Obama budget's $825 million NIH boost could hit big snags over funding structure
- President Barack Obama on Tuesday released his FY2017 budget proposal.
- The proposal includes a nearly 3% boost (compared to last year) to the NIH budget, which would be $33.1 billion. That includes funding for a bevy of measures such as the recently-announced Cancer MoonShot project ($680 million), the 1-million person genome sequencing Precision Medicine Initiative ($300 million), and the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative ($195 million).
- But in a move that may prove controversial, $1.8 billion of this funding is proposed as mandatory rather than discretionary spending. That could run into a buzzsaw in Congress and has some advocacy and research groups concerned.
The administration's reason for choosing the mandatory funding route appears to be that it would be difficult to significantly boost NIH funding through discretionary appropriations due to budget caps that the president and Congress agreed to last year. NIH director Dr. Francis Collins argued as much to Science Magazine, saying that those discretionary caps left "very little breathing room."
Science Mag also reports that some scientific groups are concerned that Congress won't go along with the mandatory spending due to the difficulty of finding sufficient revenue streams from other government programs, and that the NIH isn't receiving much of a boost at all beyond the MoonShot, PMI, and BRAIN Initiative.
And their fears may be justified, judging by the reaction of at least one key lawmaker. "[There is] a troubling reliance on mandatory spending to skirt spending limits" in the budget, said Senate Appropriations Committee chair Thad Cochran (R-MS) in a statement.
"There will be little appetite in Congress for mandatory spending that diminishes fiscal discipline and congressional oversight. The Appropriations Committee will review the proposals within its jurisdiction to determine which should be altered, improved, or eliminated."
The budget also includes minimal increases to the FDA's budget other than $75 million in mandatory spending to be directed towards creating a "virtual" cancer data center as part of the MoonShot project. The agency has long argued that it needs significantly more funding to carry out operations, particularly to expand personnel.
- White House Budget of the U.S. Government
- Science Mag Budget 2017: Read our round up of Obama's science funding requests