For the first time, the president's budget also requests funding for the National Children's Study: $194 million. The overall $443 million boost will allow NIH to fund 9849 new and competing grants (not counting Recovery grants), up 7 grants from 2009. The success rate will remain steady at 20%.

The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology expressed disappointment with the NIH figure. "NIH will suffer greatly in the post-Recovery Act years if we fail to provide sustainable, predictable increases beginning in FY 2010, and we are concerned that the President's budget does not set us down this path," said FASEB president Richard Marchase in an email to ScienceInsider.
But Dave Moore of  the Association of American Medical Colleges was more upbeat. "It's hard to be disappointed with the funds that are there for biomedical research in 2010," says Moore, and "we're encouraged by the [HHS] secretary's response" about the need for more funding after the recovery money runs out.