Guest Blog by Luke Bouvier, PhD
In a notice issued a few days ago on February 21, the NIH released some additional details about its contingency plans if sequestration goes into effect this Friday, March 1, as scheduled. In order to hit the mandated 5.1% budget cut, the NIH “likely will reduce the final FY 2013 funding levels of non-competing continuation grants and expects to make fewer competing awards.” Non-competing continuation awards, which have generally been funded this year at 90% of the previous commitment level because of the ongoing budget uncertainty, may see some restoration above the current level “but likely will not reach the full FY 2013 commitment level described in the Notice of Award.” The NIH also confirmed that in the event of the budget sequester, each of the 27 NIH Institutes and Centers will detail its own approach to meeting the reduced budget level.
Science likewise reported that a press conference held at the NIH last week confirmed the bleak budget outlook. NIH Director Francis Collins and Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) warned that the coming sequester cut of $1.57 billion to the NIH’s $31 billion budget would “slow scientific progress, delay clinical trials, and put a generation of young researchers at risk.” Collins reported that “everything will take a hit,” though Institute directors will be able to use their discretion in allocating cuts among programs such as single-investigator grants, centers, and intramural research. Referring to NIH staff and intramural researchers, Collins added that “we will do everything we can to try not to furlough or to lay off employees.” Nobel Prize winner Carol Greider, chair of the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics at Johns Hopkins University, also appeared at the press conference and lamented that the looming cuts could reduce NIH’s grant success rate from an already-low 17-18% down to 15%, which would translate to a reduction of grants in the hundreds, forcing cutbacks in biomedical labs throughout the country. Collins confirmed that many high-scoring grant proposals have not received any funding yet at all because of the lack of budgetary clarity, adding that “some of that science is being held up as we try to figure out what resources we actually have in fiscal year ’13.” Though few observers now believe that the sequester cuts can still be averted by March 1, Senator Mikulski, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, hopes that the NIH cuts will eventually be remedied in a budgetary deal to fund the federal government through the remainder of the current fiscal year. That deal would have to be reached before the current Continuing Resolution expires on March 27, or else a government shutdown could result.