Yesterday, the National Institutes of Health director told Senate appropriators that the agency’s funding will face a “cliff” in FY11 when a two-year allocation of $10.4 billion in stimulus money for research runs out. NIH Director Francis Collins also told committee members that during the past 30 years NIH grant applicants had a 25 percent to 30 percent chance of success at obtaining funding. That level has now slipped to 21 percent and is expected to fall even further to about 15 percent in FY11 as the flow of money provided through the economic stimulus law ends.
President Obama requested $32 billion for NIH in his FY11 budget, an increase of 3.2 percent. The boost matches the inflationary index for biomedical research. While several members of the committee voiced strong support for the agency’s request they also said the challenging fiscal environment would make it difficult to secure a larger increase than is called for under the President’s proposal.
Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA), a long-time champion for NIH funding, pressed for more funding and called the proposed 3.2 percent boost “disgraceful.” Specter suggested that scientists should become stronger advocates for NIH funding by highlighting how the stimulus funding has helped spark more interest in biomedical research. Senator Harkin (D-IA), Chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, HHS, and Education, also expressed support for NIH funding but reminded committee members that finding additional funding will be difficult this year.