FY12 Budget Finalized, NIH Up Slightly and NCATS OK’d

In a demonstration of “better late than never,” the House and Senate joined late last week to approve Fiscal Year 2012 spending for the nine appropriations bills that remained. The end of the FY12 appropriations process came roughly 11 weeks late, as the fiscal year began on October 1st. However, some are commending Congress for passage of all of its spending bills in mid-December, since in recent years the annual appropriations process lasted several months -well into the next calendar year. President Obama is expected to sign the package into law by December 23rd -when temporary spending expires.

Provisions of Note in Final FY12 “Omnibus/Megabus” Spending Bill:

[*Note: The Labor-HHS-Education section of the omnibus FY12 spending bill contains a 0.189% across-the-board (ATB) reduction]

National Institutes of Health– Provided $30.7 billion or $299 million (approximately 1%) above FY11. [$30.6 billion after ATB reduction]

NIH is strongly urged to ensure its policies continue to support a robust extramural community and make certain sufficient research resources are available to the more than 300,000 NIH-supported scientists at over 3,100 institutions across the country. The conferees affirm the critical importance of new and competing research project grants (RPGs) to the mission of NIH and are concerned that in the past few years, NIH has failed to support the number of new, competing RPGs that it estimated would be awarded in its annual congressional budget justifications. The conferees expect NIH to evaluate its new grant-estimating methodology to improve its accuracy and support as many scientifically meritorious new and competing RPGs as possible, at a reasonable award level, with the funding provided in this Act.

In recent years, extramural research has accounted for nearly 90 percent of NIH’s budget. The conferees strongly urge NIH to maintain at least that level in fiscal year 2012. NIH should also establish safeguards to ensure the percentage of funds used to support basic research across NIH is maintained.

National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research- $411.5 million or $1.9 million (0.46%) above FY11. [$410.7 million after ATB reduction]

National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS)- $576.5 million. [$575.4 million after ATB reduction]

The conference agreement includes language to eliminate the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) and create the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS).

NCATS will study steps in the therapeutics development and implementation process, consult with experts in academia and the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries to identify bottlenecks in the processes that are amenable to re-engineering, and develop new technologies and innovative methods for streamlining the processes. In order to evaluate these innovations and new approaches, NCATS will undertake targeted therapeutics development and implementation projects. In all of these efforts, the conferees expect that NCATS will complement, not compete with, the efforts of the private sector.

While the conferees welcome the creation of NCATS, they were disappointed by the way the administration requested it. The President’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2012 included a vague description of NCATS but did not formally request funding for the restructuring or provide any details about which components of NIH would be consolidated into the new Center. The failure to do so caused unnecessary uncertainty about the proposal and contributed to the impression that it was being rushed. The conferees are also aware of concerns that the NIH process for evaluating the merits of the NCATS reorganization did not comply with the NIH Reform Act of 2006 with respect to the role of the Scientific Management Review Board (SMRB).

Lessons learned with NCATS should guide NIH as it considers another proposed restructuring, one that would involve consolidating NIDA, NIAAA and components of other Institutes and Centers (ICs) into a new Institute devoted to research on substance use, abuse and addiction. The conferees understand that NIH plans to adopt a more deliberate approach in evaluating the need for this Institute. The conferees strongly recommend that this approach should include full consideration by the SMRB and that if the administration ultimately decides to seek such a restructuring, it should provide sufficient details in a formal budget request to Congress.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Oral Health- $14.7 million or $276,000 (1.8%) less than FY11. [$14.67 million after ATB reduction]

The conferees are pleased to learn that CDC has decided to retain the Division of Oral Health. This action is supported by a recent Institute of Medicine (IOM) report titled “Advancing Oral Health in America” that recommends oral health be given a high priority within HHS. This decision will allow CDC to focus on the prevention and elimination of oral disease, support state oral health infrastructure programs, and improve the coordination of oral health activities with other chronic disease prevention activities.

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality- $369 million or $3 million (0.8%) below FY11. [$368 million after ATB reduction]

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