Bush to Propose 16% NIH Funding Increase for Fiscal Year 2003
President Bush's proposed fiscal year 2003 budget will contain a record $3.7 billion increase in funding for the NIH, $1.5 billion of which would go toward bioterrorism research, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson announced on Friday. The Washington Post reports that if approved by Congress, Bush's funding request of $27.3 billion -- up 16% from the NIH's current budget of $23.6 billion -- would complete a five-year program to double the agency's budget that began in 1998. The proposed bioterrorism spending marks a 500% increase from the current funding level of $300 million, with most of the new money going to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. NIAID Director Anthony Fauci said the funding would be used to continue the institute's focus on "conduct[ing] basic research on disease-causing organisms" and to investigate the "rapid development of practical tools, such as new diagnostic tests, medicines and vaccines -- in many cases in collaboration with private partners."
The new funding also would be used to construct a new bioterrorism research building at the NIH's campus outside Washington, D.C., and new, high-security laboratories for testing "extremely infectious organisms" in Frederick, Md., and Hamilton, Mont. The second-largest increase in spending would go toward cancer-related research, which would receive $5.5 billion, up from the current $4.9 billion. The cancer research money would be allocated to many of the NIH's 27 institutes and centers, including the National Cancer Institute (Washington Post, 1/26). "The president could not be clearer about his commitment to medical research, the scientific enterprise and the value of NIH and its work. The proposed NIH budget will support nearly 36,000 research project grants, an all-time record for the agency," Thompson said in a statement (HHS release, 1/26).
While many medical research advocates said they were pleased with the funding levels, some disease advocacy groups "expressed frustration" that the majority of the increase is centered around cancer and bioterrorism research. The Post reports that while Bush -- whose sister died of leukemia in 1953 and whose parents have funded an endowment at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston -- promised in September 2000 to raise the NCI's budget to $5.1 billion, "sources familiar with this year's budget process said NIH directors ... complained bitterly about the prospect of such a focused increase within that one institute." Because the $5.5 billion for cancer research is spread across NIH institutes, it appears that the NCI budget will "fall short of the September 2000 campaign promise level," the Post reports (Washington Post, 1/26). With respect to the increased anti-bioterrorism spending, some researchers and government officials say that the stepped-up campaign following last fall's anthrax incidents is "too focused on specific problems of the moment, shortchanging the basic science and local preparedness needed to combat the shifting threats of bioterrorism," the AP/Orlando Sentinel reports. They add that the emphasis on fighting bioterrorism is "draining support from research on bigger health issues like malaria, tuberculosis, pneumonia and flu" (Donn, AP/Orlando Sentinel, 1/27). Echoing such concerns, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who along with Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) in 1998 first proposed doubling the NIH's funding in five years, said, "I want to make sure that as we provide expanded resources to fight bioterrorism, we're also keeping our commitment to helping our scientists further their groundbreaking research to fight AIDS, Parkinson's, diabetes, cancer and other debilitating diseases" (AP/Augusta Chronicle, 1/25).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.